Billy King’s Highland adventure is drawing to a close and the future is uncertain. Having spent the season on loan at Inverness Caledonian Thistle, the winger is unsure whether he is wanted back at parent club Hearts, where his contract runs until January.
What he does know is that he is a more rounded footballer having spent the last nine months fighting relegation in the Highland capital. The player endured the dreaded drop as a teenager at Tynecastle in 2014 and is facing the same prospect with Inverness, who lie five points adrift at the bottom of the Ladbrokes Premiership.
Still only 22, King feels more mature in both an emotional and footballing sense thanks to the loan move north. He has learned a different, more industrious side to the game as a winger in a struggling team. He has also had to fend for himself living away from family in Edinburgh, despite the presence of former Hearts colleague Brad McKay as a flatmate.
Ultimately, after 30 first-team appearances, the loan has been a success on a personal level. Yet King knows he will be playing for his future in the last five games of the season, eager to firstly help Inverness preserve their top-flight status and also convince Hearts he is worth another shot having been there since the age of nine.
“The main reason for coming here was to get games in the top flight in Scotland. I’ve played the majority of games for Inverness but it’s not been the best season for us,” said King, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “We’re bottom just now but there are five games left and 15 points to play for. We just need to keep going and see what happens. We need points on the board.
“It’s been difficult being bottom of the league, similar to when we were relegated with Hearts. It’s hard playing in a struggling team. You need different qualities. In that sense, I’ve learned that you need to do a lot more defensive work and mentally you need to be stronger – like when you go a goal down. I’ve learned a lot in terms of working off the ball because, in a struggling team, you’re not going to have as much possession.
“It’s been a beneficial move for me up here. Richie Foran, the manager, has given me games and played me a lot. He’s trusted me so I can only speak highly of him. I just hope we can turn this round in the next few games. There are five points between us and Dundee, who are 11th, and seven points between us and Motherwell and Hamilton [joint ninth]. The games we have now after the split are all winnable. We have been saying that for a while so we have to get off to a good start against Ross County next Friday night.”
An uncertain future is nothing new to King, who spent the second half of last season on loan at Rangers. He returned to Riccarton in pre-season before a season-long loan was agreed with Inverness in mid-July. He does feel unsettled but accepts it is unavoidable at the moment.
“That’s the harsh reality of football – your future is always uncertain unless you’re getting a three-year or four-year contract. Then you can be more relaxed about the situation. In my position, you never know what’s round the corner or what’s going to happen next. You just have to approach it with the right mindset.
“I look at it knowing I’ve got to do things to the best of my ability right now and not worry about the future. That won’t help you in the present. I’ll do my best just now. You’re always playing for your future. The modern game of football changes all the time, it never stands still.”
McKay has a bit more stability after joining Inverness on a two-year deal last summer. Even if the worst happens and the Highland club are relegated, he is expected to stay in place while his good friend King returns to Edinburgh. The pair shared a flat for the first half of the campaign, although six months was all they could manage together.
“I was living with Brad until January and then we were getting on top of each other so he moved out. The flat was a bit small, and I don’t know if my cooking helped matters!” laughed King.
He was nonetheless appreciative of a familiar face in the Caledonian Thistle dressing-room when McKay arrived at the end of August last year following his release from St Johnstone.
“It was good having him there because I was the only one from the Edinburgh-Glasgow area. The majority of the team was English. I knew Brad from my Hearts days and we’re good mates so we helped each other out,” added King.
“It was difficult living on your own. When Brad was there it was easier, there was stuff to do and it helped me. He moved out because he’s got more time left on his deal since he signed a two-year contract up there. He decided to move into his own place.”
King will move himself in a few weeks, but will it be a short-term flit back to Hearts or will he cement himself a future at Tynecastle?