Hearts forward Jamie Walker has spoken for the first time about his protracted transfer saga with Rangers and abuse his family received while in the stands watching him play.
In a wide-ranging interview, Walker also refused to rule out signing a new deal at Tynecastle and said that if the Ibrox club would have “put down the money if they really wanted him”.
The 24-year-old was the subject of several failed bids from Rangers over the summer. The speculation led to then-Hearts head coach Ian Cathro removing him from the squad on the eve of a crucial Betfred Cup match against Dunfermline, who claimed Walker was not in the right frame of mind. Despite returning to the team once Cathro was axed, he then had to deal with his girlfriend Courtney and young son Jase suffering while watching him play in an away match at Motherwell.
“It was a really difficult time because it was all new to me and my family. We’d never had to deal with anything like that before,” Walker said in an interview with the Sunday Mail. “People formed an opinion of me but weren’t aware of the full situation.
“It was tough. People only saw it from one angle. Everyone knows I had the potential transfer on my mind and maybe I didn’t help myself at times, I don’t know. I was dropped from the squad for a couple of games which wasn’t great.
“I had to try to stay strong. It was Cathro’s decision and I had to deal with it. I was shocked and disappointed when he told me. But what could I do? I just had to get on with it.
“There were accusations flying about that my fitness wasn’t good enough and my attitude wasn’t right. That hurt me. It was hard to deal with. I’m not the type of boy to put the tools away.
“Ever since I signed for the club, the Hearts fans have been great with me, but Courtney and Jase had an issue at the Motherwell game when they were in the crowd.
“Listen, at any football club there will be people who don’t like you or don’t think you’re a good player. It’s something you need to deal with but at Motherwell it was the first time my family had to cope with it.
“It was an away game so they were in with the fans and it wasn’t nice. I was angry because they shouldn’t have to put up with that, but if you give any sort of reaction, that’s what they want so we just left it alone.
“I felt it was important that people knew the real me. So it was in my head a few times to put out a statement. Just so people knew the real story. But I feared that would open up a bigger can of worms. And I was still a Hearts player so I had to be respectful towards the club.”
Walker also stressed that he did not agitate for a move and explained why he did not sign a new deal earlier this year, which lead to director of football and now current manager Craig Levein saying that the player had told him that he wanted to move on.
“I think Craig wanted people to know that I was available so they wouldn’t lose out on money, which is fair enough, but I never said that I wanted to leave,” revealed Walker.
“I did reject a deal to become the highest earner at the club, but that was because I didn’t feel it was the right offer for myself and my family. It wasn’t about not wanting to play for Hearts.
“The suggestion was that I wanted to leave for free but that has never been the case.
“I owe Hearts a lot. I’ve said many times to my girlfriend, my family and the club that I want to give something back to Hearts if and when I go.
“The club could have made money for me in the summer but didn’t think the offer was good enough which is their prerogative. That’s why I stayed. All of that stuff affected me and, at times, I’d take it home with me. You can only take so much.
“There was a different article in the paper every day about me and everyone was having their say, but it was people who didn’t even know me. They didn’t know the ins and outs of what was going on.
“When there was constant speculation about me going, it was hard to blank it out. That’s where my family helped. The biggest thing was leaving training, getting home and seeing Jase.
“That put football in perspective. When I was feeling a bit down, the wee man would take my mind off everything. Just seeing him made everything a lot better.”
On the potential move to Rangers and the chances of him staying at Hearts beyond his contract expiry this summer, Walker admitted that you “never know what might happen” with regards to his future.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, Rangers are a massive club and of course, it was on my mind,” added Walker, “but I’ve got seven months left on my contract and it’s up to me to play well and maybe get an even bigger move.
“On the last day of the window, I wasn’t sitting expecting it to happen. I knew Rangers were possibly going to come back in, but if they really wanted me I think they’d have put down the money.
“It’s a massive club and if it doesn’t happen, I can still go on to bigger and better things.
“Rangers aren’t the be-all and end-all. It’s up to me to show what I can do and maybe get something better.
“In January I might have a few offers. I’ll be a free agent and if I’m playing well enough, there might be a decision to be made.”
“You never know what might happen in January or the summer. I’ll sit down with the people closest to me and assess any options I have, but if Hearts came to me with what I felt was a better offer, maybe I’d stay.
“I’m an ambitious player. I just want the best for myself and my family – and to play at the highest level I can.
“It has been poor from me over the last few months so I need to get back to where I was last year, which was scoring goals most weeks.
“Hopefully the fans are back behind me. They’ve seen in the games I’ve played that I’ll give my all for Hearts while I’m here.”