Olly Lee has jumped to the defence of Scottish football after jilted Luton Town fans and pundits down south questioned his decision to join Hearts.
Heated social media debate was sparked last month after it emerged that the midfielder, 26, had snubbed the chance to stay with the newly-promoted League One to the Scottish Premiership.
Several Luton fans tweeted their bewilderment at Lee’s decision, while Talksport radio’s Ian “Moose” Abrahams tweeted Lee’s father Rob, a former footballer, to question his son’s decision, saying “interesting Olly has gone to Hearts? You know L1 is more competing than SPL.” Lee senior hit back and ex-Celtic striker Chris Sutton joined the discussion to defend Scottish football.
Hearts’ new recruit, who sealed his move to Tynecastle on a three-year contract after attending the last Edinburgh derby of last season, was unfazed by the furore and insists he has made a “big step up” in switching from England’s third tier to Scotland’s top flight.
Speaking at the opening of Hearts’ new club store behind the main stand on McLeod Street, Lee said: “People are very naive to Scottish football. Without being disrespectful, it’s a lot bigger here than what I’ve come from. That’s what I wanted, I felt I was ready for a step up, and in my opinion this is a big step up and one I’ve been ready for for a couple of years.
“Fans are always going to protect their clubs and I won’t speak badly of Luton, because they were brilliant for me and I had a great time there. But, in my opinion, Hearts is a step up and I’m delighted to be here.
“It’s 20,000 people at Hearts every other week, you’re playing in huge games that really matter to a massive city, in Edinburgh, so it was a no-brainer for me.
“Every time I’ve been up here and spoken to the manager, I’ve been impressed and when I came to the Edinburgh derby at the end of the season, I was blown away. The passion of the fans was something I’ve not experienced, and I was just dying to be on the pitch with the lads that night.
“When you see the turnout today, to see the new kits and the new store, it’s something I want to be a part of. I had quite a few options down south but once I had met the manager and seen round the club there was nothing that could sway my decision.”
Lee explained that his father – an England internationalist in the mid-1990s who also played for Charlton Athletic, Newcastle, Derby and West Ham – backed his decision to join Hearts. “My old man was pushing me towards it as well, because he just thought it was such a big place to play, in big games and games that really matter to people,” he said. “It always helps I’ve got someone I can turn to and someone I can ask for advice. He’s been there and done it, so it’s a big advantage for me, because any worries I have or any queries, I can always go and ask his opinion on it.
“It’s a nice person to have behind me. He could play a bit as well, he was all right! He likes to remind me of that as well! If I can be half as good as him then I’ll be all right.
“When I was younger I used to feel a little bit extra pressure, because everyone expects a lot of you. But, since then, I’m my own man. I’m Olly Lee, I’m not Rob Lee’s son. I want to get away from that. I’m immensely proud of him, but I’m Olly Lee and I’m here to show the Hearts fans what I can do – and it’s nothing to do with my dad.”