Experiences of cup finals and semi-finals as a teenager with Dundee United whetted John Souttar’s appetite for glory.
Watching as a 13-year-old academy boy at Hampden as United beat Ross County in the 2010 final, being a 17-year-old unused substitute in 2014 for the defeat by St Johnstone at Celtic Park, and then playing most of the second half less than a year later as United lost the League Cup final to Celtic all conspired to give the aspiring young centre-back the impression that showpiece matches would be the norm throughout his career.
Two years into his Hearts career and now established as one of the most prominent defenders in the country, the 21-year-old has discovered that being part of those big occasions shouldn’t be taken for granted. Fuelled by those teenage memories, though, he is determined to start making his presence felt at the business end of tournaments, and would love to do so with Hearts in the Scottish Cup. Victory over St Johnstone today would place the Tynecastle side in the quarter-finals – a stage they haven’t reached since 2012, when they went on to win the trophy.
“In 2010 I was in the stand with Ryan Gauld, I was still young,” said Souttar. “It was a great day that just shows what it can do for a club and a city. The impact can last for years. I am saying to all the boys in there how big it is to win this cup. It would be huge for the club and the city. Most of them will probably know how big it is. A lot have been involved in Scottish football.
“I’ve been involved in a losing team as well (in 2014) so I know the other side. I remember being gutted I wasn’t playing. Both Gauldy and I played in the semi but he (Jackie McNamara) didn’t play us in the final. It was a strange, strange day. I remember it seemed like it was all United fans, they must have taken something like 40,000 to Parkhead.
“It was disappointing to lose but it shows you anything can happen in the cup. We were strong favourites that day, we were flying in the league, so it shows that you can’t take anything for granted. I was 17 and at 16, 17 and 18 I was involved in semi-finals and finals.
“I just thought that would be the norm but since I have been here it has not been the same sort of thing. Hopefully we can change that this year and get ourselves to Hampden.”
Souttar believes it would be particularly special to help Hearts to Hampden glory in light of the tumultuous events at the club in the six years since they last lifted the trophy. “Especially with what Hearts have been through in the last few years and the strides they have taken to move forward off the pitch and on it, if we could do it this year, it would keep the club going on the right track,” he said. “It would be a great thing for the fans and the board to say ‘look, this is what we achieved’. We have come so far in such a short space of time (since administration).
“When I signed, Ann (Budge) and Craig (Levein) made me aware of how unique this club is and how much the fans play a part in the whole thing. As players, we are due to give them back something for what they have given us. It would be brilliant if we could do it for them.”
A Scottish Cup triumph would give Souttar further vindication – not that this is required – that he was right to join Hearts after reaching a crossroads at Tannadice two years ago. “I owe this club, they took me when I was struggling the most in my career,” he said. “The gaffer sat down with me and set a plan, he told me what he wanted me to do and where I could improve and that if I worked hard I would. Thankfully it has gone well, so far. If we were to get a cup win this year it would top it all off, not just for me but the club in general.”