Goalkeeping is a prickly issue at Hearts right now, so there is some comfort knowing the club’s future in that position is set in stone. Harry Stone, to be specific.
The little-known teenager warming up with senior keepers Joel Pereira and Zdenek Zlamal before recent matches is one of the most prodigious youngsters in Scotland. He is officially an under-18 player at Riccarton but it seems only a matter of time until his first-team breakthrough.
Liverpool and Watford previously tried to lure him to England and Celtic have also been credited with an interest. However, Stone is contracted to Tynecastle Park until summer 2021. That might slightly appease those concerned about the goalkeeping predicament at the moment as Hearts’ net continues to ripple with alarming regularity.
Stone stands 6ft 3ins tall, an agile custodian who is both an accomplished shot-stopper and an astute, ball-playing sweeper-keeper.
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Manager Daniel Stendel promoted him to train with the first-team squad not long after arriving in December. The German likes three goalies involved in his training sessions and quickly identified Stone’s potential to replace third-choice Colin Doyle, who was injured at the time and has since been deemed surplus to requirements.
Stone has also been involved in matchday squads with Pereira and Zlamal. Those warm-ups brought him to the attention of supporters who wish to familiarise themselves with every employee at their club. It is likely everyone else will know soon enough.
“We expect Harry to play in the first team. Not right now, but in the not-too-distant future,” says Roger Arnott, Hearts’ youth academy manager. “Some exposure will be good for him but he is a very grounded lad and we want it to stay that way.”
Comparisons to Craig Gordon will be natural – local lads, both keepers, coming through the ranks. They are similar height, although Stone is still growing. Hearts rightly want to avoid putting a 17-year-old under needless pressure by encouraging such talk.
Stone joined the Riccarton youth academy as an under-13 from Spartans in 2015. Back then he was a pupil at George Heriot’s in Edinburgh. Now he combines professional football with studying Advanced Higher Chemistry and Biology at Balerno High, where Hearts’ performance school is based.
He intends to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a doctor should attempts to establish a career in football fail. “I’ve always been quite academic growing up,” Stone told Hearts TV last year. He achieved five A grades in his highers before moving on to advanced level.
“I’ve always known the importance of a good education and how that can help you through football as well. I was really excited to begin my career as a footballer but I also know that football doesn’t last forever.”
He turns 18 in April and has already represented Scotland at under-16 and under-17 level. He kept goal in a 3-1 win for Hearts Under-20s against Cowdenbeath in the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup earlier this season. The natural next step would be a senior debut.
On Friday evening, whilst Stendel and his squad tackle a relegation six-pointer with St Mirren in Paisley, Stone will be 20 miles down the road endeavouring to help Hearts Under-18s overcome Kilmarnock and reach the SFA Youth Cup final. He may not need to wait long to sample the first-team limelight.
“Harry is ambitious but he has a good head on his shoulders. The fact the manager has called him in to work with the first-team keepers shows he must have seen something in him,” says Arnott.