Jack Hamilton aims to win back Hearts No.1 jersey
A loan move in January does not interest Hearts goalkeeper Jack Hamilton. He intends to go nowhere, although he isn't exactly happy about being second choice this season. His firm plan is to fight back into manager Craig Levein's plans rather than develop an exit strategy.
Hamilton was demoted as No.1 keeper when Jon McLaughlin arrived at Tynecastle in August. A 90-minute outing in Friday’s friendly against Vitesse Arnhem here in Spain was his first action with the senior side since August 26 at Fir Park.
Warming a seat on the substitutes’ bench for more than four months has been exasperating, particularly in light of his undisputed first-choice status last season and regular appearances in the Scotland international squad.
While a loan request might help secure much-needed game time elsewhere, Hamilton won’t entertain the idea. He is only 23 but played as a loanee for Forfar, East Fife and Stenhousemuir during his formative years. It is understandable if he feels that those times have come and gone.
The 23-year-old watched McLaughlin keep six successive clean sheets for the first time in Hearts’ history last month, but stressed he will stay and fight until he is back in the team.
“I would like to think my future is here. I’m not looking to go anywhere. I feel I’ve got a job to do here,” Hamilton told the Evening News. “This is a massive club with a massive fanbase and a great place to be. This is where I want to play football. It would be silly to say I want to go somewhere else.
“I’ve spoken with Craig from time to time and he just keeps feeding me little bits of information. It’s mostly things which will help me improve. I believe in myself. I believe I’ve got a lot to give and I believe I can get so much better. I’m still young and I’m still learning. Hopefully my future is at Hearts.
“This is the team I want to play for. This is where I want to be No.1. Things don’t always run perfectly. If you take a wee setback, you need to work harder and try to get back in. That’s what I’m trying to do now.
“If you’re going to throw the towel in, you might as well not be here.
“Jon, by coming to Hearts, has made me work even harder and it will make me better in the long run. I will definitely improve from taking that wee step back and watching from the outside.”
The 1-1 draw with Vitesse in the Costa Blanca sunshine was a test for all concerned. Not least for the man in goals, who had been limited to a handful of Under-20 appearances in the SPFL Development League. Facing top-level Dutch opposition was a considerable step up to run-outs on the indoor pitch at Oriam.
“It was good to get a game, a bit different from playing Under-20s for the past couple of weeks. It was a good run out against a good side and I enjoyed it,” continued Hamilton.
“Jon has been excellent. He’s set a new clean-sheet record for the first time in the club’s 143-year history. You can’t really argue with that. His performances on the park have been good and he’s a great guy. He is someone I’m looking to learn from while I try to get back in the team.
“I came out of the team, we’re doing really well and Jon is playing well. I just need to try and get better myself. I’ve been watching Jon and trying to pick things up. I’m working as hard as I can to try and get back in. That’s my main aim. This is where I want to play football. I’m desperate to get back into the team so hopefully the hard work will pay off.”
Sitting in the technical area does have a few small advantages. Footballers often speak about gaining a different perspective of the game when they are not on the field. Hamilton is no different and, to his credit, is using the experience to accelerate the learning process.
“I’d much rather be playing but when you’re watching you see things happen from the side of the pitch,” he said. “It’s a different perspective. I’m learning things all the time that I want to use when I get back on the park.”
Not if. When. There is no doubt in Hamilton’s mind that he will re-establish himself. His Hearts contract runs for another two and a half years, so time is certainly on his side.
“It’s difficult but there’s nothing I can do about it, apart from get the head down and work hard,” he explained. “Jon has played in the English Championship with Burton Albion and won things in his career. These guys can help me make myself better.
“It’s not only Jon. Even since Christophe Berra came back to the club, I’ve learned from speaking to him. He’s a Scottish internationalist who played in the English Premier League. Then there’s Aaron Hughes and guys like that. We have a lot of experience to call upon.”
Hamilton is now waiting for the day he can call upon his experience as second-choice goalkeeper – and use it to ensure he does not ever again suffer demotion.