WHILST team-mates roll into Riccarton in Range Rovers, Mercedes and Audis, Kevin McHattie arrives each day on the No.25 bus. It’s part of what keeps the young Hearts defender grounded.
The trappings of regular SPL football are not for him. At 19, he enjoys living in digs whilst forging a football career and is determined to proceed with a humble approach.
McHattie leaves his accommodation in Longstone each morning and makes the short journey to the Hearts training ground alongside the every-day public. He likes it that way, although he does intend resuming driving lessons later this year. They were put on hold after his rapid rise at Tynecastle left him physically shattered.
“I will learn to drive, hopefully in the summer. I had started taking lessons but they were on a Sunday morning and I wanted to get a long lie after the Saturday games,” said the left-back, who has made 17 senior appearances this season. “I came in for pre-season thinking I was just going to play with the under-20s, so this is a massive change for me.”
The contrast between youth team and first team is evident in many ways – the pace of the game, the standard of living, and the cost of travelling. McHattie’s colleagues who journey to Edinburgh from the west must pay through the nose to fill up their expensive cars with fuel. For the youngster, daily travel on the No.25 costs £1.50.
“I still get the bus in to training and I still stay in digs. It’s average stuff, very much same old, same old. I stay in Longstone, but I go home to Fife when I can to see my mum and dad and my girlfriend. I’ve been in digs for three years and it’s great. Longstone is close to Gorgie so there are a lot of Hearts fans around. The family I stay with are season-ticket holders at Tynecastle so they ask me questions and things.
“The boys don’t really bother about me using the bus. I don’t think most of them know because I’m basically first in and last out. It keeps you level-headed. You just focus on each game and that’s all I do, concentrate on football.”
Since arriving from Dunfermline in 2010, that’s precisely what he’s done. This year has brought regular game time earlier than anticipated due to the season-ending ligament injury suffered by Hearts’ first-choice left-back, Danny Grainger. The Englishman is expected to leave Tynecastle as a free agent this summer, so the position could be McHattie’s come the start of next term. He is far less daunted by that prospect now after building on his experience and confidence in recent months.
“It’s been great for me playing in the first team week in and week out,” he explained. “It’s been a season of lots of ups and downs. Losing the League Cup final was certainly a career low. At the start of the season I was nervous, but I’m getting stronger with every game. The will to win at first-team level is massive. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve noticed.
“Facing Celtic (in January) was my toughest game yet because Adam Matthews’ pace was frightening. We lost 4-1 and it was a hard day. They were great and we just couldn’t match it. The older players have a go at us in situations like that because they want to win, but then they pick us younger ones up and fill us with confidence again. They’ve been great with all the young players.”
Hearts begin their post-split fixtures at Kilmarnock today and, as a season beyond his wildest dreams draws towards a close, McHattie wants to finish positively. “The last five games are vital. We’ll go into each one looking for three points and hopefully finish seventh. This season has been great for me and I want to finish on a high.”