Stitches, bruising and swelling on the forehead are the visible results of Jack Hamilton’s trip to Estonia. No matter how inflamed his skull becomes on the outside, it won’t match the bulging pride inside the Hearts goalkeeper.
Wednesday night’s 4-2 win over FC Infonet in Tallinn was a career highlight for the 22-year-old. He was confirmed as his club’s No.1 keeper just a few weeks ago and received a thumping welcome to European competition from Infonet’s robust defender, Ofosu Appiah.
The Ghanaian’s head clattered full force into Hamilton’s late in the game, leaving both players grounded and needing medical attention. Appiah had an angry exchange with Hearts coach Robbie Neilson in between leaving and re-entering the field. Hamilton was adamant he wasn’t going off, even temporarily.
A Rab C Nesbitt-style bandage and a new blood-free shirt helped him finish the game. The aggregate final score of 6-3, taking Hearts into the Europa League second qualifying round to face Birkirkara, made up for any physical pain.
Hamilton concedes he would happily take a battering every week if he remains first choice at Tynecastle. That determination may serve him well after Hearts signed Swedish internationalist Viktor Noring, pictured below, on Friday to compete for his position.
“If I need to take a knock like this every week, then I will,” grinned the young Scot. “Being No.1 is what you train for every day. It’s the reason you put in the hours. I’ve got the position now but that’s not to say I’ll have it next week. You have to just take each day as it comes, keep trying to progress and get better.
“This injury is the worst I’ve had. It happened very quick. I got the hit and went down and then the physios are on. I didn’t know it was bleeding. The doc had said: ‘We’re just going to glue it up’. She asked me the score and I knew that. I got all the safety checks right. I don’t get the score right at the best of times but I was fine that time. I just said I was staying on. I felt alright afterwards but I got six stitches.
“We got an early goal, the boys did well in the first half and to come in at half-time with a 3-0 lead was good. They came out in the second half and got an early goal which gave them a lifeline. We responded really well by getting a goal to put us three goals ahead again. That killed the tie.”
Appiah really ought to have been sent off for several dangerous challenges during the 90 minutes. One knee-high tackle on Jamie Walker could even have been career-threatening. “I thought that was a dreadful tackle. He’s come in with two feet and he was reckless. If he caught his knee, that was him. It was frustrating,” said Hamilton.
With that assignment complete, Hearts now head to Malta to face Birkirkara in the Hibernians Stadium this Thursday. “I’m just back from there with the Scotland squad. It was brilliant,” said Hamilton.
“We won’t see much of it this time, though. It’ll just be over for the game. I’m looking forward to it because it’s a massive game for us and for the club.
“Birkirkara won their last game so they’ll be no mugs. It will be another tough test for us in hot weather. The weather will be really warm, different from what we’re used to. It’s another factor we’ll need to take into consideration. It’s a big game going over there.”
Estonia was Hamilton’s first appearance away from home in Europe so this week he at least has an idea of what to expect. “The whole atmosphere of a European tie, the pressure is on you, you learn everything. It was a great experience for me and one you learn from. The teams you’re playing in Europe are near the top of their division and it’s good to play against them.”
A selection of Serbian, Croatian and South American players make Birkirkara dangerous, while Croatian coach Drazen Besek is known as a hard taskmaster. Hamilton feels Hearts have nothing to fear heading to the Mediterranean.
“We have a good group of players and we’ve got to believe in what we’ve got. It’s just a case of taking it one game at a time,” he said. “There’s no point thinking ahead when we’ve got loads of games in front of us. We’ll look at one game each and try to progress that way.”