Look around the new Hearts museum and there are significant reminders of strong characters and winning captains. John Robertson shared a dressing room with a number of them over the years and he believes that Perry Kitchen could be another.
The American international, who signed for the club in March and has been a consistent performer, was elevated to club captain on Wednesday, taking over from Alim Ozturk, who has struggled to force his way into the starting line-up this season. Kitchen will lead out the team against Ross County tomorrow and, while Robbo feels some sympathy for Ozturk, he believes the midfielder is a natural leader.
“He is everything you want in a captain, he’s strong, determined, hard-working in the middle of the park, leads by example, great attitude and speaks very well,” said Robertson.
Just as importantly, according to the club’s record goalscorer, the American understands what it means to pull on the maroon and thrives on the intensity, and associated demands. “He gets Hearts, he knows what the club is all about, and what the fans mean. One of the times we spoke to him, we spoke about the arena that he was playing in and we said: ‘It’s great if the fans are with you, they make you play well but there’s a pressure that comes with it because they demand it’. He said: ‘That doesn’t spook me, I love it and that’s exactly why I’m here’. He seems to be the right kind of guy for players to follow.”
Despite arriving in Scotland with very little knowledge of the Gorgie club and its heritage, the 24-year-old has spent the last six months educating himself, reading books and embracing everything the club stands for, which is another reason to back him, according to one of the club’s living legends.
Robertson added: “He wanted to know about the club, wanted to know about the city. He absolutely loves the place, he recently took in the Tattoo, which he found phenomenal – the showmanship and the history. We don’t actively encourage them to read books about the club, but we give them an idea of what it’s about. You see the museum now and you’ve got the memorial garden and the McCrae’s plaque.
“He is one of these guys that loves everything about the club, he embraces what we’re about and on the pitch he’s a warrior. The fans love him, they love his attitude, his no-nonsense style. He doesn’t shirk anything and I’m sure he will be the same as captain.
“There is an identikit for captains. Most captains are strong-willed characters who tend to lead by example on the pitch. They’re respected on the pitch. When we first started it was the likes of Sandy Jardine, then Craig Levein, Alan McLaren was a very young captain. Gary Locke was a very young captain. We seem to like our captains as strong characters, strong, powerful guys. Alan Anderson, Dave Mackay, John Cumming, Bobby Parker – the list goes on. There have not been many light-hearted or light-framed captains. There is no doubt about it that Perry is a leader on the pitch and off it he is a really approachable guy. Taking an American word, he seems pretty cool about it. He realises it’s a huge honour but he’s not a guy that’s going to swan around the changing room and say: ‘I’m the captain’. He’s a guy that has earned the right by pure hard work and sweating blood.”
Fitting the mould of certain predecessors is a tough ask but there are plenty who have set the tone, who feel Kitchen is up to the task. They believe he is the kind of character who could, one day, be lifting a trophy above his head for the Hearts fans to hail.
“That’s the aim, you speak to Alan Anderson and Freddie Glidden and they all hope he is,” said Robertson. “There’s not an ex-captain or ex-player at this club that doesn’t want to see Perry Kitchen lifting trophies above his head.
“History is there to be made and Perry could lead us into a bright new future. I want my goals record to be broken because if it is, the club are going to be a helluva lot successful. We’d be delighted if, come May, Perry Kitchen is holding the Scottish Cup aloft for all the Hearts fans to enjoy, that’s what we’re in it for.”