BEING turned down by Celtic was bad enough. Getting knocked back by Dunfermline was another blow. But it was when he failed to land a job at Primark that Jason Cummings realised his career had really hit the skids.
Things are looking far brighter for the Hibernian striker now, of course, and this week he was named SPFL Championship Young Player of the Month after an eventful October in which he scored twice in his team’s 3-1 league win at Ibrox. But, although still only 19, he has had more than his fair share of setbacks, including a knee injury that led to his being released by Hearts two years ago.
It was during the following season that Cummings was unable to find a club who would take a chance on him, and, for a time, it looked as if gardening offered more secure employment – albeit only thanks to his father’s connections. But a coach at his old boys’ team Hutchison Vale remained certain that he had a future as a professional footballer, and eventually Hibs were convinced to sign him.
Relieved that his horticultural days are behind him, Cummings, whose team are at home to Dumbarton today, explained that his spell out of football deepened his love of the game. “Just coming into work puts a smile on my face,” he said at East Mains on Thursday after being presented with his award.
“I would say 80 per cent of the boys here left school and came straight into football. I left school and I was a gardener for a year and a half, just grafting.
“But I always wanted to be a footballer. And it is so much better playing football. I don’t ever want to go back to being a gardener. I had three operations on my knee and that’s when I started doing the gardening. I was thinking ‘What am I going to do now?’ – I only got that job because my dad knew the guy I was working for.
“I had applied for Primark and didn’t get that. I didn’t get any jobs: it was hard to get one.
“But I kept working hard at my football and going to the gym. I played for Hutchison Vale and they all believed in me and kept me going. A guy called Tam Smith helped me out massively. He rang up a lot of clubs.
“He got me a trial at Huddersfield and I went down there for a week. They asked me to go back down but it didn’t work out. I had trials with Dunfermline and Celtic as well and both of them didn’t want me.
“And eventually I got picked up here and I’ve been buzzing ever since. I like it here.”
Needless to say, that word ‘buzzing’ is an understatement. Cummings is a hyperactive bundle of positivity with a penchant for hyperbolic post-match quotes.
Last season, a goal against Hamilton provoked the remark “It was a decent zing – I opened up a tin of beans.” Last week against Rangers, he claimed he had “the touch of angel” after bringing down a long ball and scoring his team’s opener.
Cummings’ team-mates and manager Alan Stubbs will tell you that such remarks are the product of exuberance rather than arrogance, but not everyone is so sure. For example, former Hibs striker Leigh Griffiths, now at Celtic, went on Twitter to call Cummings ‘Billy big time’ after the angel remark.
Asked how he felt about such criticism, Cummings showed a thoughtful diplomacy that is at odds with that image of a manic motormouth.
“I wasn’t bothered what Leigh said – I loved it. Just for Leigh to tweet me was great. I’ve always liked him as a player and looked up to him. What he did here was outstanding.
“The fans loved him because he scored goals and that’s all I want to do. If I could do half of what he did that would be perfect. The fact he even noticed me shows I’m doing the right things, and it’s better being noticed than having nothing to say.”
Like Griffiths, Cummings has an instinctive gift for the game, but he is also capable of learning fast, both on and off the pitch. He may need a bit of schooling in how to sound philosophical, and admitted that one of the best lines he came out with was borrowed from team-mate Paul Heffernan, but there is definitely a serious side to his character that is not immediately evident when a camera is turned on him within minutes of a match being over.
“I take my football very seriously,” he said. “I try to eat well and not go out and drink at the weekend. I want to do those things right – I go to the gym and all that.
“But when it comes to after the game, I like to have a laugh. We’d just beaten Rangers 3-1 – you can have a laugh then. During the game I don’t do that. I know you can’t muck about. But when the time is right you have to have a laugh.
“If I didn’t enjoy football I wouldn’t play and I want to keep enjoying it. It’s all about having a good laugh, isn’t it?
“This isn’t a dress rehearsal, it’s life – Heff just taught me that one. You’ve just got to try and enjoy life and that’s what I am doing. I’m still young, so you’ve got to enjoy it.”