Spence was a hot enough teenage prospect at Alloa Athletic for Celtic to pay a reported £75,000 for his services in 2009. Tomorrow, he hopes to discover the positive side of swapping development squad football at Parkhead for competitive action at a First Division club.
Spence had a serious decision to make last summer. Celtic highly value their development matches, routinely played against English Premier League sides.
They are, in theory, ideal for players such as Spence who was part of a successful Celtic Under-19 side last season. While the striker had a year left on his contract and remained a Celtic player, most of his youth team-mates were released.
“Celtic said to me that the development squad might not be playing a lot of games,” Spence explains. “So I would rather go out and play 20 or 30 games, I felt that would benefit me. It was a tough call because both options made sense in a way; coming to Hamilton meant I could play against boys fighting for win bonuses and three points.
“The flip side is that you can surely only learn from playing against effectively English Premier League reserve sides.
“I have been a bit disappointed not to start more games but I’ve been playing more over the last few weeks and started scoring goals again.”
The coming weeks will determine Spence’s future. He remains unclear as to what Celtic’s plans for him are; the 19-year-old has, at least, managed 11 starts and made 13 substitute appearances so far for Billy Reid’s team.
“Celtic just told me to go out and enjoy this season,” he says. “They will speak to me at the end of the season, I’m still not sure what will happen to be honest.”
Spence is perfectly aware of the difficulties of breaking into Celtic’s first-team. James Forrest, who is a year older, is the high-profile exception to the rule, which highlights how tough it is for players at either half of the Old Firm. With that in mind, was moving from Alloa’s promising youth set-up a rash move?
“Not at all, it was a no-brainer for me at the time,” the forward insists. “I felt I had to go and start playing full-time football. At that time, I was training a couple of times a week and doing my apprenticeship as a plumber.
“There is no doubt that being at Celtic has developed my game so much. The plan was to sign, go through the youth team to the development team and then the full squad. I haven’t made that breakthrough yet, but at the time I joined I needed full-time football. It has only benefited me.”
Some material award would trigger more cheer. Hamilton’s young side face a similarly fresh-faced Falkirk team at Livingston in the final of the Ramsdens Cup, in what provides a late season moment of opportunity for Reid and his players.
“It doesn’t look like we can get relegated now and we can’t go up so the final has given us something to keep going and look forward to. Our recent form has been good, which is probably linked to that,” says Spence.
“There has been an extra buzz in training this week. Things have seemed a bit more intense. We have all been fully focused, realising what a big game it is for the club. “And, as player, you always want to win things. Not many players get the chance to play in finals; it is always good on your CV if you can pick up medals.”
If Spence’s sojourn at Hamilton is to be brief, it seems he will only have positive memories of the experience. “There area lot of young boys who have been given a chance, and deservedly so,” he adds. “Stephen Hendrie, for example, is a 17-year-old full-back who I think is as good as anybody Celtic have at that level.”