Why Jorge Grant signed for Hearts and the Des Walker European connection

You don’t get European football in England’s League One, as Hearts’ Jorge Grant was at pains to point out ahead of this week’s Europa League play-off clash with Zurich.

Jorge Grant scored his first goal for Hearts against Dundee United.
Jorge Grant scored his first goal for Hearts against Dundee United.

Grant made the switch north from Peterborough to Hearts this summer for games like the one coming up on Thursday, when the club travels to St Gallen to take on the Swiss champions. Guaranteed continental group stage football until Christmas, it is just a question of whether it will be in the Europa League or the Conference League.

Hearts will take on Zurich in good shape, having defeated Dundee United 4-1 on Sunday in the cinch Premiership – Grant getting on the scoresheet, his first in maroon. The Jambos have seven points from nine and sit third in the table. Zurich, conversely, drew 1-1 with Winterthur and are bottom of their domestic division.

"When I was making the decision, I could have gone back to League One and done the same thing that I've done for the whole of my career,” Grant said as he savoured the prospect of his debut on the European stage. “This opportunity was something that is completely different. It was a step out of my comfort zone, playing in Europe and playing in the SPFL. I'm delighted with my decision.”

Grant grew up with tales of European football. A Nottingham Forest fan and then a player, he has been exposed to tales of the Midlands club’s glory nights of yore, winning the European Cup in 1979 and 1980, as well as the Super Cup. His former coaches at the City Ground include Des Walker and Steve Chettle, who were involved in European runs in 1984 and 1995/96 respectively.

"Obviously that club has got so much history and you can tell that from the fans' passion,” said Grant, who was at Forest from 2013 until 2019. “When I was there they were nowhere near that, but obviously they have gone on to so well, which is good for them. I know actually a few people who used to play in Europe [for Forest]. I know Des Walker, I know both his sons, I know Steve Chettle and his son, so I know about those European nights at Forest. To have some of those up here would be great.

"There's a few crazy tales in there, he [Walker] is a really nice guy. He spoke about European memories and so did Steve Chettle, he was one of my coaches and was fantastic with me, talking about the stages he has played on and the experiences he has had."

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson has said his main ambition this week is to keep the tie alive and use home advantage at Tynecastle to record a famous win. Grant has been impressed by the club’s atmospheric and intimidating atmosphere, likening it to the City Ground.

"It's very similar to Forest, when I was there as a young player,” added Grant. “When the crowd is with you, it's a top atmosphere. Both that I've had in the league have been really good and enjoyable. You can tell it's a massive advantage having the crowd in a stadium like this. If we can go to Zurich and get a good result ... anything can happen here [Tynecastle].”