Olly Lee: You don’t get these games at Luton

Hearts' Olly Lee speaks ahead of his side's game against Rangers. Pic: SNS
Hearts' Olly Lee speaks ahead of his side's game against Rangers. Pic: SNS
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Across the next month, Olly Lee will play in front of around quarter of a million football fans. The midfielder will do so for a Hearts side which is looking to restore their five-point advantage at the top of the Premiership today.

Yet the 27-year-old Englishman knows there are plenty in his homeland who believe he has merely swapped one backwater for another in moving to Tynecastle from third tier Luton Town in the summer.

The fact he will be at a sell-out Ibrox this afternoon, before facing games against Aberdeen, Hearts and Celtic twice – one of these a cup semi-final at 67,000-capacity Murrayfield – he knows won’t alter the perceptions of folk who would maintain that the Scottish Premiership and England’s League One are on a level.

“I’m baffled by that. If players were to come up and see what Scottish football is all about and see the magnitude of some of the games, I think they’d realise what they are missing out on,” said the player who has spent most of his career in England’s lower leagues.

“Without being disrespectful to any other teams, they had games that didn’t excite me as much as coming up here and playing Rangers and Celtic. They are big teams and with a lot of history and it’s good fun trying to beat them. That’s what we are here for. I personally needed a change and I wanted this. I made the right decision to come, I’m delighted to be here and I’d make it a thousand times over.”

No more delighted than his father Rob Lee. The former England and Newcastle United midfielder has become a supporter of the game north of the Border as he follows closely the football careers of both Olly and younger brother Elliot, who remains at Luton.

“My dad came up with me the first time I came to meet the manager [Craig Levein] and he was impressed because he’s not been involved in Scottish football,” said the Hearts midfielder.

“When he came up to Tynecastle, he was blown away by it. It’s quite funny, at the start of the season he was going through all our fixtures and saying ‘I’ve never been this excited for a season’. He’s loving it just as much as I am.”

There is much to love for anyone with a leaning to Hearts on the back of a start to the season that sees them on a 13-game unbeaten run across league and Betfred Cup. Six wins and a draw in the Premiership means if they were to emerge victorious from Ibrox this afternoon they would establish an 11-point advantage over Steven Gerrard’s men. Beyond that, if that outcome were to set the tone for a successful next month, the Gorgie side would indisputably become title contenders.

“It’s a big month where we can see where we’re at and gauge that. The fact we would go 11 points clear of Rangers if we were to win at Ibrox would really set down a marker. We know what we’re capable of as a team and we’re quietly confident in our abilities and we want to go and enjoy challenging other teams and showing how good we are.”

Lee also wants to show a particular member of the Rangers set-up his worth, with the presence of the former England captain Gerrard at Ibrox another of Scottish football’s attractions for him.

“Days like Sunday, you wouldn’t get that at Luton; all the attention that we get. Thankfully it’s gone well at the start and we want to keep it going. I was a big fan of him as a kid, someone I looked up to. Any English midfielder loves Steven Gerrard. He was a brilliant player and I’m looking forward to trying to turn him over on Sunday. I’m just glad he’s not still playing, he would’ve been a challenge to play against.

“I remember him scoring unbelievable goals. I was watching Premier League Years the other day and it was just him scoring volleys from 35 yards. He wasn’t a bad player, was he? Those are the reasons I wanted to come here to pit my wits against people like that and his teams and challenge myself, really. That’s the only way, I think, you can get better.

“You can see the magnitude straight away and see how much it means to everyone. People dropping the post off with me and saying ‘We’ve got to get three points on Saturday’.

“That means everything to me, I wanted to be part of a big club, that’s what I wanted. To challenge myself for a club that needs to get three points every week.

“It’s a challenge I knew I was capable of – I just had to prove it to everyone. [At Luton] you’d maybe get one person asking a question about me, you’d never get in the papers and see yourself on TV. That’s what you dream about as a kid. I feel part of it and I’m doing something where I want to leave my mark.”