AS DAVID Wotherspoon slotted home Hibs’ third goal against Dundee, Alex Harris got a dunt in the ribs from Danny Handling sitting alongside him on the bench and a whisper in his ear: “This could be your chance.”
The teenager, already stunned to have been named as a substitute for the first time, took little notice of what he was saying, but Handling’s words proved prophetic, the youngster having second guessed boss Pat Fenlon as he gave Harris the nod to replace Paul Cairney.
And as he headed out to warm up before playing out the final few minutes of a match which took Hibs, momentarily, to the top of the SPL table, Harris admitted he was a bag of nerves, something that wasn’t missed by his watching friends.
The 18-year-old said: “I got a few text messages and tweets congratulating me on making my debut and telling me ‘well done’, but there were also some saying I looked nervous – and I was.
“Even being on the bench had come as a big surprise to me. I’d been part of the squad which had gone to Aberdeen the previous week, but I wasn’t involved at all and although I’d trained with the first team on Friday I thought it would be the same again until an hour before kick-off when I was told I’d be a sub.
“I realise that had we not gone three up I might not have got the chance, but when David scored the third one, Danny gave me a wee nudge in my side and said: ‘That’ll be you going on.’
“I didn’t believe him. Danny had done well when he’d gone on at Pittodrie and I was telling him he’d be the one going on. So it was a real shock when the manager told me to warm up because I’d be getting the last few minutes. I was very nervous, but the boss told me just to go and enjoy it, that I’d been doing well recently. It was a great experience, brilliant.”
Harris’s moment to remember brought to fore the number of 18-year-olds who have featured for Hibs already this season, the midfielder joining Ross Caldwell, Handling and Sam Stanton in pulling on a green and white jersey as Fenlon has made good his promise that homegrown talent won’t be overlooked in the radical overhaul of his squad which has seen ten new arrivals in recent months.
But Harris doesn’t expect to be the last to make his bow this season. He said: “Hibs have always been renowned for bringing through their own youngsters and it’s great to see so many of us involved at the moment with the first team.
“We’ve all grown up together and while you are happy to see others getting a game, it acts as a great incentive for the rest of us and I’m sure there will be a few more hoping to follow us.”
Although Harris will appear to have “come from nowhere” as far as many Hibs fans are concerned, he revealed he has actually been linked with the Easter Road outfit since the age of nine, and, having turned 18 only at the end of August, remains one of the younger members of the club’s Under-20 side.
However, he revealed it was his father, Kenny, who spotted his potential. He said: “I’ve played football since I was young. My dad noticed it and took me along to Civil Service Strollers’ training at Forrester when I was only eight. I enjoyed every minute of it and then Hibs picked me up at nine.
“My dad always supported me. He, my mum [Diane] and sister [Ellen] would come to all my matches. They followed me everywhere, all round the country.”
What may surprise many Hibs supporters is the fact Harris is a product of Edinburgh Academy, an institution more closely associated with rugby and Scottish legends such as David Sole and Mike Blair than football, the youngster reckoned to be the first Hibs player to have attended a public school since Alan Gordon who was a pupil at Heriot’s.
Harris said: “I did play rugby until I was 13 or 14, but then it was getting serious with Hibs and I laid off it. Football isn’t a big thing at Edinburgh Academy – although they do have a team which plays against the likes of Heriot’s and Fettes and the boy the year above me had trials with Celtic. But everyone at the school was very supportive of me and my football.
“I played for the Scotland Independent Schools’ team. There are some good talented players at these schools and I am sure there are plenty of boys there who would love to become professional football players.
“The fact I went to Edinburgh Academy is the subject of a bit of banter but it’s just a bit of fun.”
Harris completed his formal education, picking up five highers, but as his classmates have begun heading off to universities up and down the country, his focus has been on Hibs Academy and graduating in his own chosen profession.
He said: “Over the past couple of years my friends had been talking about what they were going to do, but I didn’t pay too much attention, I had my football. My mum and dad were happy for me to make that decision, but I have my Highers as back-up.
“Now, though, all my friends are students. They’ve been out enjoying themselves, but I have to discipline myself as football comes first, so I meet up with them when I can. In fact, there was one I hadn’t seen for a while, but he’s up in Aberdeen and he came along to our under-20 match at Pittodrie earlier in the week. It was great to see him – and I got a goal for him.”
Tragically, Harris’s father didn’t get to see his son’s big moment, the 53-year-old, well known in Scottish marketing circles and a renowned stand-up comedian having performed in clubs across the UK and also at ten consecutive Edinburgh Fringe Festivals, having suddenly died of a brain haemorrhage earlier this year.
Harris revealed his father’s death has served to reinforce his determination to realise his potential: “I had everyone there for me which helped. My dad was a big part of my life, he supported and encouraged me, gave me the incentive to do well, which, hopefully, I am doing and in some way repaying him.”
Now, though, Harris admits he’s likely to play a waiting game: “I’m thankful to have got the chance, but it’s a matter of being patient, working hard and looking to do well in the under-20s and hopefully there will be another opportunity soon.”