Chris Hamilton and Toulon room-mate Billy Gilmour carved their own little place in history when they became the first Scottish FA JD Performance School graduates to win Scotland Under-21 call-ups.
Both have impressed in France as Scot Gemmill’s side topped their group unbeaten to reach the semi-final stage – with Hamilton part of a resolute defence that helped see out a 1-0 win over hosts France.
Ahead of Saturday’s third and fourth-place play-off against Turkey, the Heart of Midlothian prospect hopes to end a dream couple of weeks on a high.
Chris, can you sum up how your Toulon tournament experience has been?
It’s definitely lived up to expectations. If anything it has exceeded them. If I’m being honest, I was slightly nervous before heading out. Just because it was a new group of players – Billy and I were stepping up from the Under-17s, for example – and obviously it was all different. But I’ve really, really enjoyed it. It’s been great for my confidence and I’ll take that back with me to Hearts. I knew it would be a good test and I like to think I’ve given a good account of myself. We just want to make sure we finish on a high now against Turkey.
The Toulon tournament is highly thought of within football. What will you take away from it?
A lot. First and foremost I think we did well to reach the semi-finals. We were unlucky to lose out to England because in the first half we should have been two or three goals up. It was a tough lesson for us to learn having not been able to capitalise on that. Having said that, to come away and beat countries like France and South Korea has been a real positive. In terms of the Toulon tournament itself, I think it’s probably one of the best opportunities you’ll get to test yourself against countries from all over the world who play the game differently. It means we all have that experience in the bank for when we hopefully go on to qualify for tournaments at senior level. The bigger nations who tend to do well are often successful at this level, because their players have come through experiences like this. You only have to look at some of the world greats who have played in the tournament. Scot Gemmill always talks to us about ‘tournament football’ and I can see what he means now. You maybe don’t appreciate it until you’ve lived it. The games come thick and fast. You have to adapt and think for yourself when you’re on the pitch and out of your comfort zone, which can only be good for our development. You also really have to focus on your preparation and recovery. It’s been screened all over the world so I guess it would be hard to get this experience and exposure elsewhere.
You and Billy have both spoken in the past, in glowing terms, about your respective journeys through the Scottish FA’s Performance School system. How much does it mean to have become the first players to represent the programme at Scotland Under-21 level?
It means a lot, personally. I know I can speak for both of us when I say how important the Performance School programme has been in our development so it’s great that we’ve been able to play a part in a landmark like that. It’s the kind of target we both want to keep hitting as we work towards becoming first-team players. Hopefully it can inspire some of the guys who are still coming through the system. This has come earlier than expected for both of us, so there’s no reason why they can’t look to do the same thing.
This first Under-21 call-up has capped a great end to the season for you after you first-team debut for Hearts – a club who have shown they are more than happy to give deserving home-grown products a chance. How do you reflect on it?
This has all happened for me just as the season has ended. It’s been good because I’ve worked hard and got my rewards. I had just been concentrating on playing for Hearts because it’s a great place to be. I was happy at Hearts with the young boys in the team doing so well. I got my chance at the end of the season and Hearts is the only place I wanted to be.
Finally, you’ve had a lot of downtime over here – which is something else you have to get your head around in a tournament environment. What have you done to keep yourself busy?
I think like most boys I’ve been sucked in to playing Fortnite. I have to admit I’m not the best. I’m probably one of the worst, along with Craig Wighton. He has at least mastered the dance moves from it, which has kept us all entertained. Greg Taylor maybe thinks he’s slightly better than he actually is but Danny Harvey, Ross Doohan and Mikey Johnston are pretty good.
Watch the Semi-Final live on Free Sports UK. Free Sports UK is available on Sky (422), Freeview (95), Freesat (252), BT/TalkTalk (95) & online via the TVPlayer.
Ross Doohan (Celtic)
Robby McCrorie (Rangers)
Daniel Harvie (Aberdeen)
Jason Kerr (St Johnstone)
Chris Hamilton (Heart of Midlothian)
Ryan Porteous (Hibernian)
Anthony Ralston (Celtic)
Greg Taylor (Kilmarnock)
Iain Wilson (Kilmarnock)
Liam Burt (Rangers)
Allan Campbell (Motherwell)
Billy Gilmour (Chelsea)
Fraser Hornby (Everton)
Glenn Middleton (Rangers)
Harvey St Clair (Chelsea)
Elliot Watt (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
Oliver Burke (West Bromwich Albion)
Michael Johnston (Celtic)
Craig Wighton (Dundee)
Scott Wright (Aberdeen)
Scotland 1, Togo 1, Stade de Lattre, Aubagne
Scotland 1, France 0, Stade D’Honneur, Salon
Scotland 2, South Korea 1, Stade Parsemain, Fos-Sur-Mer
Scotland 1, England 3, Stade de Lattre, Aubagne