Chris Hamilton is living the dream after a month to remember.
The 16-year-old Hearts defender was handed his full debut for the Jambos in their final game of the season against Kilmarnock, and he won plaudits for his performance up against the Premiership’s top scorer, Kris Boyd.
Ross McCrorie’s withdrawal from the Toulon squad paved the way for another unexpected opportunity and – ahead of Scotland's opening match against Togo – the Scottish FA JD Performance School graduate is determined to make the most of his time in France.
Even if it is at the expense of his Granny Morag…
Chris, the last few weeks must seem like a bit of a blur.
It’s been incredible and it’s probably only starting to sink in now. To have managed to make my debut for Hearts and then get a first-ever Scotland Under-21 call-up is something else. It’s a bit surreal, to be honest.
Presumably this first season as a professional at Hearts has exceeded your expectations?
Absolutely. When I left school and joined up full-time the priority was to get used to the routine and step up in demands, but I managed to establish myself in the Under-20 team and pushed on from there. The club are obviously well-known for giving young players an opportunity if they deserve it but to get the chance to play in the Premiership like that was a dream come true. I owe Craig Levein a lot for having that faith in me and I like to think I acquitted myself well on the day. Obviously I knew I was going to be up against Kris Boyd, who is an experienced, physical striker, so I tried to do my homework. I watched a lot of footage of him from the past couple of seasons to look at the positions he takes up and I think it helped. I knew he’d tried to put pressure on me early in the game but I hope he realised I’m not a pushover.
Where were you when you got the call to come to Toulon?
It sounds like the typical footballer’s answer, but I was just walking back from a trip to Nando’s with my girlfriend. Initially I thought it was a wind-up, as it came totally out of the blue, but when I realised it was genuine I was so happy. I was supposed to be going to Crieff with my family this week to celebrate my Granny’s birthday. So I’ll miss that, but I know they’ll all be watching on the TV back home.
It’s a big step up from the Under-17s. How have you found it so far?
I only knew Billy Gilmour beforehand – we’re sharing a room out here – but obviously I knew who the rest of the players were. Everyone’s gone out of their way to welcome me to the group and I’m grateful for that. Now I just want to make the most of the experience because not many boys my age get this chance. It was a bonus to be here but now that I am I want to get my head down, work hard and give a good account of myself to Scot Gemmill and Peter Houston.
You and Billy are the first from the Performance School programme to have made it as far as the Under-21 squad. How important a time was that in your development?
It was massive for me and I know Billy has said the same. Getting the chance to cram in extra touches of the ball throughout the day can only have been a good thing. I think it’s also about what you put into it. You have to make the most of the opportunity and I like to think I did. My coach at the time, Greg Miller, pushed us on a daily basis and was an important influence on my early career. The programme is definitely a good thing.
So what are the goals now, for the short and mid-term?
We really want to get off to a good start against Togo on Sunday that would set us up for playing France. Beyond that I’m looking forward to trying to kick on with Hearts and Scotland. We’re going back to a reserve league next season so my first target is to establish myself in that team and maybe earn another chance with the senior squad. The same goes for Scotland. It’s such an honour to have been called up. Scotland games were always an event in my family. We’d all get together to watch them, so hopefully I can stay involved with the national team too.
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)
Group A: China, England, Mexico, Qatar
Group B: France, Scotland, South Korea, Togo
Group C: Canada, Japan, Portugal, Turkey
Scotland v Togo, Sunday 27 May, kick-off 4.30pm (UK time), Stade de Lattre, Aubagne (Live on Free Sports UK)
Scotland v France, Wednesday 30 May, kick-off 6.30pm (UK time), Stade D’Honneur, Salon
Scotland v South Korea, Saturday 2 June, kick-off 2pm (UK time), Stade Parsemain, Fos-Sur-Mer (Live of Free Sports UK)
*Schedule subject to change depending on broadcaster's preferences.
Free Sports UK available on Sky (422), Freeview (95), Freesat (252), BT/TalkTalk (95) & via the TVPlayer.