At a time when one of the main criticisms being levelled at this Hearts side is its lack of width in attack, the return of a former winger who appears to be re-discovering something close to his best form is probably not what anyone at Tynecastle really needs.
Now plying his trade with Hamilton in a supporting striker capacity, and with three goals and two assists in his last four games, David Templeton has entered somewhat of a purple patch ahead of what will be his first time back on the Tynecastle turf since he left the club in September 2012.
Three years after his only visit in the intervening period — as an unused sub when Rangers visited on Championship business under Ally McCoist in November 2014 — Templeton is a dead-cert to feature more heavily this time round, which may well be to the home side’s detriment, as Hibs, Rangers and Aberdeen have all learned in the last few weeks.
Assuming he does start on Saturday, it’s hard to predict what kind of reception he’ll receive from the home support, given that the nature of his departure five years ago was so badly misrepresented by the club, and subsequently misunderstood among what often seems like a sizeable section of Hearts fans.
With Rangers operating as a Third Division outfit at that time, many found it baffling that one of the top flight’s most promising young players would drop down to such a level and jeopardise his own career. Consequently, and in the absence of the full facts of the story (or maybe a refusal to acknowledge them) the narrative many Hearts supporters went on to construct was that Templeton engineered the move himself, turning his back on the club that gave him his big break in search of safe passage along the M8. It’s perhaps unsurprising that many fans bought into this theory, especially when owner Vladimir Romanov was screaming it from the rooftops:
“If he chooses the money, I am not willing to see Templeton in the team any more. If he decides to take that money, he can go.”
However, the notion that Templeton left Hearts of his own volition is one that the player himself refuted entirely:
“The next day I got the phone call about what was happening and I got forced down from Hearts as well at the same point. That was quite a strange one. They came out saying that I wanted to go when they needed money and told me if didn’t leave I wouldn’t play again.”
In retrospect, money was clearly the driving factor for this transfer, just not in the way Romanov had people believe. Given that only two and a half months after Templeton left, Hearts’ financial perils had worsened to the extent that there were genuine fears a home match against St Mirren would be the club’s last, the idea that sellable assets had to be offloaded to cover the bills isn’t entirely unthinkable.
Other supporters simply couldn’t get over the fact that he’d signed for “them”, regardless of what division they were in. However, with Templeton’s expiring contract making him a potential Bosman target for other clubs the following January and Rangers staring at an impending transfer embargo, the Ibrox side stood out as the only suitors willing to part with money for the winger.
As Templeton would have been acutely aware, having seen his team-mate Marian Kello suffer the same fate the previous season when he refused to sign for Austria Vienna, expulsion from the first team was a very real threat at Hearts in those days if a player denied Romanov the transfer fee he sought. Romanov’s comments above testified to that practice.
On the face of it, lower league football may not have seemed the most logical move for a talented young prospect who, only two days previously, had scored a memorable goal away to Liverpool in the Europa League. However, in the above circumstances, it’s hard to blame Templeton for the way this episode in his career played out. And yet some Hearts fans still do. It’s a legacy unbefitting of a player who, on his day, was an incredibly entertaining player to watch and can still be counted as one of Hearts’ most exciting attackers of the past decade.
2007–2010: Formative Years and Hearts Debut
As chance would have it, David Templeton’s time at Hearts was bookended by spells in the Third Division, having served his apprenticeship at that level with Stenhousemuir where he gained considerable first team experience for his age, scoring 11 goals in 36 appearances, including the winner on his debut at the age of only 16.
Despite the comparatively low level he was playing at, his performances were to enough convince Hearts to part with £30,000 for his signature in 2007, before sending him out on loan to Raith Rovers a year later.
It wasn’t until May of the following season, however, that Templeton made his first competitive Hearts appearance, when Csaba Laszlo brought the 20-year old off the bench to replace Laryea Kingston in the first half of a goalless midweek trip to Pittodrie. Having come off the bench again in the following match at home to Dundee United, whereby Hearts secured third place and a Europa League spot, Templeton was awarded his first start in the final game of the season — a goalless draw away to his boyhood heroes Celtic.
Unfortunately, just when it looked as though Templeton would force his way more prominently into Laszlo’s first team plans for the 2009–10 season, a broken metatarsal ruled him out until December. Upon his return, the winger was keen to make up for lost time and made an immediate impression in his first appearance of the season (and only his second start for the club) setting up Ismael Bouzid’s winning goal at home to Celtic with an exquisite cross to the back post.
From there, Templeton continued to feature until mid-January 2010 when an ankle injury curtailed his involvement for five weeks. However, just as he had earlier in the season, Templeton made an almost-immediate impact on his return, coming off the bench at the end of February to score Hearts’ second in a 2–0 home win over Hamilton.
By this stage, Hearts had changed their manager, bringing Jim Jefferies back to replace Laszlo for a second stint in the dugout. For David Templeton, this marked the start of a halcyon period in maroon.
2010–2011: Jefferies’ Influence
Having established himself in Jefferies’ first team picture, playing the full 90 minutes in four of the last five league games of 2009–10, Templeton made a positive start to the following season by scoring twice in the opening three league games.
Under Jefferies, his form spiked considerably and coincided with an impressive 11-game unbeaten run in the league between October and January, during which time the 21-year old scored five (including this memorable solo goal at Easter Road), set up six and bagged the Young Player of the Month Award in both November and December.
Speaking to the Scotsman in December 2010, Templeton acknowledged the positive impact Jefferies was having on his development:
“I knew about his record of bringing along some great young players first time around at Hearts so I was happy when I heard about the appointment. He’s been good with me and the way he wants me to play. He brought through Allan Johnston and Neil McCann and it’s great to know that players like that got the chance under him. That has helped me.”
Unfortunately, Templeton’s form dipped in line with the rest of the team’s during the latter half of that season as Hearts stuttered over the line to secure third place and a return to the Europa League.
It was to be the best Hearts fans would see of Temps (at least until his Anfield curtain call two years later).
2011–2012: The Sergio Season
Eventually, Jefferies became the next manager to fall victim to the ruthless Romanovs in the early stages of the 2011–12 campaign and was replaced by the more stylish Paulo Sergio. Templeton continued to play regularly, though never quite replicated the form he’d found under the Portuguese’s predecessor, operating as more of a provider than a scorer of goals with nine assists and two of his own before a groin injury kept him out between February and April.
It was that injury which formed the backdrop to what was ultimately one of Templeton’s most disappointing moments with the club, namely Sergio’s decision not to include him in the squad for the Scottish Cup Final clash with Hibs. Having recovered in time to start two of the last five league games leading up to the final, it looked as though he had timed his return to perfection.
Come the 19th May, however, Templeton’s name was nowhere to be seen on the team-sheet, prompting a great deal of supporter confusion. In the end, Templeton’s omission was immaterial to the outcome of that game, but accounts since then have varied as to why Sergio chose not to include one of his best players in the match-day squad.
It was only until after the Rangers transfer had completed that the club offered its take, citing attitude problems and a lack of focus as the reasons why Sergio (who by this time had also departed) left him out. Yet as we’ve already established, it’s difficult to determine just how much credence should be given to the madcap statements of a club that we soon found out was staring down the barrel of a gun.
Meanwhile, it wasn’t until 2014 that Templeton offered his contrasting version of events:
“That final with Hearts was disappointing. It was still good in the respect of being part of it, even though I wasn’t involved, as you see the boys and the fans celebrating, and see what it means to people. But I wasn’t told I was going to be left out of the squad. That’s the thing that annoyed me, to be honest — I didn’t get told. It was a case of reading the team sheet just before the match. That was it. I’d been out injured for about eight weeks and I came back with four games left…so maybe the manager didn’t see me as being match-fit. I thought I was at least fit enough to be on the bench but it was his choice.”
2012–13: That Anfield Goal and Departure
Any disappointment Templeton had felt about missing out on a cup winner’s medal in May was quickly put to one side at the start of the next campaign when he sealed an opening day win for Sergio’s successor John McGlynn against St Johnstone. The following weekend’s trip to Easter Road would prove to be his last league outing in a maroon jersey, after a clash with Hibs captain James McPake led to a retrospective two-game ban.
By the time that ban had run its course, Templeton was lining up against Elgin City for his Rangers debut (in which he scored twice), two days after he’d signed off as a Hearts player with a goal that, at least for a couple of minutes, threatened to take Liverpool to extra-time in a Europa League playoff.
Having caused considerable carnage in my living room celebrating that goal, I can only imagine how it must have felt to be in that away corner of Anfield when Pepe Reina — unable to cope with the ferocious power of Templeton’s shot — spilled the ball over the line.
Luckily, there are plenty YouTube videos of those who were there, all depicting a travelling support losing every ounce of its shit in the moment. When the player responsible returns to Tynecastle on Saturday, the hope is that the majority remember him for that moment (and many others that brought 13 goals and 21 assists in 95 appearances) instead of the manufactured acrimony that engulfed his departure.
For David Templeton’s Hearts statistics, visit his London Hearts page.