Dale Carrick: Playing at Anfield was special

Written by Colin Byiers

9 years ago, Heart of Midlothian took on Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool in the Europa League, in a tie many didn’t fancy The Jambos in. However, John McGlynn’s men were minutes away from taking Liverpool to extra time.

One man who played in those games was 18-year-oldDale Carrick. Dale had just broken into the Hearts first team, and incredible, was facing the likes of Jamie Carragher, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam in just his 2nd game.

Dale spoke with me and shared his memories of this once in a lifetime experience.

New manager John McGlynn took you into the First Team squad as an 18-year-old. Was that something you were expecting?

I came in pretty late in pre-season to be fair. The previous season, I was part of the Scottish Cup preparations, making sure the players boots were clean etc. After the summer, I thought it would be another year of me learning and kicking on in the 19’s squad. It wasn’tuntil the tail end of pre-season did, I become part of the First Team. One of the assistant’s came in and asked my coach at the time if he could get a couple of players to join the First Team. I was picked along with 3 others to make up the numbers, and from there we trained for a week. Hearts had a pre-season friendly against Dunfermline, where I was part of the squad and came on. From then on, I was steadily getting more and more involved with the First Team environment, in terms of training with them more than training with the 19’s.

You made your debut against St Johnstone as a sub. What was that like finally making an appearance for Hearts?

The day before, I was doing the boot hamper, and I saw my name on the team sheet, and I was thinking “is this right?” I was amazed! I didn’t think I was quite ready to be in the squad. Once it was confirmed, I was buzzing! Leading up to the game, I just thought I was there just to give me experience, to be in that environment at the start of the season. Then to see I had made the sub’s bench, I was even more ecstatic! In my head I was going a bit mental, but on the outside, I was trying to act cool in front of all the senior guys. I was nervous because I had never experienced Tynecastle at full capacity. Yes, we had been at games, but there is a difference between sitting behind the dug-outs and actually sitting in the dug-outs. To feel the atmosphere at Tynecastle and then to get the nod, I was like “Me? You sure?”. I will always remember that day because I should’ve scored! It was one of those where I always tried to practice that finish, where I’ve received the ball on the left-hand side, and I’ve taken on the full back. I dropped the shoulder and cut inside, and I usually whip the ball into the far corner, but I’ve hit the ball too well, and it’s hit the back of the corner of the net and hit the pole at the back of the goal. In general, what a day for me, because I had been at Hearts since I was 12 years old and then to finally make my debut was incredible.

Shortly after that, the draw for the Europa League was made. What was the reaction drawing Liverpool?

I remember the year before when Hearts got Tottenham and it was like “Wow, Tottenham are coming to Tynecastle”, and it was the same when we drew Liverpool. For me, it was heightened more because I might be involved this time and come shoulder to shoulder with some of the top players in the world. I was 18 at the time and you watch Match of the Day and see players like Steven Gerrard on there and know you might be playing against them.

Having not made any more appearances since the St Johnstone game, did you fear that you wouldn’tmake the squad for such a big game?

I would have been happy just to have been involved in the environment, just to see these top players. I just wanted to be around the First Team, and I know you have to take steps to get the opportunity, and when the opportunity arises you have to take it. When I was named on the bench, it was a similar feeling to my debut. Knowing I was going to be on the bench, I was nervous building up to it, but as soon as you cross the line, you get into the zone. If I am called on, then I know I’m ready. Yes I might have butterflies in my stomach, but this is what I am here to do.

Watching from the bench, how did you feel the game went?

Liverpool dominated the possession, but we were well structured. They didn’t have many opportunities, to be fair. We were in the game, and I felt we did really well. Even when they scored from Andy’s OG, it was one of those where the ball came flying in and Andy (Webster) couldn’t get out of the way and it’s hit him and went in. It wasn’t the same calibre if players as they did have at Anfield, but we were still facing a top Liverpool side and I think we earned a bit more respect from Liverpool.

You are 1-0 down, your manager turns to you and says you’re going on. What’s John’s words to you before you enter the pitch?

Just “go on and enjoy it.” He just wanted me to build myself into the game. John was always great with the young guys. He was so calming for us. I don’t think he was expecting me to score, I think he just wanted me to be a menace as I always had high energy and I could maybe cause problems and maybe create a chance. I was high on adrenaline that week anyway, so when I came on, I was still full of adrenaline, so maybe that made me a little erratic in some of the decisions I made in the game. I was just buzzing to be honest.

Andy Driver and Callum Paterson both had chances once you came on. If one of those goes in, does it change the game?

Goals change games. I think that’s why we got more respect from Liverpool when we went down to Anfield, because we did create chances and if we get one of those it’s a completely different game. It was only 1-0 and it was all to play for in the second leg. I still felt we were still in it. There was a lot of positives to take from the game. From a personal viewpoint, I was happy to get another game, to get more minutes, more experience of the Tynecastle atmosphere. The atmosphere was different that night to a normal game at Tynecastle, as you were playing against top players, and not playing sides you play four times a season. These are the nights the fans look forward to and so do we as players, going up against the best.

Was the game play for the second leg to just stay in the game as long as possible?

John is very structured in what he does. He gives you all the details he thinks will work to give you that slight opportunity. He gives us lots of information that we take on board and makes sure we are well structured and organised throughout, so it was stay in the game as the longer we keep it at 0-0, then more they might have that slight panic and if we get that one goal, that changes the whole thing again. 

How did you feel when you came on with 15 minutes to play?

Normally the time would have gone by pretty quickly, but I felt I built myself into the game and it felt like it last longer. I was able to enjoy it more because I was getting on the ball, I was getting more touches, whereas I felt like I was just running about. In this game I was driving, I was making passes and getting a bit more involved because I had bit more time. I took more of the environment in and the atmosphere in too. I was just incredible really.

What was your reaction to David Templeton’s goal?

When the goal went in, we couldn’t believe it to be honest. Most of us saw Temps go to shoot and we thought Pepe Reina was going to take it in and hit us on the counterattack, but as soon as he makes the error, you’re thinking “what’s the goalie doing?”. We all just ran towards the away end and we were just amazed because we score out of nothing really. However, if you don’t shoot you don’t know what might happen and he’s hit it and we’ve got the luck a wee bit on that one. The scenes behind the goal were unbelievable! Limbs flying everywhere! When you see some of the videos of guys going from row 10 all the way to the front. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that before or since. My family and some of my friends were in there too so to see their faces was something else.

How much of a heartbreaker was the Luis Suarez equaliser?

I honestly thought we were going to see it out to extra time, but when you play against World-Class players like Suarez, he’s always going to create something, and he was the one that got on the end of it. Yes, it took the wind out of our sails a little bit, but the way we played we were delighted and sometimes these things happen. I think we played really well against a top Premier League team and to get a 1-1 with some of their top players who weren’t playing on the first leg, we’ve done ourselves proud and I was delighted to be honest. I didn’t sleep a wink that night!

When you look back when your career is finished, will you look back on those two games as one of your highlights?

I’ve been quite fortunate for what I’ve experienced at quite a young age. I played in a League Cup final, scored in a derby, played against Liverpool in the Europa League, played in friendlies against Manchester City and Wolfsburg so I’ve got a lot to look back on. You appreciate football in general, as this shows you what can happen. As long as you are enjoying football, that’s the main thing. I’m grateful for everything that I’ve been given.

FEATURE PHOTOGRAPH: “Anfield” by Reading Tom is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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