BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Adam Eckersley has never made any secret of his desire to follow in the footsteps of his little brother by plying his trade in North America.
Little did he know that, after making the 4000-mile move to the idyllic city of Edmonton, his Canadian adventure would truly begin in Govan.
“The boys were telling me in recent years they’ve been to Florida and Arizona for pre-season, then I’m told ‘we’re going to Scotland,’” he smiles. “My first reaction was ‘you must be joking’. I signed up for the trip to Arizona and the 30 degree heat!”
Indeed, Eckersley was put through his paces in Murray Park, North Lanarkshire and Stirling during a 13-day training camp earlier this month, with his new North American Soccer League (NASL) employers FC Edmonton crossing swords with Partick Thistle at New Tinto Park – the home of Benburb FC – Airdrie, Newcastle U21s and Queen’s Park.
It is a far cry from the scorching temperatures of Arizona, granted, but Scotland can be considered something of a warm weather training camp compared to his new home in southern Canada.
Eckersley’s younger sibling, Richard, also a professional footballer, lapped up every moment of a successful stint with Toronto FC, helping to foster Adam’s desire to replicate that switch. Thus far, it has met his expectations; attentive support staff, welcoming locals and a growing, scenic city. The climate, however, does take some getting used to.
“It’s been absolutely freezing,” he continues. “Anywhere between zero and minus-15! The snow is up to your knees. I used to think Scotland was cold. Compared to where we’ve come from, Scotland has been mild.
“But we train indoors, so thankfully it’s not a major issue to us in terms of the football.
“Settling in is never easy in a new country, but me and my family got sorted with our apartment, car and met a few of the guys, who have been really welcoming.
“It’s been what I expected from speaking to people, including my little brother. He played in Toronto, whereas Edmonton is a bit quieter, but it’s a nice, up and coming city with new buildings everywhere and I think it’s going to really develop.”
FC Edmonton’s trip to Scotland did allow Eckersley to visit family in the UK and return to the scene of former glories, taking his new teammates Hearts’ 3-0 defeat against St Johnstone last weekend.
Eckersley joined unique club of men to have been on the books of both Hearts and Hibs when he crossed the capital divide last September, albeit an existing knee injury and a subsequent groin strain stopped him from ever playing for the Easter Road club.
Naturally, then, he was slightly pensive as he approached Tynecastle to collect tickets left by Hearts legend John Robertson.
However, it is clear his contribution to the side which claimed the Championship title in 2015 with a record points haul is enough for his legacy to withstand the switch across the city.
“I took a few of the boys to the Hearts-St Johnstone match,” he recalled. “John Robertson was kind enough to leave me five tickets and I took a few of the lads. It was a disappointing game but it was great to be back at Tynecastle.
“I got to speak to a lot of the fans who were there and they welcomed me back with open arms, so that was a really nice experience.
“I said to the boys when we were walking to the stadium ‘I’m not sure how I’m going to be received here’ after moving across the city to Hibs, but everyone was top class a few people said ‘I wish we had you back’, which is always nice to hear!
“We hired a car and I showed the boys around Edinburgh. We managed to get a couple of nights out in the city, so that was really good.
“I was still getting approached when I was out the other day, but it’s all in good fun. I’ll take it with a pinch of salt if anyone has something negative to say, and I’ll always be appreciative to the people who say nice things about my time in Scotland.”
Similarly, he has nothing but good things to say about Hibs, a club he genuinely believes will recover from their recent Championship malaise to win promotion and, pivotally, safeguard another campaign of Edinburgh derbies.
“Hibs need to be in the top-flight and I still believe they can go up,” continued Eckersley. “They have a lot of really great, young talent and I’d be really surprised if they are still in the Championship next season.
“They’ve lost a few games, which can happen when you’re in so many different competitions, but they have a cracking squad and a top management team and I hope they do it. I really do.
“Even though the Hearts fans dislike Hibs, and vice-versa, I really believe everyone misses the Edinburgh derby. It was fortunate that they drew each other in the Scottish Cup this year, but the prospect of no Edinburgh derby next season is not something either set of fans should be celebrating.”
Eckersley was speaking following FC Edmonton’s final fixture of their pre-season camp in Scotland, a 1-0 win over Queen’s Park at Lesser Hampden.
It saw the marauding left-back come on for the last 20 minutes; his first taste of action in four months. It was evidently a cathartic night for the former Manchester United kid, and he can’t wait to kick on and make an impact in a rapidly improving NASL.
Now back in Edmonton, his campaign begins with a trip to Georgios Samaras’ Rayo Oklahoma on April 2.
“I can’t even describe the feeling of how good it is to be back,” he added. “I can’t wait for the start of the league season now. I’ve always said I wanted to play in the American leagues and I feel fortunate that I’ve been given that opportunity.
“You can see the calibre of player that are being signed, with guys like Niko Kranjcar and Samaras. These are no mugs. There are some really strong sides in the league and I’m looking forward to the test.”