Hearts defender Callum Paterson was a starstruck teenager when he rubbed shoulders with Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez during the club’s last European campaign.
Four years on, the Scotland Under-21 cap is relishing a return to the Europa League as Hearts take another memorable step in the right direction in their recovery from plunging into administration.
Hearts are unlikely to be handed a glamour tie when they enter the competition in the first qualifying round on June 30 but the right-back, who has returned to action following a shoulder injury, is just delighted the Gorgie outfit will once again by competing in Europe.
“I think I was just floating about the game, looking at Suarez and Gerrard – Pepe Reina was in goals,” said the 21-year-old, who played in both legs of the narrow 2-1 aggregate defeat to Liverpool and is the sole survivor of the team that ran out at Anfield.
“I think I touched the ball about four times, but I loved every minute of it and I want to get back there.
“To be on the same park as players like that was a massive achievement so I want to get back there and see if we can get teams like that again.
“Hopefully I won’t be as starstruck next time, but you never know. I can’t promise anything.
“For the boys that haven’t played in Europe, it’s going to be a massive boost for their confidence.
“It will be a pretty early start for us with the first game being on June 30 so we’re back in a bit earlier.
“But that’s not a bad thing. The boys won’t be complaining about coming back in early and training to play in Europe. I hope we can get a couple of good teams and progress.”
Hearts still have five Premiership games to negotiate – starting with today’s trip to Motherwell – and have not given up hope of catching second place Aberdeen, who are currently eight points clear.
Paterson is keen to make up for lost time after spending six weeks on the sidelines with shoulder ligament damage.
The injury forced him out at a time when he was being tipped for Scotland recognition prior to last month’s experimental friendlies against the Czech Republic and Denmark.
But with matches against Italy and France in six weeks’ time, the full-back could still play his way into Gordon Strachan’s plans ahead of the World Cup qualifiers.
Paterson added: “I thought I might have had a good chance of being involved but I was injured so you have to take it on the chin and get on with it.
“The boys did well enough so I just have to try and get myself in the squad
“I’ve always tried to impress and if I can impress between now and then, hopefully – if it comes round – so be it.
“I went along to the Scotland game against Denmark and watched that. I watched all the Hearts games too.”