BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
HEARTS favourite Olly Lee insists the only downside to life at Tynecastle is that he is no longer able to star alongside his little brother Elliot.
The 27-year-old has revealed his eye for goal was crafted during kickabouts in the back garden with his younger sibling, while their connection was evident when they were in the West Ham youth ranks together.
That brotherly bond truly came to the fore last season as they helped Luton Town romp to promotion from League Two last term. Olly describes the feeling of lining up in the same team as Elliot as a ‘dream’.
It would prove fleeting, however, with the chance to join Hearts last summer too good to turn down for Olly.
He has immediately settled in Edinburgh, scoring four goals in 18 outings – including a screamer in the Betfred Cup quarter-final win over Motherwell – and become a hit with the fans.
“It was a little bit competitive with my brother when we were playing together last season, we both wanted to score more than the other,” said Lee.
“When we were younger, we would just have a kickabout in the garden. I still remember playing a game in the garden with Elliot called ‘Goalie Wars’. You’d set the two goals up 20 yards apart and smash balls at each other for hours on end.
“I think that’s when I got half decent at scoring from distance!
“It was an unbelievable feeling to be in the same team as him. It was something that we always dreamed might happen.
“We did play one reserve game together at West Ham and he set me up after 30 seconds to score – I’ve never been so nervous running through on goal. I thought ‘I’ve got to score this!’ My whole family would never have spoken to me again if I missed.
“Playing alongside my brother is the one big thing I miss. Not many people get the chance to do that. It was a big thing to leave that after such a good time together at Luton, but I know that I’ve made the right decision.”
While Elliot continues to thrive at Kenilworth Road – Luton are riding high in the League One playoff places – the pedigree of his dad is even stronger, with Rob boasting a superb career turning out for England and Newcastle.
Nevertheless, he was not always sure that Olly would made the grade.
“My dad thought I was crazy,” smiled Lee. “I came to him when I was 15 and said ‘I’m going to be a footballer’.
“I was playing Sunday League and wasn’t the best player in the world – and he thought ‘okay . . . are you?’ Thankfully, it turned out alright for me!
“I always knew I was going to be a footballer. As a young boy, you tend to follow what your dad does and there was never a doubt in my mind about what I would do.”
By contrast, Lee has no doubt about the standard of kids emerging at Hearts as he lavished praise on the new generation at Gorgie.
The likes of Anthony McDonald, Harry Cochrane and Marcus Godinho have already made their mark in the past 18 months, with Callumn Morrison the latest teenager to rise to prominence this term with a series of dazzling displays on the wing.
Lee, speaking at An Evening with Olly Lee at Hearts’ club store, insists he has been blown away by the pool of talent.
“There are just so many good players coming through. That’s the one thing I was really surprised by, if I’m honest,” he added.
“Fair play to the gaffer [Craig Levein], he gives them a real opportunity, which is a credit to him. There are a lot of good young players at clubs that might not get the chance to play, whereas putting them out there in front of 20,000 people is where you find out what they are made of.
“Cal [Morrison] has exploded onto the scene. A few of the boys were saying that he wasn’t really involved last season, but he has been brilliant for us. He is someone who gets people off their seats. He wants to get at full-backs and cross it – he knows his game and what he does well.”