JASON THOMSON is determined to put the boot into Hearts – after scrubbing Robbie Neilson’s as a kid.
The Arbroath stalwart came through the youth ranks at Tynecastle and, as the understudy for the right-back role, was at the beck and call of senior stars Neilson and Alan Maybury.
It was an invaluable learning curve for the fresh-faced stopper, with Neilson always ready to offer words of advice as Thomson sought to make his big breakthrough.
Thomson, who made 39 appearances in four years with the Jambos, smiled: “I’d never claim to have been Hearts’ first-choice right-back because Robbie had that position locked down for a decade!
“But he was always someone that you could look up to and ask for advice. I actually cleaned his boots for a few seasons when I first started – so that was a nice old school grounding in the game.
“He was brilliant with the young boys coming through. To this day, he always has time for a chat and is really humble.
“I think that comes from doing things the hard way – he went out on loan to Queen of the South and got the most out of his ability. There are no airs or graces about Robbie.”
Moreover, the Scotland cap was always generous when it came to a festive bonus for his eager apprentice.
Thomson laughed: “I scrubbed the boots for Robbie and Alan Maybury because you looked after the boys in your position – and Robbie tipped me more.
“It might seem like a daft wee thing, but he looked after you because he had those same values of hard graft, and probably did the same when he was a kid.
“His tips meant I was always popular at the youth team Christmas party!”
Thomson’s respect for Neilson as a player extends to his exploits as a manager.
The Red Lichties star watched the Jambos demolish Dundee 6-2 last Friday night and reckons the mix of pace, power and pressing was typical of what his old teammate demands.
Nevertheless, he is adamant Arbroath can pull off an almighty upset – just like they did in defeating Neilson’s Dundee United 1-0 at Tannadice in February.
Thomson continued: “I’ve played against Robbie’s teams a few times and they are always high-tempo but I think even he might have been surprised by just how good they were last week. That was them sticking out their chests and saying ‘this is our league’.
“They had a bit of everything last week – pace, power, goals. It’s hard to pick faults in anything they did.
“But they aren’t unbeatable. No team is. I remember we went to Tannadice when Robbie’s United side were the runaway leaders and we won 1-0. We are capable of big results.
“Over the years Arbroath have become accustomed to winning and upsetting the odds, so let’s see if we can do it again.”
The only negative for Thomson as Arbroath prepare for a tantalising televised clash is the lack of fans at Gayfield, insisting the visit of the Jambos should have been the crowning moment for a club that was in League Two as recently as 2017.
He added: “It would have been a full house here and – knowing our fans and the Hearts support – it would have been a cracking atmosphere.
“It should have been an amazing occasion for the staff, the chairman and the fans, after working so hard to get to this level and, although we respect the reasons, that is a disappointment.”