We’re big, big fans of HARRY SOUTTAR. No wonder, as not only has he been outstanding for The Potters this season, but he’s also one of the nicest lads you could ever wish to chat to.
Excuse the dreadful pun, but the genial giant from Luthermuir has made massive strides under Michael O’Neill - someone who Souttar himself once worshipped as a fan - and it was great to speak to Harry about family life growing up in Scotland, his early years at Celtic and Dundee United, shining at Fleetwood under Messrs Barton and Hill, playing for Australia, lockdown, empty stadiums, that Youth Cup run, and his time in ST4 s ofar……
You grew up in Luthermuir……
Yeah, I went to a small school with around 70 kids in it in total. It was a tiny school in as mall community that is between Aberdeen and Dundee. It was a lovely place to grow up in, we definitely lived an outdoor, sporty lifestyle, and I am one of five kids. We had a school team run by my dad who was a footballer with Brechin City and a few other teams, and we were pretty successful. I think we were thefifth best primary school in Scotland one year…..
I was a well behaved kid, but I’m sure my mum would say differently to be fair, ha, ha! We were like most kids back then; we just wanted to go out and play football whenever we could. Break, lunch…..then we’d bike home and then go straight to the park to play games like World Cup until it got dark. In the winter months we’d be on our Playstations or Xbox. I’m still mates with a few kids from school now.
I’ve met your mum and dad at many a Stoke game,and they always buy DUCK……they’re lovely people, not just because they buy the mag…..
Yeah, I possibly didn’t realise at the time how much they did for us as kids. They were, and are, amazing, and still spend so much time travelling to see us all. They lovesport. The amount of miles they have travelled with all of us has been phenomenal. I was going to Glasgow every Monday and Thursday night, then possibly Saturdayor Sunday, too – that’s a 90 minute journey, one way! My brother John (Hearts and Scotland international centre half) was at Dundee United back then too……. I mean, that’s a huge sacrifice on its own. I can’t thank them enough.
What team did you support and did you go to watch them?
Brechin City, I was always a big fan. We were in League 1 when I started watching them.The funny thing is, Michael O’Neill was their manager and we were really successful under him getting to the quarter finals of the cup against StJohnstone, and we took them to a replay.
Does he know this?
Yes, he does know I’m a Brechin fan – we do joke about it. He says that he loved the area and his time there
Your dad also played for Brechin City……
Yes, he’s massive into his football, but he’s always let us make our own mistakes to behonest. He just wanted us to work hard and enjoy whatever we did. He wasn’t hard on us about mistakes we made to be honest, but I did think that if dad was driving me for three hours there and back to training, the very least I could do was to work as hard as possible.
Were you always a defender?
Yes. From an early age, I was always a defender. I was obviously a big lad and I actually liked defending too, unlike a lot of kids do at that age. I saw a last-ditch tackle as important as scoring a goal. As I grew older and we went to 11 aside, I went from playing as a defender to being an out and out centre half. I was always comfortable on the ball, and I do enjoy passing the ball. A lot of credit has to go to my coaches when I was younger – particularly Mark Miller at Celtic. He was massive for me. One of the best blokes I’ve met in my life. Good person, good morals, good coach…..every player coached by him will say the same. A lot of credit should also go to Ian Cathro a first team coach at Wolves now. He ran Cathro Clinic whilst he was in Dundee. I used to go there midweek with my brother John. That was key in developing me as a young footballer…….
Tell us about growing up alongside your brother, and fellow professional footballer, John…..
It can b ehard having an older brother, ha, ha! We loved playing football as kids growing up and we certainly had some battles! But we pushed each other a lot and are good mates. We are both similar and different in some ways. I’ve always lookedup to him and he’s done so well, and that spurred me on……
When we were both at Tannadice, he was a first teamer, and I do think that put a bit of extra pressure on me from other people, but not from me. He was ready for first team football then, I wasn’t.
What did you parents feed you two on?
Big portions, ha, ha!
You joined Celtic Youth Academy in 2006 and played through the age groups – how were you spotted?
I remember going to a Summer Skills camp that they had put on in Forfar, and John Holt, a coach, was there. I think I was the only kid who went there who didn’t have a Celtic top on – I remember having an AC Milan top on, and he put my name forward.
It was between them and Dundee United who I was going to sign for to be honest. The standard of players, facilities and coaching at Celtic was on another level which made my mind up for me, and we also had some amazing European trips….only really us and Rangers were getting that kind of set up andopportunities in Scotland. We were going abroad as Celtic U9’s about 3 or 4 times a year! My brother was at Dundee United, and I remember that every yearwe got new kit, bag and stuff like that whilst my brother kind of had theirs for a couple of seasons, ha, ha! I loved my time at Celtic and still have friends from my time there.
When I left there I signed for Dundee United. It wasn’t a case of being gutted or anything, I was growing quite dramatically at the time, perhaps they didn’t think I was of their standard, plus they wanted me to go to school there…….I wasn’t bitter, I just saw it as a chance at another club. Academies are tough environments, and this stuff happens to thousands of kids. Just a case of getting on with it……
It was superb at Dundee United. Loved it. I was there for three seasons. I knew a lot of the boys anyway, and it was a lot closer to home too, which helped. When I signed my apprenticeship, we lived in digs in Dundee and the whole youth academy would stay in the one house – almost 20 of us. As you could imagine, it was lively……..the two years there were amazing. Get up, go play football, come home and have a great time with mates your own age and a few older lads too. Initiations were lively too ha, ha…..
You made your first team debut against Partick Thistle in a Scottish Premiership match in May 2016 and scored your first senior goal against Kilmarnock four days later. What do you remember of those games?
I wasn’t really that nervous before my debut to be honest. I had set myself a goal of making my debut whilst still being a scholar, as a 17 year olds I got told by the coach before the game that I was playing….I just remember being absolutely buzzing, no nerves.
Nowadays, there are always a few nerves before the games, but for my Dundee United debut I remember that I was just buzzing so much, so delighted that I was picked. We were really struggling to stay up that season and eventually were relegated. The game ended 3-3, so defenders certainly weren’t on top that day. I do remember around the 70th minute that I had cramp…….I probably didn’t realise how fast games were at that level. It was certainly an eye-opener. I didn’t start in the Kilmarnock game, itwas the last game of that season. But I came on and scored a late header in a 4-2, which was brilliant.
You were relegated that season – how hard was that to take for a teenager?
Yeah, it was tough. I was training most days with the first team, but playing mostly with the under 20’s, and so it was a tough one really, as I kind of knew that if a team is near the bottom of the league that they don’t usually call for 17 year old defenders to help to save them. I knew I wasn’t going to be the answer to their problems that year, but I kept my head down and kept working hard. I thought I’d get more of a chance the next season in the Scottish second tier, but that didn’t materialise, as that summer I signed for Stoke……..
When did you know of Stoke City’s interest in you?
I remember in the summer of 2016 being told that Stoke had wanted me to train with them the previous January, but that didn’t happen. I know that they’d had a couple ofbids rejected, and I spoke to the manager at Dundee United at the time, RayMcKinnon, who to be fair to him was excellent with me. I had played a couple oftimes pre-season and had done well, and had been told that I would be involvedthat season, but many lads I spoke to said that if they had the chance to go down and join an English club - especially one in the Premier League as Stoke were then - that they would jump at the chance.
When I was 12 or 13, I always thought that there were plenty of Scottish youngsters who would go down to England and then never be heard of again - and I didn’t want that to happen to me. But when I saw Stoke’s interest and saw the club, I was really excited. I knew it was going to be a longer project, and I knew that there was no way I’d come down and start anywhere near the first team, but it just seemed the right club for me when I came down here. My mum and dad were really supportive of the decision.
How hard was it for a young lad from Luthermuir to come to Stoke to live?
I came down with my agent and mum and dad on the Friday, signed, went back home for the weekend, then travelled down on Sunday night and was straight into it on the Monday. I’d already moved away from homeat 15 to go to Dundee United, and that stood me in good stead for coming toStoke That helped me massively. Some lads get homesick, but I just wanted to bea professional footballer, so it’s all part of the process.
I stayed with Janet and Grant Cooper, who wereunbelievable to me. Their family was amazing, and helped me to settle so quickly. I was there for nearly a year, and then got myself a flat in thecity…..
I found it a little strange at first going from Dundee United to Stoke…..at Tannadice I was used to doing jobs in and around the club. I used to have to clean the buses for a year - inside and out, every day.We each had a pair of first team boots to clean too, and you’d get a littlebonus at Christmas and stuff like that….but obviously that doesn’t happen inthe Premier League. I thought, “this is amazing”, ha ha.
The thing I remember at training was the technical level of the under 23 players. It was amazing. I remember players like Joel Taylor who I used to watch and think “how is this player not in the first team, he’s unbelievable!”…..all players were quick and athletic. I’m still mates with many of those lads and we all went on holiday last year……
In your first season with Stoke, we had a superb Youth Cup run - what do you remember of it?
It was an amazing journey, and as we progressed the support just grew and grew. We had a great group of lads. I think my first proper game for Stoke was the Youth Cup game against Forest at home. We had Jordan and Tye up front who would cause havoc and score goals, and we had a really tight-knit group of quality lads. Preston away was a particularly massive buzz. We couldn’t believe the numbers of Stoke fans there that night. We heard about Stokie fans going there straight from work, coming up from down south………we knew the club was putting transport on and that we’d have a few there, but whenyou are in the 18’s or 23’s you know that crowds will be quite small.
To walk out at Deepdale that night and see the opposite stand with so many Stoke fans in it was amazing.
The Man City semi final - did we freeze a little that night?
That was just gutting. I think the whole team was a bit in shock. I remember that first ten minutes; Foden and Diaz were buzzing around, moving the ball so quickly….and I thought to myself that this was going to be a long, long night. They pressed so high that night….we couldn’t get out.
We were so up for that game. It was the first time in a while that Stoke had progressed that far and we so wanted to do well. Again, we took so many supporters to that game and we were gutted with the result.The changing room was a horrible place to be afterwards. But we said to ourselves that there was no point in sulking, that we had a second leg that we had to play well in and do ourselves justice in, and we were far better in that game. We knew we needed a miracle to get through, but we had to crack on wit hit…..
That EFL cup game at Vale Park – gutted to miss it?
Yes, massively. We were training over the weekend before the game and I had felt awful for a few days. I went into training on the Sunday and I could hardly physically move. I got sent home, went straight to bed and was sick all night. I was obviously gutted for the boys as we didn’t show the best version of ourselves in that game, and with once again thousands of Stoke fans coming tosee us…..
You had a great time at Fleetwood, and their fans loved you. How did you develop as a player and a person there?
It was massive for me, both as a player and a person. I really can’t speak highly enough of the people at that football club.I have to give thanks to the gaffer for taking me there…….
What’s Joey Barton like?
Hard but fair. He’s very black and white in what he wants and what he doesn’t want. If you are willing to work hard and put theteam first, then that’s all he asks for. He gave me my first professional game in England - against Charlton on a Friday, and I stayed in the team from then on until I was suspended. I loved going into training every day with the first team, and saw myself as a first teamer. I had never really been that before, so that added responsibility was brilliant for me. And working with Clint Hill every day was brilliant for me, too. Hetaught me defensive stuff I didn’t know about as a young centre half.
It's a great set up at Fleetwood. Great training facilities and great people.
Hill and Barton ,that’s one tough management team…….
It was mainly all good with them. Like I said before, do your best and that would be fine. But I did see their angrier side once or twice ha, ha. Both are very fair though. I think without lockdown that we would have gone up last season. We were playing well, controlling games, had played virtually al the big boys already too, so it was disappointing - but that’s just how it was.
Tell us about your lockdown…..
We were meant to play Gillingham on the Friday, but when it was called off we were told to go home for the foreseeable future. My girlfriend is an NHS worker and was on the Covid wards back in Scotland, so I didn’t really see much of her, so it wasvery surreal and very difficult at first.
I kept myself fit, and as for everyone else - getting through it together as a family, was what it was all about. I was never one forlong distance running on my own, but I got an Apple watch and went running every day. It’s stunning where the family lives in Scotland, and so when restrictions were lifted, spending time with family was great. Football-wise, I was gutted that the season had stopped for a number of weeks, but that pales into insignificance when yousaw what was happening in the world. My girlfriend working right in the very heart of the pandemic meant that I always knew what was important in life. No-one has been through this before, so everything was new for everyone. But speaking to her meant that I always had perspective……Football is amazing, a huge part of mylife, but family and friends are always number one. Yeah, lockdown gave me more perspective on life.
What was it like coming back to Stoke after Fleetwood?
I have just kept working hard. Fleetwood and playing regularly there was great for my development. It gave me added belief. I knew it was going to be hard at Stoke as we have so many talented centre halves, but I got added belief in my ability from playing regular first team games, and I simply went into training at Clayton Wood and gave it everything.
This summer, the manager didn’t see me going out on loan again as the next stage of my development, so that gave me confidence, soit was about getting my head down and waiting for any opportunities…..he knew I was working hard at my game, and I made sure I trained in a way that I knew how he wanted his centre halves to play. Pre-season was great for me, as were thecup games. I knew that I couldn’t leave anything out there; every training session, every game.
I’ve only played a few first team games, so I know full well that I am not a regular first teamer yet. If I drop my standards or play poorly then I am out of the team, and rightly so. When you see who isn’t in the starting eleven, it quickly makes you realise that you have to play consistently well or you lose your shirt.
It’s all about playing games and playing consistently well. It’s hard for young players to be consistent, but that isthe name of the game. Speaking to Clint Hill regularly, made me realise that defenders have to defend, first and foremost. Yes, I like passing the ball, andI know we are encouraged to do that. But if we are defending poorly, we won’t be in the team. It’s as simple as that.
Prefer playing in a back four or three?
That’s a tough one. At Fleetwood to start with, we started playing with just the two centre halves - then we went to a three at the back. My own choice would probably be in the centre or on the right of a three, but it’s all about getting into the team, no matter what the position. I’ve played left of a two, right of a three, centrally…so I am quite adaptable.
You made your Championship debut against PNE: nervous?
Yeah, I was a bit more nervous for that one than I was back in Dundee, ha ha. It was always a goal of mine to play in the first team, and not being 17 any more I suppose more nerves kick in. First ten minutes, both me and the team were a bit anxious to be honest. The red card certainly changed the game, and once we had the goal and a foothold in the gamewe seemed to relax a bit. To get a win and clean sheet on my Championship debutwas superb.
How hard and surreal is it playing in empty stadiums?
It’s really weird. I know I haven’t got the first team experience of most others over the years. They’ve been playing in front of big crowds on a regular basis. So, it may suit me better? But you can hear what almost every single person is saying, both on and off the pitch. I want to be playing in front of big crowds, but it is what it is……
I think it nullifies home advantage massively. When there is a break in the game you hear the noise of the crowd, or when you need picking up as a team, then the crowd does that. I’m not saying that it can’thappen without a crowd, but having twenty thousand in the ground or a packed away end does give you that extra at times. Maybe for some players the lack of supporters is a positive, but not for me.
I love the intensity of football, the emotion of the game, and you get that from feeding off the crowd, and it’s something that is impossible to replicate. Apart from playing on your own pitch and the other team having to travel, you are virtually at a neutral ground every single game,so that’s why there have been so many crazy away wins and daft scores since lockdown. It’s certainly something to think about - getting that extra 10% edge in professional sport is massive, and so fair play to the lads and management for how well we have done since we started after lockdown. Whilst the pace ofthe game is still quick, when I watch games I do think the games are slightly slower without crowds.
Australia over Scotland……..
It’s never been like that. My mum being Australian was always a big thing for me. I have always had that connection with Australia and I supported them in many sports when I was a kid and always followed and supported the Socceroos…..
I had played for Scotland at under 17 and under 19 level, but I knew that Australia wanted me to play for them and when they wanted me to go their training camp I jumped at the chance. Yes, I was born inScotland and have a Scottish accent - but it was totally natural for me to play for Australia. I knew it was the right decision straight away. I have a great relationship there with the manager, staff and players….
I think they are trying to arrange a training camp in November sometime, but training and fixtures………everything is kind of up in theair at the moment, obviously. There are a lot of matches to make up, I knowthat…….but one ambition is that I really do want to play in the Olympic Games.That is a massive thing for me.
In fifteen/twenty years time, you will be……Hopefully, playing a lot of golf with my best two mates, Scot and Harry!
Your best mates at the club are…..I’ve got loads of mates there, but I’m probably closest to Tyrese and Josh, but there’s a greatgroup of young lads there who have been together a few years.
When you first came to Stoke who took you under their wing? When I first came down Chaz (Charlie Adam) was unbelievable with me, and when Darren Fletcher signed, he was amazing too. Probably the only lads who could understand what I was saying ha, ha!
Change one thing about yourself…..These aret ough, I wasn’t expecting these. I wish I had Tyrese Campbell’s pace ha, ha!
Tell us something we don’t know about you…..I love Lord of the Rings. I used to collect all those figures and stuff….to this day my top three films are Lord of the Rings 1, 2 and 3.
Your house is burning down - save one thing apart from family…..Crikey, that’s an unbelievable tough question. Wow, er…….I’ll go for my dog Archie (a Scottish terrier), and the other thing would be a photo of me and my nan that sits beside my bed, as she passed away a couple of years ago.