Updated: Jun 6, 2020
Callum Tapping’s career is one I’ve always kept an eye on. After all, we grew up in the same ends in FK; we even attended the same school - that was until Tapps’ was tempted away by the bright lights of London at 16, of course.
But when I first had the idea of creating Stonewaller Magazine, Tapping epitomised exactly what I wanted to do. Despite being only 27, he has been through a lot in his relatively short career. Since returning north of the border with Heart of Midlothian in 2011, he’s enjoyed highs and suffered lows - albeit with the latter outweighing the former.
And whilst appreciating his fortunate position as a professional footballer, he recognises there has been an element of misfortunate that has followed him to this point. Whether that’s been a case of wrong place, wrong time, recurring injuries or just downright bad luck, Tapping has suffered his fair share of hardships.
With that said, Tapps is still in his mid-twenties and yet to peak - there are plenty miles left in the tank for this mercurial midfielder. Right now? He is back going strong in his secondary home of Angus with Forfar Athletic. But it’s the story that led him to Station Park I wanted the supporters of his former clubs to be able to hear. I wanted those fans to understand Callum’s take on events since he left for Tottenham as a fresh faced teen. So, from Falkirk to Forfar, and everything in between, here it is.
Firstly, Callum, give us the first thing that comes in to your mind……
First kit - AC Milan
First pair of boots - Lotta - an Italian combo!
Best match you’ve been to - Probably a grassroots game! But, in terms of a professional one, Spurs vs Chelsea at Wembley, 2008 - the League Cup Final.
Favourite track - Guten Tag, Hardy Caprio
Current boot brand - Nike
Favourite clothing brand - Nike
Team supported growing up - Arsenal!
Favourite tattoo - The clock on my arm - the time my youngest brother was born
Best dressed you’ve played with - I’ve played with a few! But I’ll go with Ryan Frederiks
Dream stadium - Nou Camp
Best position - Centre Mid
Let’s get in to the serious stuff. You and I attended the same high school, with you being the year above me up until 2009, at which point, you signed for Tottenham from Hamilton Accidemical as a 16 year old - tell us how that move came about…… I was at Celtic from the age of 10 until I was 15, and left there to go to Hamilton - there was a bit of controversy about that at the time. I was there for about 9 months when, at the end of the season, I got a call from the Hamilton chairman to say that myself and another player, Euan Lindsay, had been asked to go for a weeks’ trial at Spurs. He mentioned that they’d watched me play and liked what they saw - would I be interested in going down? The answer was obviously ‘Of course’! So, straight away, myself and Euan went down for the week. We were a bit shell shocked at first as, at that point, we were under-16’s, but their 16’s weren’t full-time, so we got put in to the 18’s. You’re then giving away 2-3 years to these boys who, at that age, are much bigger than you; it was intimidating for us. We then trained with the reserves in the afternoon; with players who were in and around the first team. I had just came from Hamilton training with kids! So that’s how the week was structured. At the end of that week, we played in a friendly with the reserves against, I think it was Barnet, at the Spurs Lodge. Euan and I got 45 minutes each and we both did well. On our last day, we got pulled in to the office. They told Euan that they liked what they saw, but they wouldn’t take it any further at that point. Then they asked me to stay on and go on tour with the 18’s to Switzerland for a week - that was a bit awkward. But, by the time I came back, a deal between Hamilton and Spurs was already sorted and that was it! That season, I stayed at Accies as I was too young to move down. Every 2 weeks I’d get flown down to train with Spurs for a few days and play on a Saturday before coming back to play with Accies on the Sunday.
Were there any other clubs in for you when you signed for Spurs? It all came about so quickly so not really. There were a couple of clubs interested but nothing materialised.
As a 16 year old, was it a difficult decision to leave behind your friends and family or was the opportunity too good to turn down? I didn’t even think about it to be honest. I just jumped at it. The opportunity was given to me and, straight away, it was a case of: where’s the permanent marker so I can sign this contract? The realisation of moving away from home didn’t really set in until I had my leaving night with friends. But I was just focused on playing football.
Just on your friends, one of your closer ones, Graeme McGregor, signed for Bolton from Falkirk the same summer you moved to London. Was it good having someone so close to you go through the same process at the time? With my move being completed basically a year in advance, I had that season to, kind of, build up to it. For Graeme, his move was completed within 2 weeks; so we never had many conversations prior to it. But, when we were down there, it was good. You’re still young; 15, 16, away from home, it’s difficult. If we were struggling we could ask each other what we’d do in certain situations. So yeah, it was good to have someone to talk to.
One thing I wanted to touch on briefly was that you were born in London and lived there until you were 6 - did that have an impact on your decision to sign for Spurs and move back to London? Not really, but it did make it slightly easier for me when I was down there - I had my dad’s side of the family there so, if I was feeling lonely, I could go visit them on a weekend. In that sense, it was a little bit easier for me in comparison to someone else moving away from home at that age.
Continuing on the theme of family, one person you were always rumoured to be related to at high school was Chip (formerly know as Chipmunk). What can you tell us about that? I always get questions about that! It was weird. So, I was never really close with him. But yeah, I suppose I am loosely related to him - he’s a cousin via my uncle’s wife. But, with it being from her side, I’d only see him now and again, have a conversation or two - but never a case of texting and meeting up.
So you’re now in London. What was your overriding feeling when you first moved down? Probably nerves. Again, it was slightly different as I had met the boys previously. But, in London, the boys’ personality and their characters are a bit different to home. We come from Falkirk, but Glasgow boys are different to us - they’re louder, a bit more gallus. In London, it’s another 2 or 3 levels above that! They’re loud, confident, cocky; in a good way - but I was a young boy. So I had to have a bit about me to survive as they were ruthless! Something that I’d never experienced before. It definitely made me stronger - both mentally and as a footballer. So it was good in the long-term.
What was the living situation when you went down? You got an option of fending for yourself or getting put in digs. But the money I was earning at 16 meant that digs were the only viable option. Which was fine. Some I enjoyed, others not so much. For my first one, I was on my own - probably the last thing you want when you’re moving away from home - most of the other boys were doubled up. There was no TV, I was constantly bored; they were a lovely family, but it wasn’t for me at the time. So I moved in with someone else soon after, which I really enjoyed.
How about your social life life? What was that like outwith training and digs? At first, it was obviously a struggle; it was more a case of trying to fill your days. Furthermore, you didn’t get it easy down there. You had to be in for 8:30am and you’d be there until 4pm, Monday to Friday; so that was difficult. It was, essentially, my first experience of a working environment; it was tiring! As I got used to it, though, I started getting more of a social life. Playing golf, going out for food with some of the boys, meeting new people, going out with my family; it just became more normal after maybe 4-5 months.
Did any of your teammates help you settle in to the club and the area? One of the boys I stayed with in digs was good: Kudus Oyenuga. He actually played up here with Dundee United at first, then went to Cowdenbeath and Morton. But we always had good banter. Funnily enough, he used to joke about how he’d never play in Scotland! But again, he was ruthless; a typical London lad. But I got on with him well. The following year I was in digs with Alex Pritchard, who is at Huddersfield Town now; a good mate of mine. But the one I was closest with was Ryan Frederiks, who I still go down and see - when time allows.
Players like Ethan Ampadu and Hector Bellerin have said that moving to London had a positive impact on their fashion and style. Did moving to London have any lasting affect on your wardrobe? 100%. Everything transformed. I was always a bit out there when I was younger but, up here, in Falkirk, when you wear that kind of stuff, you’d maybe get looked at a bit differently. I’d get slaughtered by my group of mates for some stuff! But, going down there, I felt far more relaxed in my own style; I could express myself. I was wearing stuff that I wanted to wear. I felt that’s where my style belonged, in that kind of open environment where you could express your fashion day-to-day. So, when I came back home after that, I just carried on doing that. If I got asked ‘what are you wearing that for?!’ I just didn’t care. I’m wearing it because that’s what I like. So it had a massive impact on that front.
Sub-culturally, London is very different now from what it was in 2009. Grime was the only real UK music scene and even that was still seen as underground. Nowadays, London has a trap scene, a drill scene, a hip hop scene, stemming from people like Dave, who also starred in Top Boy and AJ Tracey, a Spurs fan who frequently features Spurs youngsters in songs and on his social media…… So, on the back of that, do you think that, if you were signing for Spurs as a 16 year old in 2019 instead of 2009, it would have been better for you on the park as well as off it? Nowadays? Probably. It would definitely be different. Would it be for the better, though? I’m not sure.
With the world of Social Media, though, youngsters have massive profiles before they’ve even made the first team these days - look at Karamoko Dembele, for example; he has mass hysteria surrounding him despite only being 17; Dave also follows him on Instagram. But, if Dembele was to come through in say, 2009, I feel like he could slip through the net - the fate suffered by Islam Feruz. With his current hype, however, I feel like the only way is up for him. Applying that to your own career, do you think that would have helped you? Obviously ability is still key! Maybe. Although, coaches are vigilant of players who are only in it for the profile. So, if you’re not there to play football, you’re out the door. But I do understand your point. Having a public persona and a strong social media nowadays, you’re going to be in the public eye for longer, 100%.
We’ve touched on your relationship with Ryan Frederiks already. I also noticed that you are the same age as Harry Kane; so tell us about the players you played with down at Spurs. Kane was youth team captain. We also had Massimo Luongo, who is at Sheffield Wednesday now. Obviously, Ryan Frederiks, who is at West Ham. Adam Smith, Bourenmouth. John Bostock, who has been about and is now back playing in England with Nottingham Forest, Jordan Archer who has just signed for Fulham - some really good players!
You then signed your first professional contract with the club in 2010 and were promoted to the Premier League Reserve Squad, making 27 appearances that season - how did you feel that year went? It was difficult as, in that team, I was still one of the younger ones. So I was still giving away 2-3 years to other players. To get in the team, I was having to play right-back! I just had to get in and take my chance to stay in there as, like we’ve touched on, we had a lot of good players. But, in my second year, I managed to play more in midfield, which was good. At the end of that season, though, a lot of things were changing - so I decided to come up the road.
You did that when you signed for Hearts on deadline day of the 2011 summer transfer window, shortly after Spurs had beaten the Jambos 5-0 in a Europa League qualifier - what was your mindset on the back of that result? To be honest, I think I was getting a bit homesick at the time. So when I heard that Hearts were interested, I was very keen to hear what they had to say. When they explained the pathway to the first team they had planned for me, and with Hearts being a massive club, it turned out to be an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.
You initially went in to the clubs Under-19’s team before being loaned out to Alloa Athletic in November 2012 where you made your senior debut against future employers Brechin City - how did it feel to finally make your first team debut? That’s mad! I never realised it was against Brechin. But I remember I had done well with the Under-19’s and then spoke to John McGlynn, who had just got the Hearts job, who told me I should go out on loan. I was a bit apprehensive when McGlynn first got the job, as he managed three players who play in my position the previous season at Raith - Jason Holt being the main one. Straight away, I was on the back foot; I was worried about my playing time. So I went on loan to Alloa to try and get some first team experience. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure it was the right place to go. At that point in time, Alloa were flying; they had a really settled team, so it was difficult to break in to the team. Whilst it was good to be in a winning environment and learning from seasoned professionals, I was only there for 4 weeks, so it was difficult for the manager to put me in the team when they were on such a good run.
Was it difficult to integrate yourself in the changing room at Recreation Park? Coming in to a dressing room full of hardened professionals who have been working during the day - a totally different culture from what you had been used to at Tottenham and Hearts - was that hard adapting to? It was. But the boys were good with me. It was mainly down to the fact they had such a settled squad - they had been together for two, three seasons, winning constantly. So to get in to their circle was hard as they trusted each other. Then there was me coming in to the dressing room trying to take one of their places. So that was the main reason for it. But, as guys, they were brand new. It was a totally different environment, though; it was my first experience of playing for win bonuses - boys needed that extra £150. So, when you weren’t doing things right in games, you were told. A couple of times I was left thinking ‘Jeezo!’ I was only 18 years-old; it was a bit of a fright at the time.
Going on loan to a part time club in Scotland is quite common for youngsters in the Premier League. How did you find it having to train full time with Hearts and then midweek nights? It was alright actually. The most difficult thing was getting in to the mindset of having to train at night as I hadn’t done that since I was 15. Going home from Hearts training, chilling out, getting comfortable, then having to go out and train again; that was probably the most difficult thing.
Paul Hartley was your manager at the Wasps, a Hearts legend, how was it working under him for the month you spent there? Brilliant. Working with a centre-midfielder who is a legend at my parent club could only have been good for me. He gave me great advice and actually asked me to stay for the remainder of the season; I just didn’t think it was right for me.
Upon returning to Tynecastle, you made your Hearts first team debut a month later - coming on as a sub at Celtic Park in a 4-1 defeat - how was it making your debut? So! John McGlynn told me to stay out on loan with Alloa and get more experience as I wasn’t going to play. But, I was training with the first team, and training really well - I knew myself I was playing well. The team also had some iffy results at the time. I just felt I had a chance of getting in to the squad. But John McGynn was standing there saying he’d sort out another loan move for me. I just remember saying: ‘Naw’.
He turned round, ‘What do you mean?’
‘I’m not going back.’
‘What do you mean you’re not going back? You’re not going to play here.’
‘Well I’m not playing at Alloa either so I’m staying.’
But I knew what I was doing. I had a chance to play.
That must have taken a lot of balls to stand up to the manager. It did! But I knew the question was coming as Hartley asked McGlynn about getting me back. So I was avoiding the manager all week! But I wasn’t playing at Alloa, and, at that point, I wasn’t playing at Hearts. I just wanted to remain in the environment I felt more comfortable in and focus on pushing towards the Hearts first team. He never took the huff with me, but you could see he wasn’t happy! Anyway, the week after that, on the Thursday before the Celtic game, he pulled me in to his office. ‘Callum, you’re going to start at Parkhead’ I went: ‘Whit?!’ He then told me it was 50/50 as he was trying to bring in Danny Wilson on loan from Liverpool. So, if he could get Danny in, I would be on the bench. But, at that moment, I was starting. That was only a week after him saying I should go out on loan! I remember coming in to training the next day, still not really thinking anything of it. We did shape on Fridays, so McGlynn flicked over the flip chart and there was my name - holding midfield. A lot of the first team boys were looking around thinking ‘What is going on here?!’ Then, the next flip chart was set-plays. ‘The first corner we get, we are going to zing it out to Tapps at the edge of the box and you’re going to volley it first time.’ I’m sitting there thinking ‘is this a wind up?!’ When we went out to train the boys were giving it ‘Tapps, we can smell yer arse from here!’ But that night I got a call from the manager to say that Wilson had signed, so I was on the bench. But I managed to get on and, yeah, it was a dream come true, despite the result.
The following week, you made your first start for the club in the 2013 League Cup Semi-Final against Inverness at Easter Road, which saw Hearts win 5-4 on penalties. What can you remember from that occasion? So that week we did 11 v 11 each day and I was never in the starting team. But the 2nd team kept winning, kept winning, kept winning. You could see McGlynn was getting frustrated. It got to the Thursday and we won again; McGlynn went ‘Right! Stop this! Tapps, midfield! Holty, midfield! Scott Robinson, midfield!’ So we were in the starting team for the Friday and we won something like 4-0. So that was the team for the game. We couldn’t believe it. I remember walking out on the day and thinking, again, ‘Jeezo what a game this is!’ It was packed; Easter Road; the atmosphere was great. It was a tough game, though. Scott Robinson got sent-off early in the second half which meant we had to go 4-4-1. It was myself and Holty centre-midfield, two 19 year-olds, against good players - Ross Draper, Andrew Shinne, Graeme Shinne - they had a decent team. But we ground it out. It got to 115 minutes and I started thinking ‘aw naw - I’m going to need to take a penalty here!’ But I got a bad tackle so, thankfully, I got taken off! But the boys did it on penalties which was great.
Then, in the February of that year, you were called up to the Scotland-U21 Squad for a match against Greece. That month, between your Hearts & Scotland U21 debuts, must stand out as a real high point in your career? I was just really enjoying my football, getting 90 minutes every week with good players; Darren Barr, Andy Webster, Mehdi Taouil - I was playing with these guys week-in, week-out and getting better for it. After a while I managed to get recognition for my performances with the Under-21’s, which was brilliant. But I was wary that I hadn’t really had a low yet - it was all highs to this point.
That low did come as, the following month, you were omitted from the Hearts squad for the 2013 League Cup Final. How disappointing was it not to be be involved against St Mirren? It was devastating. I had obviously played in the semi-final and McGlynn continued to play me thereafter. But, around 3 weeks before the cup final, the manager was sacked and Gary Locke was appointed. He came in and started to reinstate the more experienced players but, the Sunday before the final, I played against Hibs in the derby. I played well; I felt I had done alright. In training the following week, we were doing shape; I was in a couple, out a couple; I’m wondering if I’m going to start; I had a lot of family coming up from London, all my mates were going - I had about 30 tickets in total! Anyway, we stayed overnight at The Dakota and, after breakfast, I got the dreaded curly finger from the assistant to say that the gaffer wanted to see me. So I went up and, instantly, I could tell from his face that I wasn’t starting. But then he went on to say that he only had one space left on the bench as, back then, you could only name 5 subs. It was between me and Holty; and he felt Holty would be the better option if we needed to nick a goal - so I wasn’t in the squad. That was probably the first time ever in football that I felt myself welling up. I went back to my room where I was sharing with Jamie Walker who asked what the meeting was about; ‘Aw I’m not playing’ I said. ‘What, you’re not starting?!’ And I was like, ‘Nah, I’m not in the squad’. He was just as shocked as I was. But yeah, it was devastating.
Lets fast forward four months to June of 2013. In another low, Hearts announce the club have gone in to administration. What was your initial reaction when you heard the news? Uncertainty. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with my own future. That summer, a couple of things popped up but never quite went through. So I stayed and was in and out of the team, and a few different positions - centre midfield, right midfield. It was a difficult season, especially with such a young squad with virtually no experience. And, as good as Hearts fans are, they still expect results, and rightly so, but it was tough for a lot of us young boys to handle. I think I had just turned 20 and I was getting told from Billy Brown that I wasn’t a young boy anymore; ‘I’m looking around this changing room and you’re one of the experienced ones’ - I had only played about 15-20 first team games! We would do our best obviously but we’d always come up short - lose 1-0 here, 2-0 there - it felt like everything was just going from bad to worse.
Did that season affect your confidence? It probably did. Not long term, but certainly during that campaign. I also picked up an injury which meant I was out from around October to February. So yeah, it was a difficult season for me.
You were then released when the club were relegated from the Premier League. Were you disappointed not to be offered a new deal, especially with the club now being in the SPFL Championship? I was gutted. The injury I had also stopped me from triggering an extension which was really frustrating. But I got pulled in to the office and they told me they wanted a small squad for the Championship to cut the wage bill. Given I was coming back from another injury at the time, they told me I wasn’t getting offered a new contract. So it was gutting, especially as, in the Championship, playing in a good Hearts team that year, I felt I could have excelled.
You then returned to part time football with Angus Club Brechin City. What was your objective when signing for the club? I love Brechin but, that said, I was a bit naive when I made the move there. I never received the right advice at the time. I was 20 years old, been at Spurs, had played for Hearts in the Premier League, I should have looked to stay as high as possible. But I probably never pushed myself on to enough clubs that summer, I never chapped enough doors, I could have maybe picked up the phone more rather than getting nervous about doing it. Instead, I just accepted what was offered to me; so I ended up signing with Brechin. But I really enjoyed it there; a great club. I learned a lot there. I was in a winning changing room, working under a manager who I enjoyed playing for. So, long-term it was good move, but I should’ve had more faith in myself to aim for something a bit higher at the time.
You lost out that year to former club Alloa in the play-off Semi-Finals but earned a move back to full time football with Queen of the South, playing under another Hearts legend in the form of Gary Naysmith - how do you reflect upon your two and half years at Palmerston? It was a really frustrating time for me as I was constantly struggling with injuries. That meant my form was very inconsistent - I’d maybe have three or four good games followed by two or three bad ones - that’s just what happens when you return from the sidelines. That then meant I was in and out of the team. I said to the gaffer that I needed to be playing every week to get back to 100% but he had his own pressures which meant he couldn’t do that. When January came I felt it best to move on to try and recapture my best form.
You then re-joined Brechin with the club cut adrift at the bottom of the SPFL Championship with no wins to their name - was it your relationship with the club that made you return there given their precarious position? I like the club, I knew the people; so that was one factor. But they played in the Championship and, if I could go in and play every minute of every game, I could try and put myself in the shop window. In hindsight, was it the right move at the time? I’m not sure.
You got the chance to play with your brother, Jordan, during your second spell with Brechin. How did you find that? It was weird actually! It was the first time we’d ever played in the same team, even going back to youth football. But we enjoyed it. Just little things like travelling to training together and travelling to games together. It probably made us closer to an extent as well.
Brechin suffered back-to-back relegations which saw them return to Scotland’s fourth tier, at which point you signed for the club's rivals Forfar Athletic. Signing for a rival club is something that is quite common in the Scottish Game - was something that crossed your mind when signing for The Loons? Errr, probably not. Well, it obviously does given your knowledge of the teams and the league, but it’s become that common in Leagues 1 and League 2 that I think people understand that you need to go and play and do the best you can for yourself. There was no bitterness from Brechin and I loved my time there, but Forfar provided me with the best option at that point and I’m enjoying it so far.
Something that Paul Hartley highlighted when you signed for him at Alloa was your creativity and eye for a pass. Do you think you have been unlucky in your career not to have played for a dominant team who control matches with possession to allow you to showcase that creativity? That’s probably my biggest, not regret, but frustration that I’ve never played with a team who have been at the top end of the table who are cruising games when you can show what you’re all about; I’ve always been up against it. That’s just football, though. It’s not always as easy as that.
Outside of football, you’ve recently started up a coaching school with peers from the SPFL - Robbie Thomson & Cameron Blues to reference a few - has coaching been something you’ve always been interested in getting in to? Yeah, definitely. About 4 years ago I took the reigns of a grassroots boys club and really enjoyed it. I then did a couple of 1-to-1 sessions here and there, nothing serious. But over the last 18 months, we’ve built a business made up of structured training with coaches who have either coached at a decent level or are playing at a decent level. So it’s been great and I’m loving it.
In starting up Pro Performance Academy, would that impact your decision making if a full time team came in for you in the forthcoming seasons? It would be fine actually. There are ways around it. I look at my age and do think I’ve got more to give. So I would definitely look in to it.
Lastly, a particularly hot topic in football at the moment is how to tackle racial abuse from supporters at football grounds. Your brother Jordan suffered from this whilst playing for East Stirlingshire back in 2014 - did that have a detrimental impact on the Tapping family at the time? Not overly so. Obviously it wasn’t nice to hear; especially as his brother. And Jordan was really young at the time - he was only 16 or 17 - so it was hard for him. But he recovered from it well which I admire.
Have you ever experienced anything similar in your career? As a youngster I did, maybe at Under-17’s. But I think it just comes from people not being educated on the matter.
And if you could help ensure its eradication from football stadiums, what would you like to see done? Its difficult but, unless you start deducting points from the clubs that these fans are supporting, it’s not going to bother people. Is that fair on the players? Probably not. But it’s the only way to really stomp it out of football. But it’s a hard one. A lot of people go to football matches, you can’t control everybody.
Words: Scott Kelly
Photography: Connor Stewart
Location: Carron, Falkirk
Styling: Scott Kelly