Tommy Block could still have been a Hibs player this season – but the youngster says he had to leave the Easter Road club for first-team experience.
Neil Lennon brought the versatile midfielder to Leith in 2019. Plucked from the lower leagues of English football with Bognor Regis Town, it was a massive move for Block.
And he had senior involvement, travelling with the first-team to matches and making the bench on occasion. But things changed when Paul Heckingbottom arrived, never really getting a glimpse of senior involvement under him or Jack Ross.
With a year left on his deal following a spell on loan at Queen’s Park, he took the decision to terminate his contract and complete a move to National League side Woking. It’s something he was delighted to make work.
“If I was to stay at Hibs I think I would have been sent back out on loan,” Block told NTOF. “I don’t think the standard would have been what I’m looking for. I wanted to come home and play at the highest level I can.
“I think the National League suited me the best. At Woking I think I can showcase what I can do. Because the season is so congested, I’m getting plenty of games. I had been playing for Bognor Regis Town at the time and Hibs signed me up from there, which was a massive move.
“Playing U23s football, and no offense to anyone playing at that level, but I just think it’s rubbish. You need to be playing men’s football for points, leagues, whatever the team’s ambitions are.
“Development football is just so passive, it’s not very good. In terms of development I had some great coaches, they did so much for me and I’ll never forget that. But in terms of football experience, I think it’s better playing for Woking, men’s football, competitively.
“There are some big clubs in this league who are spending lots of money. It’s a nightmare not playing in front of fans. For clubs like Woking they rely on fans to help pay their wages. But I think we have stuff sorted for our income. As long as we are playing football, that’s all that matters to me.”
It was a massive moment for Block to be given a pro deal at a club like Hibs. He’d never had a professional contract before, so to get something sorted at one of Scotland’s biggest clubs was a thrill.
But whilst he did improve his game in Edinburgh, the minutes he was getting at senior level with Bognor Regis dried up at Easter Road. Block shone at League Two Queen’s Park during the first half of last term but it didn’t help his Hibs chances.
Another temporary switch up the ladder failed to appear in January as the midfielder believes he didn’t get a shot in Hibs colours, especially under ex-manager Heckingbottom.
“It was a thrill of adrenalin to get my first pro deal at a club like Hibs, I was just buzzing to be up there,” said Block. “I really enjoyed it and made some good friends, living up there was one of the best parts. Edinburgh is definitely one of the most attractive things about it, I love it. I had signed when I was 18 and moved myself at 19.
“In January I had some conversations with Graeme Mathie and Eddie May about going back to Queen’s Park but personally I felt I needed to step up. So I was waiting for a loan move and the right one never came up.
“So I was just playing development football. We would go down south to play teams like Brentford and Huddersfield but those games only came every two or three weeks. At Hibs I was the fittest I have ever been but I wasn’t playing enough. No one watches training.
“I didn’t have a negative experience. I really enjoyed my first six months in particular at Hibs. Neil Lennon signed me and I made an impression under him. But Paul Heckingbottom and Jack Ross came in and never gave me a chance. I was just wasting my time waiting for my contract to run out which is why I had to get out when I did.
“I had to go. My time had come, I had a year left on my deal with a two-year extension but I don’t think that would have been activated. I managed to move on and moving to Woking is the best thing I could have done.
“Football is all about opinions and I don’t think Paul Heckingbottom liked me to be honest. I don’t think he gave me a fair chance. I think a few people would say that, I didn’t have a chance to impress or do anything under Heckingbottom.
“I had moved away from home and was working so hard, getting nothing month after month whilst he was there. It got to a point where I said ‘bloody hell, what am I doing?’ It was soul-destroying, training for a chance that I wasn’t getting.”
Move on up
Now happy to be home in England, Block has his sights on playing plenty of senior minutes. He’s already made the starting XI for Woking a few times this term as the National League campaign gets underway.
He knows it’ll be hard to earn a place in the side every week, but he’d much prefer that challenge to development football: “I’m more happy playing for Woking than Hibs’ reserves.
“Being English as well, I want to play in England. No disrespect to Scottish football but unless you are in the Premiership playing every week, I think I’d rather be playing in England.
“I’d rather work my way up to the Football League which hopefully in a couple of years I can do. We have good players in midfield here but I can play right-back as well. We have a good team with competition for places.
“I’m going to compete to keep my shirt but we’ll wait and see. When I was at Hibs I wanted to use it to improve myself. Fitness-wise I’ve come on leaps and bounds, technically I’ve improved and I’ve come back to England two divisions higher.”