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BATTLING IT OUT: Hearts' striker Gavin Reilly (right) puts in a tackle in an SPL match against Celtic in April 2016.

BATTLING IT OUT: Liverpool fans in Singapore gather at Riverview Hotel to watch the 'live' telecast of the EPL match between Liverpool and Manchester City.

"I'm from Edinburgh and I started watching Hearts games when I was seven years old. I went with my father, who used to go to the matches with his father when he was younger." - Scott Wightman, the British High Commissioner to Singapore

Love of Hearts runs in this family

23/07/2016 - 05:50

SCOTT Wightman, the British High Commissioner to Singapore, was seven years old when his father brought him to Tynecastle Stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland, to watch his local football team, Heart of Midlothian, in action.

The boy was hooked from the start. These days, the 55-year-old career diplomat tries to fit a match into his schedule whenever he gets the opportunity to return home.

He last watched his team, more commonly known as Hearts, on Dec 30 last year, when they defeated Dundee United 3-2 at home in a thrilling Scottish Premier League (SPL) battle.

That was during a vacation with his family - he has two daughters with his wife, Anne - as they rang in the new year in Scotland together.

"They won the match, but I remember that they didn't play particularly well. But I guess at the end of the day, a win is what counts!" he says.

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Mr Wightman, who took up his posting in Singapore in May 2015 following a four-year stint in South Korea, was speaking to BT Weekend during a recent interview at Eden Hall, his official residence, in Nassim Road. In this edited transcript, he shares more about his love affair with Hearts and gives his take on Singaporeans' continued fascination with the English Premier League (EPL), among other topics.

BT: Tell me more about how you began supporting Hearts.

Scott Wightman (SW): I'm from Edinburgh and I started watching Hearts games when I was seven. I went with my father, who used to go to the matches with his father when he was younger. I'm a fourth-generation Hearts fan in my family, and my two nephews are fifth generation.

BT: I don't follow Scottish football very closely, as the matches aren't broadcast in Singapore often. How did Hearts do last season?

SW: They finished third in the SPL (behind champions Celtic and second-placed Aberdeen). The club has been through a very difficult period of late, having gone into administration about three years ago (Hearts were fined 15 points for the 2013/14 season), but they've now come out of it successfully.

The club is now owned by a foundation of fans and we're very fortunate that an experienced businesswoman, Ann Budge, stepped in. She's run the club effectively, transformed it and progressively transferring ownership to the foundation.

Ann has brought serious business principles into the running of the club, and as a result, we managed to get promoted quickly from the Scottish Championship into the SPL. The third-place finish last season meant we made it to the qualifying rounds of this season's Europa League (Hearts, however, are out of the Europa League after they lost to Maltese club Birkirkara on Thursday).

BT: Did you have season tickets and did you go to the matches wearing the club's jerseys?

SW: I would go to as many matches as I could. When I was a lad, we didn't wear jerseys to the matches. That wasn't a big marketing thing at the time. We would wear the club's maroon-and-white football scarf, and you needed it especially during the winters in Scotland.

BT: Singapore may be 12 hours and half-a-world away from the UK, but the EPL is wildly popular here. There are many people who stay up at 3am on weekday mornings just to catch their team play, and they may even be out at the pub at that time cheering them on. What do you make of the enduring appeal of the EPL?

SW: The EPL is a global phenomenon. I think it's partly to do with the array of international stars that are playing at all of the 20 clubs, so there are players of the highest class.

It's something to do with the British style of play as well. The league is very compelling, very fast, you've got the characters there. The fans are very engaged and passionate about their clubs. To me, it's that whole combination that allows anybody from any country to easily buy into it and get wrapped up in it.

BT: Are you much of a sportsman yourself?

SW: I enjoy watching all sports. I watch football, Wimbledon (tennis), and I'll definitely be tuning in to the Open Championship if I can (this year's tournament was played from July 14-17 in Ayrshire, Scotland). I used to play lots of different sports when I was younger, but not to any standard. Now I am restricted to the occasional jog and the occasional game of golf.

My family watches sports together when we can. Our two daughters are F1 fanatics. When my elder daughter was in Singapore last year, she went to the qualifying rounds and later attended the Robbie Williams concert.

BT: It's been just over a year since you moved to Singapore. How has your family settled in?

SW: Our two girls are back home, so it's just my wife and I who are in Singapore. She sings with the Singapore Symphony Chorus and helps out at the National Gallery. She's going to start training as a docent at the National Museum, and she's helping out at a charity as well. We're really enjoying our time here so far.