Meet Jason. He’s a 52-year-old firefighter who lives in Sydney. He’s been doing it for nine years or so, he tells me, having previously worked as a television reporter for Fox Sport. When we speak on the phone, I discover to my shame that I’ve interrupted a holiday he’s on. A keen surfer, Jason has made the trip to Byron Bay to catch some waves and bake in the glorious Aussie sunshine. I tell him it sounds like a nice life. He tells me that it is.

That’s not why we’ve arranged to speak, though. You see, Jason also happens to be one of Heart of Midlothian’s biggest (and, unfortunately for his neighbours, loudest) supporters Down Under. The massive time difference means nothing: he diligently wakes up in the middle of the night every week, gives his wife Lyndal a gentle nudge to rouse her from her sleep, and the pair make their way to the television to tune in for Hearts’ latest match.

“I watch all the games live and I wouldn’t miss them for the world,” Jason tells me. “It means a lot of sleepless nights – most of the games are on at 2am over here. But we subscribe to Hearts TV, who do a great job. It’s great coverage, a great broadcast and great coverage of his games. My wife and I get up for every game and we live in a block of units, so when he scored his couple of goals recently I think I woke up the whole unit in the middle of the night!”

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Eagle-eyed readers will spot that Jason finds himself cheering on one player in particular, much to his neighbours’ chagrin. The reason is simple: his son has become something of a regular feature at Hearts this season.

While Jason spends his free time catching waves in Australia, Calem Nieuwenhof has been making them on the day job in the capital. A summer signing from Western Sydney Wanderers, the midfielder was something of an unknown when he first pitched up in Gorgie. He initially struggled to adapt, but Steven Naismith was adamant that the 23-year-old would come good.

The Hearts head coach was right. Nieuwenhof started gathering momentum towards the end of 2023 before bursting into a rich vein of form in the new year, winning the Hearts Standard Player of the Month award, as voted for by supporters, for his displays in February. An injury sustained in March prematurely ended Nieuwenhof's debut campaign in Scotland and scuppered any hopes of a maiden call up to the senior Socceroos side, but it is surely only a matter of time.

Nieuwenhof has made the most of the opportunity presented to him by Naismith and has relished the step up to European football. It’s a sizeable move that not everyone can adapt to, and he is now starting to consistently deliver on his undoubted potential. But according to his dad, a professional career wasn’t exactly written in the stars.

“I’ve always watched every game,” Jason says. “I’ve followed his career very closely, even back during his junior career. When he was back in Sydney I took him to all of his games, which involved a lot of driving – and we cover a bit more territory in Australia than Scotland! My wife and I have always been very close followers of his career.

“He has got a younger brother who is a good footballer, and I played when I was younger. Surfing took over as my passion in my late teens – both Calem and his brother were good surfers when they were younger. We lived right on the beach and there were lots of parks, lots of beaches and lots of surf. It was a perfect area to grow up if you were into sports. We were an outdoorsy family when Calem was growing up.

“Not at all [ we weren’t convinced he’d make it as a professional]. There were a lot of talented kids when he was a junior. He definitely showed potential – he was a standout at his local club and then he went to representative football where it got more competitive. There are dozens, hundreds, of kids who were talented so we definitely weren’t convinced. We just wanted to support him in something he enjoyed and in something that he was passionate about.

“I’m into football myself so I enjoyed watching the games and seeing quality football from all of the teams and all of the kids. I definitely didn’t have any strong belief when he was younger that he would make a professional career. I thought he had potential, but I thought he had a pretty remote chance. In Australia, football isn’t the No.1 sport so it is a bit more difficult to make a career out of it than it is for some other sports because there aren’t as many opportunities.

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“I didn’t believe he was destined to become a footballer; I was just happy to support him in something he enjoyed and let him reach his potential, whatever that may be. Where it’s got to now is beyond our dreams really. Calem would say that himself. He has to pinch himself most days to make sure he’s not dreaming.”

Nieuwenhof’s decision to join Hearts was significant in more ways than one. Upping sticks and moving halfway around the world – and out of the family home for the first time – would be a big call for any 22-year-old to make. Moving to a new league, with a different style of play, is rarely easy. Ultimately, though, the move also fulfilled a long-held ambition of Nieuwenhof’s. He barely had to think twice.

“It was definitely a big decision,” Jason says. “It’s always been his ambition to go to Europe and have a crack at European football. That’s always been his big dream so as soon as he said he had got an offer from Hearts in Scotland – and he is an adult so it’s his choice, of course – but we were always really supportive and told him to go for it. It was too good an offer to refuse; it was his dream coming true.

“It was sad in a way because it meant that he was moving out of home for the first time at 22 years old. His first time living away from home was on the other side of the world so yeah, it was a big move for him. But we were totally 100 per cent for it and so was he. He was as keen as mustard to get over there and give it his best shot.

“There was a transition period where he had to get used to a few things – living on the other side of the world, moving out of the family home, and getting used to Scottish football, which I think he has found to be a lot faster and a tougher league. He had to get up to speed and it took some getting used to.”

It has been well worth the wait. Supporters are eagerly anticipating his return from injury to the starting line-up, and Nieuwenhof is quickly establishing himself as something of a fans’ favourite at Tynecastle Park. He is an all-rounder and someone who will hopefully be at the heart of the team for years to come.

Jason and his wife have been over to watch their son in action and were left enthralled by the whole experience. From the beautiful architecture of Edinburgh’s Old Town to the excited walk amongst supporters along Dalry Road on their way to the stadium, they soaked in every minute of their time in the capital. They even managed to squeeze in a few games, even if the seating arrangements inside Scottish stadia left them a little confused.

“My wife and I came over in December and we saw three games,” Jason explains. “The day we arrived they were playing Rangers at Tynecastle.

“Calem lives on Dalry Road so we got there in the morning and did the walk down Dalry and Gorgie Road up to Tynecastle, which was a great experience, getting to see all the fans. They lost 1-0 to Rangers but the atmosphere at Tynecastle was brilliant. Clare from the club met us and the hospitality we got from the club was fantastic. The atmosphere was extremely impressive – it was electric inside the stadium.

“Then we went up to the Aberdeen game. We had never been to the Highlands so we did a three-day trip around the Highlands and then we went to Aberdeen. It was fitting for the Highlands – it was a cold, windy, wet day. We went up 1-0 and then unfortunately lost 2-1. That was the game where Calem broke his hand so we went with him to the hospital to get scanned the next day.

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“The third game we went to was against Celtic in Glasgow, which Hearts won 2-0. It was the first time in 17 years or something like that that they had beaten Celtic away in the league. It was pretty cool to be at that game in the small section for the Hearts fans. We found that unusual – in Australia, it’s a free-for-all for tickets. There are no special sections reserved for the home fans and just a tiny section for the away fans.

“We definitely will come over again. At the moment we haven’t got anything locked in. I love the city of Edinburgh and it’s one of my favourite cities in the world. It’s an extremely impressive place, especially the Old Town.”

Nieuwenhof Sr might well be enchanted with what he’s seen in Edinburgh. But there’s no doubt that the maroon side of the city have been even more impressed with what they’ve seen from his son.