James Penrice knew the moment he was signing for Heart of Midlothian. He told his mum. He told his agent. And nothing was going to change his mind. 

There was interest from other clubs, his agent spoke to a few teams, but in January he got an "inkling" that Hearts wanted him. It more than piqued his curiosity. With fewer than six months left on his deal at Livingston he got in a room with Steven Naismith and sporting director Joe Savage. 

Penrice said: "I remember coming out of the meeting, I phoned my mum and said: 'I want to go to Hearts'. Everything in the meeting, it just all made sense.

"There were teams in February wanting to phone but I just told my agent: 'If I'm staying in Scotland, it's Hearts'. They are the only team I'd have gone to. My mind was made up quickly. Hopefully, it's the right decision."

On the meeting, he added: "They had a powerpoint, they went through clips of my game and then went through how Hearts play. They spoke about the club, the demand, the training ground, and that was important for me - having a base where I can become better.

"No disrespect to Livingston, they did what they can but the standard here is so high that you can only get better. That's what I took away from the meeting - if I come here, I'm going to improve. I might not be right in straight away but I'm going to become a better player. That's why I thought this was the best step for me."

Throughout the chat in the club's hotel in Tenerife, the 25-year-old was eager not to disrespect Livingston considering what the club had done for his career. But at the same time, he was merely stating facts regarding the "massive step up".

It has been evident in his first few weeks. On and off the pitch. Penrice spoke of the training ground and how it is a "massive difference" for him as well as the standard of "wee silly things like breakfast and lunch". Then there is the tempo and standard in training, admitting it is "probably going to take a wee bit of time to get used to".

But he already has set his sights on making a mark and ensuring Alex Cochrane will be required to be on his very best form in the battle for the left-back or wing-back berth.

"The short-term goal is to make myself a mainstay in the team," he said. "The competition is very high, there are good players in the positions I want to play in. It's just bedding in and getting used to a new way of playing. It's very different to what I was used to at Livingston. We didn't really have the ball in the majority of our games. Now it's more possession-based, going and hurting teams. I think that will ultimately suit me and make me a better player. I want to be one of the first names on the teamsheet.

"The long-term goal is to be successful. I want to be remembered for my time here. I don't want to just be one of the players who went to Hearts and then he dropped off. I want to push on and see where it can take me."

Why No29?

James Penrice has a tattoo of the number 29 on his left arm. It is the number he has chosen for the season ahead. He explains the meaning behind it:

It was the number I got at Thistle, my first professional number. I made my debut with that and kept it for a couple of years. Then I changed to No.3 and got relegated. When I went to Livingston I asked for No.3 and didn't get it so I went back to No.29. It's stuck with me now. When I came here the first number I asked for was 29. I asked Gogsy [kit man] and he said: 'It's a bit early to be giving out numbers. What one would you want?' I said 29 and he replied: 'Oh, that'll be fine.'

His football career so far has taken him up and down the leagues. He has experienced promotion and relegation with Partick Thistle. He has had two spells with Livingston, playing a part in their promotion to the top flight and was pinpointed by David Martindale as a huge miss in the second half of the season when the West Lothian outfit finished bottom of the Premiership having been the standout in the first half of the campaign. Everyone could appreciate he was ready for the next step.

 "I had experience with Thistle when I was really young and I was probably naive," he said. "I wasn't ready to play. I had a couple of loans and then Livingston was a very big learning curve. I got chucked in quickly and that was probably the best thing for me.

"Now I'm at a point in my career where I need to go and make that next step, really cement myself in this league. I think I've done not a bad job over the last three years at Livingston but I think now the natural progression is to go up."

Livingston and Martindale have been key for that progression.

"I knew Davie really well," Penrice said. "My family knew Davie growing up so there was a real connection. When I was leaving Thistle, the only place I was going was Livingston. You get taught at Livingston that hard work is the first thing. As soon as you step on the pitch, it needs to be 100 per cent because you don't have the quality that you have in this [Hearts] dressing room. You have to outwork and outfight others and that's a fundamental for Livingston. That's why they have been so successful for so long.

(Image: SNS)

"It's massive respect to Davie for building a team like that, finding a way to win in a tough league with that budget. Time and time again he did it and it's credit to the players as well. Players have left there and moved up. Look at Nicky Devlin, Alan Forrest, Craig Halkett. Livingston instil it in you that hard work comes first. If you work harder than your opponent, you are 50 metres in front of him already.

"Don't get me wrong, he had a few screams at me but he was actually all right with me. After some of the games, you are walking away from it with your head fried. You are thinking about putting it to bed. It's totally reactive after a game if a manager goes mental. To be fair to Livingston, we always came in on the Monday and everything was put to bed. You can't dwell on games, you just need to go again. That's my mentality. If it doesn't work, just go again."

It's a mentality that will stand him in good stead for the challenge in front of him at Hearts. He is joining a club where the demands are greater than any club outside of the Old Firm. But in relation to the wage budgets of the teams, it can be argued no fanbase expects more from their team.

It feeds back into the recruitment of players and the right personalities. Personalities who are going to thrive in the environment rather than shrink. 

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"That's why I thought this was the next step for me," he said. "The big European nights are a massive draw but I've played at Tynecastle before. I've been at games and there have been boos towards the home players. Ultimately, you've got to deal with it. There's no hiding from it. If you are having a bad game, there is no point greetin' about it.

"They want to win like you and they want to enjoy their weekend so you have to handle it. That's what Naisy said to me when I came in: 'There is a massive demand, you need to get used to it, and get used to it quick.' I said that was fine with me. I feel good with that."

The good news for all parties involved is that Penrice's qualities are ones that engage Hearts fans. A strong runner, stamina, forward-thinking and direct. The prospect of linking up with the likes of Barrie McKay in front of him is exciting.

"It's having players on the ball who will pick you out if you make those runs," he noted. "No disrespect to Livingston but it's playing with wingers who know that, if you go wide, then they can come inside or vice-versa. Just having a relationship with a winger that is ultimately going to benefit you on a Saturday and allow you to go forward more.

"We have spoke in so much detail on this trip already that you are going to get freedom to go and attack from wing-back or left-back. That will only help my game. A massive part of my game is running, running in behind and crossing. Allowing me to do that will hopefully help me and the club."

Ever since meeting Naismith, Penrice has been eager to show it in the maroon and white.