Former Kelty Hearts manager Thomas Courts spoke to Press reporter Ieuan Williams this week about his time at New Central Park and what lies ahead for him at Dundee United after his appointment as head of tactical performance within the club’s youth academy.


IT’S been more than a year since Thomas Courts shocked Kelty Hearts by handing in his resignation with the club perched at the top of the Lowland League tree.

His decision marked the end of a 12-year love affair at New Central Park where he transitioned from player to manager.

In the 12 months that followed, he would interview for positions at West Ham and Sheffield United, while a move to Holland for an opportunity at NAC Breda was also considered.

Each role was different and with its own challenges but a move closer to home would prove to be his number one choice.

As of October, the 38-year-old is now head of tactical performance for Dundee United’s youth academy.

Speaking to Press Sport this week, Courts remarked that his new employment was the reward for months of patience.

He said: “Football is my main priority in life.

“It’s my passion and I’m obsessed by it.

“So to not be picking my team each week, building a club and getting results, it was difficult being away for as long as I was.

“At the same time, that break has given me a chance to reflect and come back to have a big impact at Dundee United.

“I’m very conscious of the fact that if you’re not involved in football directly, you can become impatient and have the urge to jump into something that doesn’t suit or fit you.

“I think you always look elsewhere and you start to wonder ‘what could be’.

“That’s something I really wanted to avoid and I feel that my patience has really paid off.”

Since leaving Kelty in October 2018, his heart had always been set on securing a full-time position that he could sink his teeth into.

He stated that there were a “number of factors” why the position of assistant academy manager at West Ham; under-18 head coach at Sheffield United; and technical manager at NAC Breda were not to be, with no official offers being placed on the table ultimately.

Those interviews took place not long after his departure from Kelty Hearts, a decision he remains adamant was the right move for himself and the club.

“I can hand on heart say that I’ve never regretted leaving Kelty when I did,” he stated.

“I had thought long and hard about it. It wasn’t an easy decision for me to make but it’s one I feel was right for me.”

With Kelty propping up the East Region Super League table when he took charge as player-manager in October 2013, he was able to steer them clear of relegation thanks to a play-off victory.

The following season, Kelty would win the title for the first time in their history.

A second championship success followed in 2016/17 before the club left junior football for the East of Scotland League, which they went on to win before defeating South of Scotland counterparts Threave Rovers to earn their place in the Lowland League.

Of all those achievements, securing Kelty’s Super League status ranks highest in Courts’ proudest moments at New Central Park.

He said: “A lot of people forget that when I took over at Kelty, the team hadn’t won a competitive game in 20 games.

“As I was player-manager and on the pitch with these boys, I can say hand on heart that we were in absolute disarray.

“I’d say maintaining Super League status was the springboard for that crazy journey we went on as a club.

“For three years, we were almost unstoppable.”

He played alongside and latterly coached defender Garry Leighton at Kelty, and his wedding at the weekend also acted as a reunion for many of the squad that enjoyed those title successes.

Courts said: “I would happily say right now that no matter what level I end up managing or being involved at, I’ll never have a group of players that special.

“I know that may sound cheesy but even at that wedding we just slipped back into each other’s company like it was yesterday.

“Just being in their presence again, you could feel why we were so successful.

“The guys are all born winners that came together at the right time and the group dynamic was just so powerful.

“I know there will be other managers who claim to have great team spirit in their teams but I’ve never ever seen anything like it.

“Even from my time as a professional, there’s not been a team that comes close to that side.

“At some point, I think the club will probably want to recognise the success that they brought and the part the players played in putting the club on the map, essentially.”

Stephen Husband and Ross Philp are the only players remaining from Courts’ time at the club with his replacement, Barry Ferguson, putting his own stamp on the team.

“That’s part of the reason why I don’t follow them as much now,” Courts - who recently obtained his UEFA A License - commented.

“I think when you make the decision to go, and then your players leave, you cease to study where you’ve been that closely.

“It’s a club that is still very close to my heart but I wouldn’t say that I’m an avid follower since most of the guys that I’ve recruited – and had a lot of success with – have left the club.

“That’s not to say I don’t wish them success but I think you have to move on; both the club and myself.”

For the time being, a return to first-team management is off the table.

Dundee United has his full attention and the head of tactical performance is a role that offers variety and the chance to develop the Tannadice club’s stars of tomorrow.

He said: “My ultimate goal is to get as many young players into the first team as possible.

“It’s a club with a rich pedigree in developing young players and it’s a new era for me to get myself involved with. I’m looking to learn quickly and make the best impact that I can for this football club.”

The job has also provided him the chance to strike up a working relationship with ex-Dunfermline and Kelty striker Jordan Moore again, who he signed in the summer of 2016.

Moore has been appointed as United’s head of talent ID and recruitment.

Courts said: “It didn’t go as well as we both would have hoped it would at Kelty.

“Before coming to Dundee United, I know that Jordan spoke very highly of me to people within the club.

“I think that’s testament to how he was treated at Kelty, considering he wasn’t a main player at the time due to his health challenges, which affected his fitness.

“I’m delighted to be working with him again.”