From Blairgowrie plumber to Hamilton cult hero – The incredible story of Tomas Cerny

Tomas Cerny is undoubtedly the best Hamilton keeper from the last 20 years, maybe even one of the greatest in the club’s history.

The Aberdeen goalie opened up on his five year spell at Accies between 2007-12, from the highs of winning the First Division title in 2008, playing alongside James McCarthy and James McArthur to the lows of relegation in 2010/11 and his disappointing exit from the club. Cerny’s story is nothing short of incredible. After representing the Czech Republic at U17, U18, U19 and U21 level, playing against the likes of David Silva, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, he became frustrated with the lack of first team football at Sigma Olomouc and contemplated giving up the game he loves.

He then made the brave decision to pack his bags and move to Scotland to live with his friend who played for junior side Lochee United, as well as spending some time working as a plumber in Dundee. The manager at the time was Ray MacKinnon and he recognised the Czechs’ potential and put him in touch with Hamilton manager Billy Reid to organise a trial period.

And the rest is history.

He said:

“I had a weeklong trial at Hamilton and played in a pre-season friendly against Oxford United. Manager Billy Reid was happy with my trial and offered me a 5-month contract initially. My plan was to stay in Scotland for those 5 months, learn the language and visit as many places in the country as I could. I told my mum and dad that I would be home for Christmas and 13 years later I’m still in Scotland.

“When my loan was about to expire, we found ourselves at the top of the Scottish First Division with a great chance of promotion to the Premier League. The manager approached me to extend the deal and told me that I had an important role to play in the quest for promotion. We ended up winning the league and Hamilton were back in the top flight after a long 20 years, after that I extended my stay even further.

“The promotion was very special and lifting the trophy is definitely one of the best moments of my career. When I was first signing for Hamilton, I had no idea there was a chance of winning the league or that I was signing for a team with future English Premier League stars like James McCarthy and James McArthur.”

Tomas played an integral role to help Hamilton avoid relegation to the First Division, producing an array of unbelievable saves throughout the season. Most Accies fans will admit that Cerny and the outstanding performances of McCarthy single handedly kept them up that season so it was no surprise to see him deservedly pick up the Young Player of the Year award in 2008/09.

Photo: Lynne Cameron- PA Images

In the summer of 2009, Accies broke their transfer record, paying around £180,000 for Cerny’s services, fighting off interest from both Rangers and Celtic. To this day, he is still the club’s most expensive purchase.

Cerny added:

“It was great to win the award as I felt as if I had a very good season, especially in the January when we kept six clean sheets and moved from bottom to mid table. It was a team effort though, big Mark McLaughlin was brilliant at the back, the two young James’s in midfield alongside Alex Neil as well. It was a fantastic team to be a part of. The reason I stayed at Hamilton was to simply show loyalty to the club as they gave me the chance to play first team football. I had an excellent relationship with Billy Reid and I wanted to repay the faith he showed in me.”

The goalkeeper reckons it was inevitable that the two James’ would move onto bigger and better things one day, saying:

“Everyone at the time was predicting they would move to bigger things eventually and you could see why. They were very young when I first started playing with them, I think they were 16 and 18, but despite their age they were very comfortable in the first team. They’ve both ended up having very good careers in England and are now both playing in the Premier League for the same team. I’m always keeping my eye on them.”

Photo: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)

Accies’ stay in the Scottish Premiership ended when they were relegated to the First Division in 2010/11 after a 1-0 defeat away to St Johnstone.

And unsurprisingly it was a low point for Cerny.

He said:

“It was very disappointing. I felt during the season it was accepted we might go down and there was not much pressure to do everything possible to stay in the Premier League. I felt at the time it didn’t match up with my ambition to do as well as possible in the game and progress further. I guess there was a thinking that if the club goes down it would allow more young players to be played on a regular basis and in a way it’s worked out quite well for the club as they were back in the topflight a couple of years later and have done really well since.”

A game that Cerny vividly remembers from that season was a trip to Tannadice against Dundee United ,where Craig Levein accused him of time-wasting for around 17 minutes.

He recalled:

“It is a part of the football. When you are in a relegation battle you just try to do anything possible to win games. That game at Tannadice was a bit extreme, we scored very early on and were 1-0 up. We were under a lot of pressure during the rest of the game and I tried to break the game up to give my teammates a breather. I think Craig Levein had his assistant timing how long It took me to take all the goal kicks, free kicks etc and he claimed it was for around 17 minutes at the end. There was a bit of scrap at the end, emotions were high.”

Cerny is full of praise for the current Brighton and Hove Albion assistant Billy Reid and believes he has been instrumental in how his career turned out.

He added:

“For me Billy has changed my career. He wasn’t afraid to give a chance to young players even in very important games. He also created an atmosphere where playing football and training was enjoyable and we had a lot of fun especially during my first two years at the club. There were a lot of team building activities as well and I think it created a good atmosphere in the squad and made the younger players feel like they are part of the team. His main strength was people management and being able to take pressure off the younger players and allow them to flourish and he has had a great track record doing that.”

Photo: Brighton And Hove Albion FC

Tomas’ back-up at Hamilton was Sean Murdoch and the goalkeeper admitted he felt pressure to play well, knowing that his replacement was ready to step up to the mark.

He said:

“Sean {Murdoch} was a very talented goalkeeper. We had a good relationship and he was very supportive when I was playing. There is always pressure to perform well and when Sean had to step in, he always played well, so I knew if I wanted to play every week, I needed to keep my standard of performance high. I felt I was very consistent over that period and Sean perhaps didn’t get as many chances as his talent deserved and his career might have progressed even better that it eventually did.”

Cerny’s exit from Accies left a sour taste in his mouth as he sustained a long-term shoulder injury and needed surgery to repair the damage.

The 35-year-old understands the club’s decision not to cover the costs of the operation, but insists his exit wasn’t dignified as he was unable to say goodbye to the people at the club that made his time there so special.

But when he returned with Partick Thistle in 2015, he was able to put that bitterness to one side and insists he now has a great relationship with Hamilton.

He said:

“The way my time ended at Hamilton was bitterly disappointing. I understand why Hamilton didn’t want to cover the surgery as my contract was ending and I’m ok with that, however, I just wanted to leave with a bit of dignity and be able to go back to Hamilton to see everyone before leaving. That’s why my return to New Douglas Park with Partick Thistle in 2015 in the opening game of the season was very emotional for me as it felt I had unfinished business there. The reception from fans was great that day and I now have a very good relationship with people at the club and have a good chat with them every time we meet.”

Cerny spent some time overseas with Bulgarian champions CSKA Sofia, where he kept 32 clean sheets in 57 games before a short stint at Greece second division side Ergotelis FC.

He returned back to Scotland to be the back-up keeper at Hibernian and then received a phone call from Jags boss Alan Archibald which resurrected his career.

Cerny went on to be a Thistle hero, becoming a fan favourite and played just over 100 games. He made some crucial saves that famously helped guide the club to their highest league finish since 1981 in 2016/17.

Following Thistle’s relegation to the Championship to the season after, Cerny joined his current side Aberdeen. He is the back up to Joe Lewis and some have questioned that choice, considering he could easily walk into most Premiership sides. But Cerny is happy to be a part of a huge club who regularly finish high up the league table and compete for silverware.

He added:

I will be 36-years-old in April and I don’t think there is much left in terms of football, so it is very likely I’ll retire as an Aberdeen player and not move anywhere else. At my age I have a different perspective of the game now, if this were five or ten years ago, I wouldn’t accept being number two for very long. But now I appreciate I’m part of the team at a big club and I have my role to play to help the team to do their best.

Image: Aberdeen FC

I also have family now. My son goes to school and we are happy in the North East. We have moved to a new house 9 times in the last 8 years. The last thing I want to do is uproot the family again.

Aberdeen have been to many semi-finals and a few finals in recent years, we just need to make that last step. It’s a great incentive to go and win the cup competition. It would be amazing to lift a trophy this season.”

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