Scotland’s Under 21s take on the Netherlands tonight in the first match of their UEFA European Championship qualifying group. In the squad are some notable first-timers: new West Bromwich Albion signing Oliver Burke and Celtic up-and-comer Anthony Ralston. These players both have stories worth telling. Burke’s combined transfer kitty is in the lofty region of £30m already, and Ralston was invited to train with the full squad ahead of the Lithuania match. But Jason Kerr, a name that might not stand out on paper, has perhaps an even more remarkable story to tell on his journey to the national set up. The Penicuik-born starlet shone at boys club level and has enjoyed a spectacular rise to the top level in just three years.
Kerr starred for a Tynecastle side alongside his twin brother, Gregor, which reached five Scottish Youth FA Cup finals between 2010 and 2014 and won three. In the 2014 edition, Kerr grabbed a late – as in last minute of extra time late – equaliser to keep his side’s hopes of a trio of cup wins on the cards. But he and his team mates were to suffer the heartbreak of a penalty shootout defeat at the hands of Antonine FC, a team Kerr would probably describe as a nemesis during his youth career.
But the mark of a proper footballer, or indeed any athlete, is how they bounce back from adversity and Kerr proved he was up to the task. His stellar individual form at Saughton Park continued and on July 1 2015, exactly one year and two months after that painful defeat in the Scottish Cup final, he was signed up by St Johnstone.
Kerr has made his mark for the Saints as a central defender, as opposed to the box-to-box, all-action midfielder he was known to be at Tynecastle and at Eskmill beforehand. A trawl through the YFS archives finds descriptions of Kerr darting down the left wing and charging into the box and one would assume these situations are less common now.
After two loan spells at East Fife, one of which yielded a League Two winners medal, Kerr returned to Perth in the summer and signed a two-year contract extension. Kerr said that the new deal provided him with the impetus to make his way into the St Johnstone first team, be that from within the confines of McDiarmid Park or on loan at a club further up the pyramid.
“It’s great to have the next two years sorted and during that time it’s my intention to push myself into the manager’s plans at McDiarmid Park,” he told Scotzine.
“I’ve really enjoyed my involvement with East Fife and it’s given me loads of experience but I’m ready to step up now and whether that’s another loan club further up the leagues or with Saints, I’ll just need to wait and see.”
The latter option is where Kerr finds himself now, with Championship side Queen of the South. And, perhaps to some surprise for a defender, he scored a goal on his first full start away to Falkirk.
It might be even more of a surprise to see him score tonight, but maybe those charges into the box aren’t so rare after all.