Prince Buaben relishes the prospect of having a pumped-up Hearts support on his side even though he used to thrive on the abuse the Tynecastle crowd aimed his way when he visited as an opposing player.
The Ghanaian midfielder viewed trips to Gorgie among his favourite away-days on the fixture calendar in his time at Dundee United and Partick Thistle, and he was buzzing when he finally got to run out of the tunnel of the old main stand as a Hearts player for last Friday’s friendly against Manchester City. He can’t wait to do it all again when he makes his competitive debut against Annan in the Petrofac Training Cup this afternoon.
“I am not going to lie, I used to get a lot of stick from the fans here,” said Buaben, who signed a one-year deal with Hearts on the eve of the City game. “You can hear it but you just laugh. It’s what makes it an amazing stadium. You can hear everything. I always loved playing here. I just hope I don’t hear those kind of things now! Even before kick-off last week [fellow new boy] Alim [Ozturk] said he had goosebumps when they started shouting. And I was like: ‘Yeah – welcome to Tynecastle!’ It’s good. Hearts has always been a big club and the fans are great. Even against City last week the fans were crazy and that gives you more energy. Hopefully they can do that for the whole season and help us reach our goals.”
The primary goal, of course, is promotion back to the Premiership for a club who are not accustomed to playing outside the top flight. In his time as a Partick player last season, Buaben saw enough of his new club to decipher that, had they not been impaired by a 15-point penalty, they would have had enough talent in their ranks to have avoided relegation. He believes he has joined a Premiership club in all but name.
“I just came here to help the club back to where they belong, which is the Premiership,” said the 26-year-old. “If you look at last year, if they had not been deducted 15 points they’d have been level with Partick. I remember they hammered Kilmarnock 5-0 at the end of the season. I don’t look at us as a Championship team, we are still a Premiership team. But these things happen. It’s the same with Rangers and Hibs. We just have to try and do well this season and get back up there again.”
As well as the lure of being reunited with familiar faces from his Dundee United days like Morgaro Gomis and Craig Levein, Buaben was desperate to remain in Scotland, to be close to his three-year-old son Prince Junior, in Dundee. Since leaving United for Watford three years ago, Buaben has pined to be nearer his boy and after temporarily getting his wish with a loan spell at Partick from Carlisle in the second half of last season, he is relieved to be staying on in this country.
“I went to Partick because I wanted to be close to my son, PJ, who is still in Dundee,” he explained. “I was always looking to come back up here to be closer to my son. It was hard, especially when I was living in Watford. He came down a few times but there were times I would miss him and get depressed. I wanted to be close to him but now I am happy he is an hour away and I can go and see him after training.”
Following four successful years at Dundee United, Buaben, an Ajax youth academy product, left Scotland in 2011 to try to further his career in the English Championship with Watford.
“When I first went to Watford I had an injury in pre-season and then I had to catch up. But when I got in I played so well they benched their captain for me for 15 games,” he said. “When he came back in I still played. But the following year I got injured and everything changed. We got new owners who brought different players in. They didn’t really give me a chance and everything went down and I had to pick myself up again.”
This “pick-me-up” attempt involved a move to Carlisle last year and the subsequent loan switch to Partick, neither of which afforded him the chance to re-establish his best form. Excited by the prospect of being one of the more experienced players in a team of hungry young talent, he is hoping the move to Hearts can help him rediscover the form he showed at Tannadice and in his early days at Vicarage Road.
“I have enjoyed my time here so far, they are very nice guys,” he said. “They don’t have egos, they just want to come in and play football and that makes me smile. At United we had young guys but also experienced players like Lee Wilkie and Barry Robson. They helped us and I am trying to help the younger guys we have here the same way.
“Playing alongside Morgaro at United was great, we had a good understanding. When you have a friend like that off the pitch you can be partners on it. That’s what I keep telling Jason Holt and Scott Robinson, stay close to each other. Once you become close you can understand each other both on and off the pitch.”