FORMER Hearts player Fraser Mullen has been backed to take his proposed switch to Hibs in his stride by the last man to cross the Edinburgh divide.
After ending seven years with the Tynecastle club when he was released at the end of last season, Mullen, a 19-year-old right-back, is set to seal a surprise move across the city to Easter Road. As is always the case with cross-city transfers, eyebrows were raised when news of the move first broke earlier this week.
However, Billy Brown, who became Hibs assistant manager in 2011 just months after being sacked by Hearts, is adamant that Mullen had no option but to put his career prospects ahead of any possible emotional attachment he may have had to Hearts.
“Without doubt, it was a move he had to make,” said Brown. “He’s a boy who just wants to play football and going from one SPL club to another is not such a bad move. The boy’s quite right; he’s got to work and he just wants to pursue his career. Fans look at it through the viewpoint of their own club, but as professionals, whether you’re a coach or a player, you’ve got to put the needs of yourself and your family first. We’ve all got to work. It’s a good move for the boy. He’ll probably be able to keep living in the same place.”
Brown knows Mullen may come in for some extra stick from the Hearts fans when he lines up in his first derby wearing green and white. But, with the youngster having only made a total of ten first-team appearances in maroon, Brown is sure that any acrimony from either set of supporters is likely to be minimal.
“I don’t think any Hearts supporter will hold any grudges towards Fraser,” said the 62-year-old, best known for helping Jim Jefferies guide Hearts to Scottish Cup glory in 1998. “He wants to be a footballer and he’s been given a chance at another club. He’s just getting on with his life and quite rightly so. Fraser’s a young boy, so I don’t think he’ll get much stick. He might get some friendly abuse at times, but I think overall most people will understand his situation and I think he’ll deal with it.
“I’d been at Hearts for a while and had a real affection for the club, so when you’re asked to go to Hibs, it is something you have to think about a bit more. There was nothing to feel awkward about, though. It boiled down to the fact Hearts at the time didn’t want to me and someone else did. I just wanted to work. It will be exactly the same for young Fraser.”
The last player to cross the Edinburgh divide directly was Michael Stewart, who went from Hearts to Hibs in 2005, and then back to Tynecastle again two years later. Before that, Brian Hamilton moved from Hibs to Hearts in 1995. Others, such as Paul Hartley and Alan Maybury have played for both teams, albeit both having cushioned the blow by being at different clubs in between. David Wotherspoon was linked with a move from Hibs to Hearts earlier this month before the Tynecastle club lurched into administration.
Although the likes of Alex McLeish (Birmingham to Aston Villa) and Sol Campbell (Tottenham to Arsenal) have been victims of hate campaigns on the back of crossing a derby divide in the past, Brown believes football fans have generally proved to be pretty tolerant and understanding of such moves.
“I know Fraser’s going across Edinburgh but I don’t think that holds the stigma that it used to,” he said. “Carlos Tevez went from Man United to Man City so crossing the divide is happening a lot more these days. It’s part of football now. I think ever since Maurice Johnston jumped from Celtic to Rangers, which was a big one, every other cross-city move pales into insignificance after that.”
Brown and Mullen crossed paths during the coach’s second spell at Tynecastle between 2010 and 2011. “Fraser was one of the young boys when we were there,” he recalls. “It wasn’t until after we left that he got a few first-team games, but he was a good, enthusiastic right-back. I think he’ll be strong enough to withstand anything that comes his way.”