Callum Booth is already making preparations for his return to Easter Road, making the move back from Fife to his hometown of Haddington as he bids to kick-start his career with Hibs.
Having burst into the Capital club’s first team as a teenager, the left-back fell out of favour under former boss Pat Fenlon and was cast into the wilderness, a season on loan at Livingston followed by a similar arrangement at Raith Rovers.
But, while many wonder whether Hibs will be joining the Kirkcaldy outfit in the Championship next season, Terry Butcher’s players having slipped alarmingly close to being dragged into the battle to avoid the relegation play-off spot, Booth has no doubts he’ll be returning to rejoin a club which has retained it’s Scottish Premiership status.
While admitting he’s been surprised to see his “parent” club struggle in recent months, a Scottish Cup defeat by Raith having helped heap misery on the Hibs support which has now seen their side win just one of their last 13 matches, Booth insisted: “Only a couple of weeks ago they were still in with a chance of the top six but now they are looking over their shoulders.
“There are six games to go, six battles to be won, but I honestly think they will be fine. There are a few teams below them and I believe they have good enough players to be safe. All they need is one or two wins and I think they will get them.”
Booth is, of course, too young to remember Hibs being relegated to the old First Division in the late 1990s only to immediately bounce back with players of the calibre of Franck Sauzee, Russell Latapy and Mixu Paatelainen. However, he warned, it will be much more difficult now with competition in the Championship fierce – as underlined by this season’s battle for the title with the favourites Hamilton and Dundee forced to scrap for every point.
The 22-year-old said: “It’s a strong league. That’s something Rangers and Hearts will find out for themselves. I think they’ll discover it’s tougher than they think and it will be difficult to win promotion from the Championship. I know some people are talking of Hibs getting dragged into that second-bottom spot, but, while there are no guarantees in football, I believe they’ll avoid becoming involved in that particular fight.”
Although he insists he has enjoyed the past two seasons, playing regular first-team football, Booth admitted he’s keen to pull on a Hibs shirt again, anxious to resurrect what looked like a promising future when he first broke through as a teenager under Colin Calderwood, part of the Hibs Under-19 side which had won a League and Cup double.
However, Booth today revealed he hadn’t allowed himself to be carried away by the hype which surrounded him at that time.
He said: “I think some people got a bit carried away. I was getting man-of-the-match awards but I always knew it was going to be a an achievement to stay at Hibs. It’s quite something to do what Paul Hanlon has done, staying at the club for so many years and racking up nearly 200 first-team appearances already.
“I’ve played every minute of every game I could possibly play this season with Raith and who can say whether I’d have played every week had I not been put out on loan these past two seasons? You can never tell what the future holds.
“Terry Butcher [pictured] has already phoned me which was good of him. We’ve had a wee chat and obviously any player would grab the chance to play for a Premiership club and a great club to boot. I’ll be going back for pre-season training – I’m moving from Dunfermline to Haddington in the next few weeks – and we’ll take it from there.”
Booth will get a chance to familiarise himself with Easter Road once more when Raith head to the Edinburgh stadium this weekend to face Rangers in the final of the Ramsdens Cup. The Kirkcaldy club will be hoping to repeat their victory over Hibs at the same ground in February, a win which he insists can play a big part in preparing Grant Murray’s players for Sunday’s showdown.
He said: “We were rightly cast as underdogs for the Scottish Cup game because we were a Championship side going to a Premiership’s club’s ground and, on Sunday, we’ll again be underdogs even although Rangers are in the league below us.
“Again they are rightly favourites because they spend a lot more money than Raith and will have the vast majority of the crowd.
“But we went to Easter Road to face Hibs believing we could win. As a football player you never go into a game anywhere expecting to lose or thinking you don’t have much of a chance. Once you step over that line it’s a game of football and you always think you have a great chance of winning.
“Against Hibs we knew we hadn’t been playing well but we also knew they hadn’t been playing so great either. We felt we had a right chance and we’ll feel the same way on Sunday even if we are underdogs again. I actually think that suits us while the boys will be going to Easter Road with good memories of our last time there.”
That day, of course, pitched Booth against Hibs, former boss Fenlon having agreed to allow him to play should the two teams meet as part of the loan agreement which took the player to Stark’s Park. Booth, though, ensured he kept out of the limelight both before and after the match.
He said: “There was a lot of speculation as to whether I could play or not, but I knew I could. I just wanted to keep quiet, to keep myself out of the papers altogether. There was a bit of pressure on me but I just concentrated on playing. It was a strange situation facing my parent club but I was 100 per cent committed to helping Raith go through although I want Hibs to win every other match.”
And, if the Ramsdens Cup is perhaps looked down on by the upper echelons of Scottish football, Booth insisted he and his team-mates will be just as determined again on Sunday. He said: “They probably think that because they aren’t in it but it’s live on television, there’s going to be 20,000 fans at the game and Rangers will be just as anxious as we are to be picking up the trophy.
“I don’t think it should be underestimated in any way, there were plenty of good teams in the competition and it’s a good achievement to have reached the final.”