Kevin THOMSON’S medals haul tells the story of a career most players could only dream of. Back-to-back SPL titles, the Scottish Cup and the Scottish League Cup (twice) – not to mention an appearance in a UEFA Cup final.
Today, however, the 28-year-old Scotland cap revealed there’s a prize he’d cherish more than any of them: helping Hibs lift the Scottish Cup, a trophy which, as everyone knows, has eluded the Easter Road outfit since 1902.
Back pulling on a green and white jersey for a second time after offering to play for Pat Fenlon’s side for nothing between now and the end of the season, Thomson is well aware there may be some who’ll view his return to where it all began as little more than another one-time star seeking a gentle drift towards the day he hangs up his boots.
As far as Thomson is concerned, however, he retains the same desire and hunger for success as he displayed as a member of that “golden generation” which thrilled Scottish football during Tony Mowbray’s reign as Hibs manager, although most of that precocious bunch of youngsters had been handed their debuts by Mogga’s predecessor, Bobby Williamson.
Everywhere he goes, images of the past remind him of those days, with photographs of former players adorning not only the corridors of the club’s East Mains training centre, but also the inner-sanctum of the home dressing-room and its immediate vicinity. Happy memories indeed, but for Thomson it is the future which is of greater importance than the past.
Having had his contract with Middlesbrough terminated at the end of January, Thomson used the training facilities with his old club, finally offering his services to Hibs free of charge.
So far Thomson has seen just five minutes of action as a late substitute against Hearts less than 48 hours after putting pen to paper, but, before his future once again becomes the subject of speculation, he hopes the coming weeks will bring not only more involvement, but the greatest prize of all.
He said: “I don’t want people thinking, ‘he’s gone back to Hibs for an easy life’, because I still have plenty of drive, I still want to be the best I can be and that’s what I tell the young boys, you only get one chance. I have done all right for myself, but I am only 28, I still want to achieve more. I certainly ain’t finished. I feel if I can get a run of games and play well, I could get back into the international team. That was the only nervousness I had about coming back, that people within the game would think I was going back to Hibs because I’d had a good career and had enough. I see the opposite, I see me coming here and helping the boys, hopefully, to finish top six, while we have a great opportunity of winning a cup that everyone knows we have not won for a long time,”
Hibs, of course, have still to negotiate their way past Falkirk to earn themselves a second successive cup final, but as a Hibs fan Thomson shares the dream of every supporter.
Describing losing the League Cup final to Livingston in 2004 – despite having beaten both Celtic and Rangers on the way – as “one of the hardest days of my career”, Thomson, who left for Rangers in a £2million deal only weeks before Hibs lifted that trophy three years later, said: “I like to think I go about my business the way most professionals should – trying to do my best is the be all and end all.
“If I could win a cup for Hibs, especially the Scotish Cup, it would outweigh everything I would have achieved in my career by a country mile.”
Thomson is aware, naturally, of the fact that there are some Hibs fans who haven’t welcomed him back with entirely open arms, well remembering the claim that he’d “crawl along the M8 on broken glass” to get to Ibrox and, he admits, that with the benefit of hindsight all parties would probably agree things were said back then which shouldn’t have been.
It’s no secret that Thomson, then Hibs captain at the age of 21, and manager John Collins didn’t see eye-to-eye, the relationship deteriorating as the midfielder and his best friend Scott Brown, along with their agent Willie McKay, began making noises agitating for a move.
But while remorseful and apologetic about some aspects of the affair and the way it was handled, Thomson has no regrets at his move to Rangers. He said: “I was 21 and felt I was as good as anyone in the country. I had the opportunity to move to Rangers, which was financially very rewarding, a great opportunity in my opinion to play for a team that was potentially going to win the league rather than a team that was potentially going to finish third or fourth.
“It was a no-brainer, but did I say things that I shouldn’t have? Of course I did. The whole thing got blown out of proportion, people were saying things they should not have and I have had to live with that, coming back to the club I loved and getting booed, the whole stadium singing ‘Kevin Thomson is gay’ and I was spat on, which was the lowest point for me. I loved playing for the club, my dad Alan was as proud as anyone sitting watching me every Saturday because he was a massive Hibs fan. But I am not naive, being a Hibs fan does not mean you can play for Hibs all your life. Did I say the wrong things? Yeah, I probably did.”
Totally refuting he said anything about crawling on broken glass, Thomson asks for understanding rather than forgiveness from the Hibs support. He said: “I’m more experienced, I’m not a naive young boy any more. Every Hibs fan who sits in the stadium every Saturday has probably made mistakes in their lives. I didn’t make a mistake in signing for Rangers because I had four great years there, they are a fantastic club and have fantastic fans as well. But I made a mistake in saying certain things in certain interviews, but you have to live with your mistakes. You can only apologise for them.”
To that end, Thomson admitted he was perhaps a touch apprehensive over the reception he’d get from the home support as he sat on the bench watching the latest Capital derby unfold – even although he was desperate to become embroiled in the action. He said: “I wasn’t so much nervous as not too sure what the reaction I would get. Obviously everyone wants a nice reaction, every player wants to be wanted and if you get a nice reception off the fans it makes a hell of a difference.
“All I can say is I was really, really touched by the reception I got. It was just magic. While I was on the bench I was kicking every ball, I wanted to be on the park and every time the manager turned round to look round at the bench I was trying to catch his eye – I was ready to go on. As it turned out I only got four or five minutes, but it was great.”
Thomson didn’t get even a minute of action in Hibs’ last match, staying on the bench as his side lost 4-1 to Motherwell, but despite his vast experience and desperation to play a belated part in making this s eason as successful as possible for the Hibs support, he acknowledged he has no right to expect any special treatment.
He said: “The boys had done really well winning the cup tie at Kilmarnock, he kept the same team for the derby and they did well and so it was the same team again for Motherwell. I am like any other player, there’s not just me sitting on the bench, but perhaps another ten or 15 players all wanting to get into the team.
“I know I have to work hard in training every day to show the manager how good I am and, fingers crossed, when I do get the opportunity, I can show everyone how good a player I am.”
Thomson’s comeback, following on the heels of Easter Road returns for the likes of Derek Riordan, Garry O’Connor, Ian Murray and Ivan Sproule – all with varying degrees of success – has, inevitably, aroused much discussion of just what a team Hibs might have had if that vibrant group had been kept together for an extended period.
It is a whimsical debate, one which Thomson knows fans will indulge themselves in, but while he’s enough of a realist to recognise that it would have been impossible to retain each and every one of them, it doesn’t stop him looking back on those days with great fondness.
Since then, there has also been much argument as to just why Hibs haven’t continued to produce a bunch of talented youngsters on an annual basis. Thomson, though, is adamant the “golden generation” was the exception rather than the rule, saying: “I was lucky enough to be part of a very talented group, one which had real quality.
“But in this day and age, it would have been impossible to keep us together. I’d like to think, though, that we put in some good performances which had the fans on the edge of their seat because of the way we played.
“There was probably a frustration within us that as a team we never got what we felt we deserved. Like the final against Livingston, the drive and determination, the expectation there to win the cup was massive, but we fell short, probably through a lack of experience, that nous. Possibly it came just a year too early for us.
“But I think if you were to ask the Celtic and Rangers players of that time which team they never enjoyed playing against, then it would have been us because we were fresh, we were young, we were whipper-snappers who never gave them a second’s peace on the ball. We could all pass it, we could play, we could run and we could tackle. We did everything.
“I remember playing against Roy Keane and he was saying he’d have to call it a day because “those boys” were just too fit, too strong, too fast. You know what it means coming from someone who, in my opinion, had been one of the best midfield players in 20 years. The thing was we could play against the biggest teams and beat them one Saturday, only to lose to Dunferemline the following week.
“Had we stayed together for five or six years we’d have had that experience, but ultimately players were always going to move on.”
And while today’s youngsters at East Mains could do far worse than watch and learn from Thomson, they’d also be well advised to listen.
He said: “Hard work gets the rewards. There are many players more talented than me who will never every probably achieve anything near what I have achieved because there’s a difference between having talent and the nous and determination to push yourself over the edge to get that opportunity.
“You might be able to do all the tricks and flicks and think you are the best player on the training park every day, but you need to be the best player on the training park every day by a country mile to get a chance to play in the first team. The sooner young boys grasp that, the sooner they will get an opportunity.”