He’s barely found his bearings in Edinburgh but already Niklas Gunnarsson is on the tourist trail, ticking off a list of things he’s determined to do.
Edinburgh Castle, walking around taking in the architecture of the Old and New Towns, and walking round Arthur’s Seat – although he’s waiting for better weather to climb it – have filled his agenda since arriving on loan until the end of the season.
He might just give haggis a miss, but the big Norwegian has his heart set on one thing he simply must do – learn the words to Sunshine on Leith.
Gunnarsson admitted the Proclaimers’ anthem gave him “goosebumps” as he and his team-mates were hailed by their supporters after sending Capital rivals Hearts crashing out of the Scottish Cup, an experience he admitted he’s never enjoyed before.
“It was amazing,” said the 24-year-old. “It was a great feeling. I don’t think I’ve experienced anything like that with the fans.
“I don’t know the words yet but I will have to learn them. I got goosebumps hearing them sing it.”
It was certainly a more enjoyable experience than his first derby, the 2-2 draw at Tynecastle, Gunnarsson revealing: “Tynecastle’s a very compact stadium so when we were warming up we got plenty of abuse, but that was just funny. When people speak too quickly in a Scottish accent it’s hard for me to understand. So I just laughed it off even though I don’t think they were trying to be nice to me!”
Though he arrived during the January transfer window – on loan from Norwegian top-flight outfit Valerenga having spent a period with Swedish side Elfsborg – 6ft 2in defender Gunnarsson is slowly but surely finding he’s being recognised by fans of the Easter Road club – spotted by one in the unlikely surroundings of health store Holland & Barrett.
He said: “If I get a day off, I like to walk around Princes Street or George Street, maybe head up to the castle.
“I’ve walked around Arthur’s Seat but it’s too cold to climb it. I love the architecture and it’s a beautiful city. I didn’t know it would be so nice here.
“I’ve been recognised quite a few times, which is funny. I’ve not played that much so I’m still a bit of a stranger to the fans, but I met one walking into Holland & Barrett because I like to buy healthy food.
“He told me I’d had a good game. Maybe they aren’t used to seeing their players walk into that shop.
“Maybe I’m too Scandinavian, but I’m interested in the nutritional side of things. I like my superfoods like goji berries, proteins, carbs and fats.
“I love making food. I’ve bought a new cook book and I’m to prepare a new meal every day.
“My father [Ronny] is a very good chef and I’ve always been interested ever since I was young. I always watched him making stuff.
“I’ve not tried haggis yet – I’m not sure about it– but I had fish and chips once which was unbelievable.”
Gunnarsson’s father, naturally, has also had an influence on his career, the 60-year-old currently acting as his agent having made a name for himself as a coach in Sweden and Norway and, at one time, was in charge of the Faroe Islands national side .
Gunnarsson has made four appearances for Hibs – one of them as a substitute – as Alan Stubbs’ side have extended their formidable record to just one defeat in 28 matches as they make a bid for glory on three fronts, a League Cup final against Ross County already assured, a Scottish Cup quarter-final with holders Inverness pencilled in for Sunday, March 6, and, of course, their battle with Rangers for the Championship title.
Hibs currently trail the Ibrox club by eight points and, Gunnarsson admitted, they have to make the most of tonight’s rearranged match against Morton. He agreed, though, it will be a difficult task given the experience of Cappielow at the beginning of the month when it took an opportunistic strike from on-loan Celtic hitman Anthony Stokes to sink Jim Duffy’s side.
Gunnarsson said: “It’s a very important game, just like all of them. We basically have to win every game. We are focused on the Morton game as much as the Hearts game.
“It’s massive. We have to win this game in hand. There are twelve games left for us in the league. We can’t focus on other teams and that means winning every game.
“Morton work very hard and made it difficult for us last time. We have to win the first, second and third ball every time. If we can do that then hopefully our quality will make the difference.
“When I first came here, I hadn’t played for many weeks so it takes time to get 100 per cent match fit. When I’ve been given a chance I feel I have played well. It’s given me confidence. I haven’t lost yet with Hibs so it’s a good feeling. Everything is still new to me but I am enjoying my time here.
“I can’t take credit for the unbeaten run. We’re a good team with a lot of quality so we deserve the run we are on.”
And, if he is still finding his feet, Gunnarsson believes the reception Stubbs’ players received following their Scottish Cup replay triumph over Hearts simply underlined the potential at Easter Road, that match having been witnessed by a crowd of almost 19,500.
He said: “It definitely gave me a look at what the club could be. If we could get full houses for every home game it would be unbelievable.
“I know Celtic and Rangers used to get full houses when it was going well for them, and that can only be good for Scottish football in general.”
Head coach Stubbs, who had to fight off competition from a number of German clubs to sign the former Norwegian Under-23 internationalist, admitted he’s been delighted with Gunnarsson’s contribution so far. Although Gunnarsson has only signed until the end of the season, Stubbs hasn’t ruled out trying to persuade him to stay beyond the summer although he’s demanding the player continues to play his part as Hibs enter what promises to be a dramatic finale to the season.
The former Bolton. Celtic and Everton defender said: “Niklas needs to keep performing and contributing to the team, which is what he has done since he came here. Then we will take stock of the situation in the summer and that will decide a lot of what we do. We have a lot of games and things to do before we start talking about those situations.
“Niklas is a bright boy, very clever. A typical Scandinavian with fantastic English, and he has fitted into the squad really well. He has a lot of attributes and can play right across the back line, which will be important for us from now to the end of the season. He has already made a contribution and that contribution will get greater and greater as we go on.”