The term one man and his dog is often used to describe a low attendance at a football match, but Marvin Bartley believes this scenario has been key to helping him settle in at Hibs.
The midfielder left his family behind down south when he moved to Easter Road on a two-year deal in July, with Diego the Rottweiler the only one of his loved ones to make the journey north.
After driving around Edinburgh and the Lothians in the summer in search of somewhere with plenty of countryside to explore, Bartley took a shine to Penicuik and decided that he and Diego would set up home in the Midlothian town in the shadow of the Pentland Hills.
“Im away from my family, which is difficult at times, but it’s part and parcel of the job,” he told the Evening News. “They come up for weekends, but I’m just getting on with it and walking my dog a lot. It’s just me and Diego up here, but he keeps me busy. I take him literally everywhere around Penicuik. I take him up the Pentland Hills, into the woods, over to the school and into the woods round there. He’s living the life of Riley up here.
“It definitely helps having him with me. If he wasn’t here, I’d go home and be a lonely boy in the evenings. I don’t get bored with him here – he doesn’t give me a minute’s peace. Even though he’s a Rottweiler, he’s a friendly one – he’s a big softie. I’ve had him since he was a puppy. He’ll be a year in January. My boy’s a Chelsea supporter so he named him after Diego Costa. My missus has a little Chihuahua, so she was happy for me to bring Diego up here.”
Bartley, now 29, admits that living out in the suburbs wouldn’t always have been his first chance upon arrival at a new club. “It’s a quiet way of life out in Penicuik and that’s what I wanted,” he said. “There was a time in my younger days when I’d have definitely lived right in the middle of Edinburgh, but I’m 29 now and I’ve chilled out a bit. I’m happy staying out the way now. There are a lot of nice people in the area and I see a lot of dog-walkers, so it’s good. I think I’ve only been into town twice since I’ve been here. I only really go into town when my missus is here. I’m happy being out the way now. I’m a London boy but I think I’ve adapted well to life up here. I’m enjoying playing football again and the team’s recent form has been excellent – it’s going really well.”
The only slight frustration for Bartley is that he hasn’t featured more regularly for Hibs. He has started only nine of their 18 competitive matches this season and just one of their last six – the 1-0 win at Falkirk last month. He hopes to be back in the side for tonight’s Championship visit from Livingston.
“I had a bit of injury trouble prior to coming here and the gaffer said he didn’t want me playing more than once a week,” said the former Bournemouth, Burnley and Leyton Orient midfielder. “That makes it a bit difficult mentally at times because I want to play every game. I understand that I’m not a young boy any more, so if it keeps me fit for the whole season then I’m happy to do it. I’m over my injury and it’s not bothered me at all since I’ve been here, so I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t frustrating having to sit games out.”
A big factor in Bartley not making as many starts as he would have liked is the calibre of midfielders at Hibs, with Dylan McGeouch, Fraser Fyvie, John McGinn and Liam Henderson – who are all aged 22 or under – earning rave reviews during the team’s run of 12 wins in their last 13 games.
The Englishman is enjoying providing the security in front of the defence that allows his young colleagues to express themselves. “There are a lot of midfielders here but everyone’s slightly different – we’ve all got our own strengths and weaknesses,” said Bartley. “There are loads of different combinations the gaffer can play depending what formation he’s using. We all want to play every week but whoever isn’t playing will just get on with it and wish the others luck. I’m the old man of the midfield. They’re all young pups compared to me.
“I didn’t think I’d be one of the oldest in the team at 29, but there are only one or two older than me. I’m more than happy to help the young boys with anything on the pitch or off it.
“As one of the older players in the dressing-room, they know they can come to speak to me about anything. For me, it’s really refreshing seeing these young boys being let off the leash to play football here.”
Bartley admits playing in Scotland’s second tier has exceeded his expectations.
“I’m surprised at the quality of the Hibs team and of the opposition,” he said. “Before coming up I didn’t know a lot about football at this level. You hear people saying one or two things about what the standard’s going to be like, but I’ve been really impressed with not only our team, but other teams in the league as well. It’s a lot more competitive than I first thought.”