A quiet smile plays around the corners of Sam Stanton’s mouth as he anticipates the first question. It’s one he’s been asked a thousand times and so the answer comes almost before the polite inquiry is completed.
“No, no relation at all,” is the almost apologetic response from the Hibs kid as to whether or not there’s any family connection to Easter Road legend Pat Stanton.
But the young midfielder, who bears more than a passing resemblance to the former Hibs captain, appreciates full well why the mere mention of the name Stanton among the current playing staff should evoke such excitement for fans. At 17 he is, of course, far too young to have seen Stanton as part of the Turnbull’s Tornadoes team, but equally he is well aware of the affection in which his namesake is held by all those who wear green and white scarves.
He said: “I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked if I’m related in any way to Pat. The fact I play in the same position as he did and some say I look a bit like a young version of him probably makes them think I am. I can understand why supporters get a bit excited when they hear there’s another Stanton at the club but there’s no connection, absolutely none at all.
“Obviously I’m too young to have seen him play. Guillaume Beuzelin was one of my favourites when I was younger. I’ve never even met Pat, although I’d like to one day soon. I’ve only ever seen clips of him playing, but he’s a great name at this club, a legend, someone who the fans love.
“There’s a lot to live up to and if I can have half the career Pat had then I’d imagine I’ll have done okay.”
Although a fixture in Hibs’ Under-19 side, tomorrow’s Scottish Youth Cup clash with Hearts at Easter Road will give many fans their first chance to see the new Stanton in action, as he youngsters are usually confined to playing their games at the club’s East Mains training centre. And it is an opportunity for the young Hibees to gain revenge for their controversial defeat at the hands of their Capital rivals at Riccarton a few weeks ago when Hearts hit back from 2-1 down to win 3-2 in injury time in an SPL Under-19 League clash. The manner of the young Jambos’ winner, however, is still the source of irritation for Stanton and his team-mates, the claim being that the referee restarted play with a “drop ball” when none of them were looking.
Stanton, a former pupil of Broughton Primary School and Trinity Academy, said: “We weren’t too sure what was going on but they broke down the wing, the ball came in and they scored.
“None of us were looking when the ref dropped the ball but we still had to defend the situation.
“It was hard to take at the time, but it was a wee lesson for us and an error, I am sure, we won’t make again.”
Tomorrow’s match, which kicks off at 1.00pm with free admission for fans of both club, sees Hearts cross the Capital as league leaders, the young Jambos seven points clear at the top although Celtic have three games in hand.
Hibs, in third, are eight points off the pace but have played one match less, providing, claimed Stanton, the prospect of a highly-entertaining match.
Although Hearts have only been beaten twice in 12 matches, Hibs have won their last three games, scoring nine goals in the process and conceding none. And with 31 goals in 11 games, they are the league’s top scorers.
And if that last-gasp winner from Billy King the previous time the two teams met wasn’t enough warning for Stanton and his team-mates, Fraser Mullen underlined the young Jambos’ determination to play to the final whistle again last weekend as he buried a 95th minute free-kick as Rangers were defeated 4-3.
Such statistics, however, cut little ice with Stanton, who said: “Hearts are flying, top of the league but we are the top scorers. We have good enough players to win as we feel we should have done a few weeks ago, and we’ll just be concentrating on our own game.
“The manner in which we lost to Hearts last time still rankles but it’s a case of channelling all our anger and frustration in the right way.”
Stanton has his fingers crossed that, with no SPL action tomorrow and Scotland’s friendly against Cyprus taking place in Larnaca tonight, tomorrow’s “mini-derby”, a third-round tie, will attract a healthy crowd.
He said: “I’ve actually played at Tynecastle but not at Easter Road so it’s going to be a big game for all of us. I think it will be a good game and with it being a derby hopefully the fans will turn out and create a bit of an atmosphere.”
Stanton’s longer term aim, of course, is to ultimately follow in the footsteps of his illustrious namesake, revealing that while he may be considered to be nearing the end of his footballing apprenticeship, its one which stretches back to when he first started kicking a ball at four with his dad Mark.
Spells with Spartans and Hutchison Vale followed before he joined Hibs’ Under-14 side. He said: “I played for both Broughton Primary and then Trinity Academy for a couple of years although it is more a rugby-playing school. I’m now in my second year at Hibs, there’s nothing better than playing football every day.”
* Due to the continuing media ban at Hearts, we were unable to speak to any of their players ahead of tomorrow’s game.