Kevin Thomson envisaged ending his career at Easter Road – and the out-of-favour Hibs midfielder is hellbent on doing everything in his power over the next few months to keep that dream alive.
In his two spells at his boyhood club, the 29-year-old had never experienced the frustration of not being a first-pick until Terry Butcher’s arrival as manager in November resulted in him slipping down the pecking order.
The opportunity was there to leave in January, with other clubs offering him a route out of the wilderness, but Thomson, who loves being part of the current Hibs squad, is determined to remain and give it one last shot at trying to win Butcher over before his contract expires in the summer.
“I just want to play for Hibs,” he said. “Unfortunately, I’ve had a wee niggle on my calf that I picked up just before the Hearts game [on January 2] so I’ve missed the last few weeks, but I’ve still got as much hunger and desire to play for the team as I did when I first came back up the road last year.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time back here. Under Pat [Fenlon] it was good and now the new manager has come in with good, fresh ideas. The only disappointment for me is that I’m not playing.
“I’m willing to work hard and try and get back in the team, so fingers crossed, my quality will shine through and I can get back into a team that I still feel I can bring a lot to. It might be that I have to start at grass-roots [play for the Under-20s or the East of Scotland team] and work my way back into the team, and I’m more than willing to do that.
“Tom Taiwo was in a similar situation a few weeks ago and he came in for the Celtic game – I feel if I’d have been fit for that one I’d have had a chance of being involved as well.”
As disappointed as he is at not playing, Thomson remains philosophical. He feels that he has simply been a victim of a new manager coming in with new ideas and accepts that it is Butcher’s prerogative to select whichever players he feels are best suited to his style of play.
He said: “The manager’s brought a freshness and a style of play that’s been successful for him. The boys, for the first few weeks, were terrific. The desire he got off them was great. If the boys keep getting results it’s hard for the manager to change the team, and for those who aren’t in the team, they’ve got to bide their time and hopefully get an opportunity.
“It’s just a case of a new manager coming with new ideas and, so far, I’ve been a victim of that. The manager’s got to pick a team on his gut instinct and I respect that.”
Thomson admits it has been doubly hard watching from the sidelines because so many people are asking him why he has fallen from prominence so rapidly after making a promising start to the season under Fenlon.
“It’s especially hard not playing because I’m a Hibby,” he said. “All my pals are Hibbies and they want to see me playing. When the team’s doing well, people forget about you and when the team’s not doing so well, they start asking questions about why you’re not in the team – that’s football.”
Thomson is adamant there is nothing sinister in his omission from Butcher’s plans. He’s heard the rumours doing the rounds about a training-ground bust-up with Malpas and is eager to knock it on the head. He knows there are those who still believe he was part of the dressing-room revolt against John Collins in 2007 – even though he had actually left the club before it erupted – and that this is just another case of the former Rangers and Middlesbrough player making trouble for a Hibs manager. “It’s not like that at all,” he said. “I’m a respectful lad. People who know me know I’m one of the first in in the morning and one of the last to leave. I work hard and I have always based my career on trying to be the best I can.
“Me and John got on really well – we actually had a great relationship. When he first arrived he took me and Scotty [Brown] aside and told us that we were the best players at the club and he wanted to have everything built around us, which was great. It was just unfortunate that when I got a chance to move on to a bigger club [Rangers], we both said and did things that we would probably have done differently in hindsight.
“I saw John at the Celtic game the other week and said ‘hi’ to him – there’s no issue between us. There is no issue with me and Terry either. The only issue is that I’m not playing and I want to play. That should be the same for everybody, whether it’s me, Tom Taiwo or Ross Caldwell. The manager would be disappointed in me if I wasn’t disappointed in not playing.”
Thomson has been touched by how the majority of Hibs fans have accepted him back at the club over the past year following his acrimonious exit for Rangers seven years ago, and he has no intention of turning his back on them for a second time, unless he has no option but to leave in search of first-team football.
“The manager obviously brought in three players on loan last week,” said Thomson. “I had limited opportunities previous to him bringing in those players so I would imagine my opportunities are going to be even more limited. But I have never hidden the fact I want to play for the club.
“If I am not in the team and not in the manager’s plans then I would need to look for something else in the summer. I would be the same as the other 14-15 lads out of contract. That’s part and parcel of football.”
Settled back in Edinburgh with his two young children, Thomson would also love to remain at Easter Road to help nurture what he believes is the best young batch of talent to emerge at the club since he broke through along with the likes of Brown, Garry O’Connor and Derek Riordan around a decade ago.
After all the serious talk, a smile comes across Thomson’s face when he is asked about sharing a dressing-room with a burgeoning young group that includes Alex Harris, Sam Stanton, Jordon Forster, Danny Handling, Jason Cummings and Ross Caldwell.
“They’re an exciting batch,” he said. “I know how much the Hibs fans love seeing a young boy coming through – they really latch on to them and want to see them doing well. Because we’ve produced some good players in the past, there’s always a bit extra pressure on Hibs youngsters but I think a few of them have got a real good chance of becoming top players.
“I’d love to be part of helping the young boys like Boozy [Alex Harris] and Sammy Stanton. If I can help guide them in any way to become a top player, that would be great. They bring a freshness. The changing-room’s great. You’ve got your older heads like Heff [Paul Heffernan] and Nelse [Michael Nelson] sitting having a coffee and a sophisticated conversation and then you’ve got the young boys like Boozy, Sammy, Ross Caldwell and Danny Handling playing this funny game where they roll marbles into the drains in the changing-room. It’s a good place to be – really enjoyable. Even though I’m not playing, I still feel part of it. The young boys have respect for me as a player and a person – you’d be surprised how many questions they ask you. It means a lot to me.”