An indignant Michael Nelson today told Hibs fans they can call him what they like – but not to ever question his commitment.
The big defender accepts that given the Easter Road outfit’s miserable run – five successive defeats making it just one win in their last 14 Scottish Premiership matches to leave them hovering above the relegation play-off spot – will inevitably prompt supporters to question the passion and desire of Terry Butcher’s players.
But the 34-year-old bristles at the suggestion he and his team-mates aren’t giving their all as they desperately battle to haul themselves clear of trouble.
He said: “That’s the worst thing you can have levelled at you – people questioning your commitment or desire. I don’t mind if anyone thinks I’m a bad player. People can tell me I’m terrible, that’s their opinion. I’m not bothered about that.
“But people questioning your commitment and desire? I’m not saying they’re wrong to do it, because it’s their opinion. I just feel it’s one of the worst things you could level at me.
“People telling you that you don’t care, you’ve got no desire, you’ve not got heart – that’s not a nice thing to be labelled with. You can’t please everyone in terms of people thinking you are a good or a bad player. But as far as giving your all goes, it’s not nice to have people think the worst of you.
“You are going to get that, though, especially on a bad run. That’s the first thing people will say to you. It’s up to you to turn it around and make sure no-one can ever throw something like that at you again.”
Nelson’s own team-mate Ben Williams was one of Hibs’ strongest critics in the wake of their latest defeat, the 2-0 loss at St Mirren last weekend, the goalkeeper claiming Butcher’s side was “soft” and “spoiled” by the facilities on offer at their £5 million East Mains training centre.
But, while he had no quibble with Williams’ opinion, Nelson insisted his own experiences in football – his early career having been spent with the likes of Leek Town, Spennymoor United and Bishop Auckland – had left him far from spoiled.
He said: “I used to take my kit home every day and wash it myself. I have worked hard throughout my career, playing non-league, playing in League Two, taking my own kit home, to get to places like this.
“I have earned this, I haven’t been given it on a plate. I haven’t come through youth academies and stuff like that. There were no youth acadmies about when I was YT. We were in until six o’clock, cleaning boots and cleaning changing rooms so I certainly haven’t been spoiled in my career.
“Everything I have got I have earned. And everything I get in the future I will earn as well. That’s the way I am. I would rather earn something than have it given to me. If somebody decided to take me to a park with a bag of balls and jumpers for goalposts then I’d go and do that. It wouldn’t bother me.
“If we were on a great run then it would be because we have the facilities, because we have the training ground, nice meals after training, a nice gym to go to. If we were on a good run everybody would be buzzing about that. As soon as it goes the other way, everyone turns it against you.”
Although Nelson and his team-mates are easy targets at the moment, the veteran stopper insisted confidence remained high within the dressing-room with the players determined to bring their woeful run to an end with victory over arch-rivals Hearts tomorrow.
He said: “Fans only see ninety minutes on a Saturday and that’s what they judge it by. We haven’t done well enough during those 90 minutes, so that’s what the fans are going to think. They don’t see the boys in training day in, day out. They don’t know how the boys are feeling. The mood has been all right this week. Training has been at a high tempo and a good standard. Hopefully, we carry that into the game.”
Asked what it will take to change Hibs’ fortunes, Nelson replied: “I’m sure I have been on a run like this before and you can’t really put it down to one thing when you come out of it.
“Sometimes you come out of it and you don’t realise why – something just happens. You get a stroke or luck and come away with a win from nowhere. Sometimes you’ll change something and it will work, everything will fall into place. It’s got to be a combination of things.”
If just how these runs begin and end is something of a mystery, Nelson was convinced of one thing. “You can’t just wait for something to happen,” he said. “You’ve got to try to make something happen.
“You have to be the one who tries to make it happen first, then let others react off you. Don’t be standing around in the background waiting for someone else to do the job – take it on your own shoulders, be the one who has an influence and drags others along with you.
“I do sense that we’ve got enough players of that type. Everyone is really determined, everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet, just as positive and determined as the next man to go out and get the win.”