Steven Whittaker has revealed he hopes to end his playing days at Hibs, claiming the ties which bind him to Easter Road were too strong to resist the chance to return to the club.
The 33-year-old admitted he had offers from others after his release from English Championship outfit Norwich City made him a free agent, but his memories of making his breakthrough in a green-and-white shirt and winning the CIS Insurance Cup ten years ago made it easy to reject them.
Whittaker’s name had been linked with Hibs for a number of weeks, the speculation finally brought to an end as he put pen to paper on a three-year deal but the former Scotland internationalist insisted there was never any doubt as to where he’d be going.
He said: “It actually didn’t take that long. It was a matter of me wanting to focus on what the next stage of my career was. I had never been in this position before and I wanted to enjoy time with my family.
“I was away part of the summer on holiday and enjoying a bit of downtime. I spent a bit of time at home and out and about in Edinburgh and I’m enjoying being back. I’ve definitely missed the city. I just wanted to make sure I made the right decision and got things in place before coming in.”
Capital rivals Hearts were credited with an interest in Whittaker but while insisting he “didn’t want to talk about other people’s business”, Whittaker said: “There were other approaches made and I had a couple of options down south but when I knew I was coming back and Hibs were interested, there was no getting away from my ties with the club, coming through here and having that platform to be a professional, all the good feelings you have when you make it.
“It’s down to my time here at the club so it was the natural progression for me to come back here and hopefully I’ll end my career here.”
Asked if he’d had any reservations at returning to the club where he was part of that fondly remembered “golden generation” which included Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson, Garry O’Connor, Derek Riordan and Steven Fletcher, he said: “It was a long time ago.
“It didn’t cross my mind. I left on a successful note and I’m hoping I can come back here and be successful again. The CIS Insurance Cup was my first trophy, the first of a few. That gives you that feelgood factor. It’s up there with one of the best and with the group we had, coming through as young boys you are mates almost and it was a great one to get under the belt.”
Hibs’ second Premiership fixture is Rangers at Ibrox and Whittaker, who left the Glasgow club along with others after it was liquidated, admitted it was the first he had looked for.
He said: “Whatever reception I get I won’t let it bother me. I’m 33 now so I’ve experienced all the different ones, whether you’re cheered or booed. That’s part of football and you just have to get on with it.
“I’ve not given any thought to what kind of welcome I’ll get there. I’ll just be trying my best to win for Hibs. I just don’t want to let anyone down.”
Whittaker accepted there will be some Rangers fans who will never forgive those who left, he himself quoted as saying at the time: “I’m 28 and I want to play at the top level for as much as I can. It doesn’t look like Rangers will be in the SPL and there’s no European football. We owe no loyalty to the new club. There is no history there for us.”
But he insisted: “Everyone has a different opinion of what happened and who was to blame for what. As players we were paid to play football. It was difficult at times but that’s all we knew, that was the be all and end all.
“It was a shame. No-one saw it coming. We took the wage cuts, for example, to try and help everything come back together. We did our bit but people have different perceptions of that. We can’t change that. We just need to get on with it.”