It’s only 15 miles or so from Edinburgh to Livingston, but for on-loan Hibs star Callum Booth his move to the West Lothian club has opened up a brand-new world for him.
Frozen out at Easter Road during the second half of last season, the 21-year-old is again relishing playing first-team football on a weekly basis, admitting he’d found himself becoming increasingly frustrated at being left idle as the side thrown together by new boss Pat Fenlon battled to shake off the threat of relegation.
Booth only played five matches under the Irishman before finding his berth at left back taken by Pa Kujabi. The little Gambian internationalist was one of a raft of new faces, many of them brought in on a temporary basis, with the sole objective being to ensure SPL survival. The Haddington-based youngster was given some hope when he was part of the squad which travelled to the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany pre-season, but other than that ill-fated night in Dumfries when Hibs were knocked out of the Scottish Communities League Cup by Second Division leaders Queen of the South, he again found himself overlooked.
Salvation, however, was at hand as the chance to join Livingston on a season-long deal arose. The deal was completed with little time to spare before the August transfer window slammed shut. Since then, Booth has become something of a forgotten figure in the east end of Edinburgh, with some fans apparently even unaware that he was no longer with the club.
He is, though, very much alive and kicking in West Lothian, where a plethora of familiar faces have made the First Division side’s Braidwood Motor Company Stadium a “home from home” for the newcomer. Although former Hibs boss John Hughes was manager when Booth first arrived, Yogi has since moved on to take charge of English League One outfit Hartlepool. His place has been taken by another ex-Hibs star, Gareth Evans, while John Collins, who led the Capital club to League Cup glory in 2007, has a hands-on role as Livingston’s director of football.
He said: “John Collins was manager at Easter Road when I joined full-time at the age of 16, but he was only there for five or six months before leaving and I wasn’t really around the first team. I was in the youth side when Mixu Paatelainen was gaffer and although I was in the first-team squad when John Hughes was in charge, I was out on loan to Arbroath and Brechin.
“I made my debut and became a first-team regular under Colin Calderwood, but throughout all that time Gareth Evans was part of the coaching staff at Hibs and was assistant to Yogi here. It was a bit of a surprise when Yogi left, but everyone knew he’d wanted to get down to England for quite a while and with Gareth stepping up to become manager it has all been pretty seamless.
“While there’s a strong Hibs connection on that side of things, there are guys like Andy McNeill and Kevin McCann who played at Easter Road, while I also know most of the other boys as well which all helped me settle in.”
Although he very much remains a Hibs player – he has two years left on his contract at the end of this season – Booth admitted that while he still takes an obvious interest in what is going on at Easter Road, his entire focus is on Livingston. He said: “I wasn’t really involved in the second half of last season at Hibs and obviously it was disappointing, having had a good run in the team and playing quite regularly. However, there’s nothing you can do about it and you can’t allow yourself to be too disappointed and angry.
“The new manager came in, brought in a lot of new players which is fair enough and I found Pa playing in front of me. I played a bit in pre-season, but my last match was that night against Queen of the South. I only got the first 45 minutes, it was a disaster and there’s not much you can say about it. It’s best forgotten.”
When it became clear his chances of first-team football in a green-and-white shirt would be strictly limited, Booth jumped at the chance for a switch to Livingston. He said: “I wanted to get out and play games, that’s what it’s all about. It all happened right at the end of the transfer deadline and now I am enjoying playing almost every week again.
“It’s a bit different this time to having been on loan at Arbroath and Brechin. With them being part-time I was still training at East Mains with the rest of the squad but here it’s full time and I’m working out with my team-mates on a daily basis. I haven’t spoken to anyone at Easter Road since I left and, to be honest, I don’t know if anyone has been to see me play.”
Although a question mark hangs over the future of Manchester City star Ryan McGivern, brought north to play on the left of Fenlon’s back four only to find himself featuring as a central defender in the absence of injured skipper James McPake, beyond the loan deal which ties him to Hibs only until next month, Booth revealed he won’t be returning even if the 22-year-old departs.
He said: “My deal with Livingston is for the whole season right through to May so I won’t be back at Hibs until next season. As I see it they have a few options, Lewis Stevenson has been there in recent weeks and done well, Paul Hanlon can, and has, played there many times and, of course, there’s always the chance McGivern might stay.
“I’ve been a bit surprised at how well things have been going for Hibs. They have good players, but there were good players there last season as well. Perhaps they are working harder, getting a bit more luck but whatever it is, it’s been brilliant and long may it continue.
For my part, I’m concentrating on Livingston and getting us as high up the League as possible. We’d put together a good unbeaten and while we’ve been beaten by Partick Thistle and Dundee, in the Scottish Cup, in our last two matches, we’ve been doing well.
“We’ve got Dunfermline which will be a bit of a test for us as they had a good win against Partick in the Cup last weekend and I think they are the two best teams in the League.
“We’d like to think we could go up to third by the end of the season. It’s not so long ago Livingston were in the SPL and beating Hibs in the final of the League Cup.
“We’ve got a lot of young, exciting players. The likes of Stefan Scougall and Marc McNulty have been getting quite a lot of attention, but hopefully we’ll be able to hang on to them.”