Role reversal for Hibs' happy couple Rachael Small and Martin Boyle
It's roles reversed this evening for Hibs Ladies defender Rachael Small when the club makes their long-awaited Champions League bow against European giants Bayern Munich.
The 24-year-old defender, who joined Chris Roberts’s side from Aberdeen in July, is a regular spectator at Easter Road these days to lend her support to Hibs winger and fiancé Martin Boyle.
But, as Small emerges from the tunnel tonight for what is a real David vs Goliath Round of 32 encounter, it will be her and not Boyle scanning the West Stand in an attempt to catch the eye of a few familiar faces.
Not being involved pitchside will also be unfamiliar territory for Boyle, 23, having made nine appearances for Neil Lennon’s men so far this term, but there he will be, alongside future in-laws Willie and Karen, spurring Hibs Ladies on as they go toe-to-toe with some of the women’s game’s most finest talents.
“Martin and I support each other whenever we can. To have somebody who you live with know what you’re going through, you’ve maybe had a bad game or you’ve got a bad injury, it’s good to have someone there you can turn to and support you in that way,” Small explained to the Evening News.
“So he will be coming along with my mum and dad tonight and all my family and friends will be back home in Aberdeen watching it on BBC Alba. It will be good to see him there supporting me for a change rather than the other way around.
“I’ve been telling him I’m a bit worried about the game but he’s been saying ‘oh well at least you’re getting to play in the Champions League as I’ve never done that’. We’ve got quite a good relationship that way, we don’t really compete against one another but we do bring up our successes every now and then.”
The pair, who have been dating for four years, took their relationship to the next stage when on the back of Alan Stubbs leading the club to their first Scottish Cup triumph in 114 years, Boyle, pictured right, had reason to continue the celebrations when he got down on one knee just a month after whilst on holiday in New York.
“It all took me a bit by surprise to be honest,” Small, who works as a legal secretary, recalled. “He planned it very well as all my family knew, some of Hibs boys even knew so to keep it quiet he did very well. I was impressed. We had gone for a walk around Central Park in the evening and he found a nice secluded spot next to a lake and that’s where he asked me.
“He’d actually asked my mum first before my dad so he obviously thinks she’s the boss! He’s not really a shopping or jewellery person so for him to pull out the ring he did I was pretty impressed.
“We’re not in any rush to set a date. We’ve just bought a new house in Dunbar so we’re trying to save some money at the moment. We’re looking at a few places but with everything we’ve got going on in terms of football and training, we can’t find the time just now.”
It may not come too much of a revelation to hear the two became an item in 2012 having both attended Aberdeen’s Northfield Academy as teenagers and even played on the same football team together growing up.
“I actually hadn’t seen Martin in so long but we were both at a joint 18th and 21st birthday party one night and we got chatting at the bar,” Small explained. “I was asking how his football was going as did he and it just kind of flourished from there really. He was two years below me at school so we never really crossed paths too often, although I did know who he was to talk to. But it turns out we actually played in the same team when we were younger and we only realised that a couple of weeks ago. I used to play football with his older brother and we then came across a photo from years ago and Martin and I were both in it!”
For now, though, all the talk is very much steered towards tonight’s first leg against the German champions. Small says she and her team-mates are under no illusions as to the task that awaits them both in Leith and the return leg at the Grunwalder Stadion in seven days’ time.
“Obviously a few of the girls have played some huge matches for Scotland but this will be the biggest game of our club careers,” she said.
“We’re never going to underestimate the abilities they have. We’ve done a lot of analysis on them so we’re going to try to keep the score as close as we can for taking into the away leg next week. You never know we could always nick an away goal. It’s going to be a huge game but it’s one we’re very much looking forward to.
“We’re massive underdogs so there’s no pressure on us whatsoever. That said we are all putting pressure on ourselves as individuals as we want to put in a performance and show Scottish women’s football is on the up, particularly given we’ve just qualified for next year’s European Championships.
“We don’t want to be embarrassed, we’re playing at Easter Road and are going to be in front of some new fans who are coming along to get to grips with what the whole women’s game is about so we want to put on a good showing.
“I do miss Aberdeen, I was captain at the club but it just wasn’t going to be possible to stay with them having moved down here. The chance to play for a better team with more quality players at Hibs just made perfect sense so I was delighted when Chris made the call. Games like tonight make that decision all the better.”