Danny Swanson may have grown up as a Hibs fan, but he insists his decision to sign for Hearts shouldn’t be a cause for eyebrow-raising.
His father John runs a pub in Leith and his allegiances, until this week at least, lay on the east side of Edinburgh’s football divide. However, after moving to Tynecastle until the end of the season, Swanson was keen to point out that there is also a strong Hearts link in his family.
“Not many people know but my mum’s side of the family are all Hearts fans,” said the 28-year-old midfielder. “My grandad, Llario Guerri, was a season-ticket holder for over 30 years so I’d like to think he’ll be looking down proud of me. He was Italian but he came over to Scotland and took to Hearts right away. He took my mum to all the games. My Nana Guerri phoned my dad’s pub to speak to him on Wednesday night after I signed and she was very emotional. She was very pleased so I was happy with that.
“My dad is a big Hibby but I went into the pub [Swanny’s Bar in Leith] to say bye to him yesterday because he’s going on holiday and he and a few punters in the pub had the Hearts songs on the jukebox. I never thought I’d see the day, but I’ve converted him! He’s looking forward to coming along and watching me. He looks after a handicapped guy who he’s had in the house for a few years and he’s into Hearts, so he’s going to bring him along.”
Another reason Swanson had no hesitation in making the move to Hearts was the presence of Craig Levein. No-one in football has had a bigger influence on the 28-year-old’s career than the Tynecastle club’s director of football. Seven and a half years ago Levein plucked Swanson from part-timers Berwick Rangers and gave him the chance to flourish at Dundee United. From there, he moved to Peterborough in 2012 and enjoyed two fruitful years at London Road before toiling to command regular football at Coventry City last season.
“It was a very easy decision to come to Hearts,” said Swanson. “I had a couple of other teams interested and one other offer but it was a no-brainer to come here and work with Craig again. He’s always believed in me, since day one. I always remember him speaking to me after one of my first games for Dundee United, at Celtic Park. I had a bad game and was feeling really down, but he took me into his office and told me how good I was and reminded me why he had brought me to United.
“I’ll never forget how he picked me up that day. It helped me massively and from then on I went into games thinking differently. I owe a massive debt to Craig for the career I’ve had. Of the managers I had down south, Darren Ferguson was excellent, I couldn’t fault him. He made me a better player. Steven Pressley was very similar to Craig. Even though I went out on loan [to St Johnstone from Coventry] under him, Steven was always good with me and we had loads of chats, but Craig always stands out for me compared to the rest.”
Watching from afar, Swanson believes his old mentor has been critical to Hearts’ post-administration resurgence. “There’s been a massive transformation here,” he noted. “The state the club was in before was ridiculous but the best thing that happened is getting Ann Budge in and Ann then bringing in Craig. He’s the man that will sort it straight out. He did it at Dundee United and he’ll do it here. I’m positive of that.”
Swanson could make his debut in tonight’s televised match at Inverness. He has been earmarked for a creative midfield role by head coach Robbie Neilson. “That’s where I played at Peterborough and that’s where I had my best football,” he said. “I like to create and I’ll work hard as well. It’s a position where you will have some bad games, but I need to make sure I’m creating as many goals as possible.”
Swanson will be ably backed up by two familiar faces in the shape of former Tannadice colleagues, Morgaro Gomis and Prince Buaben. “I’m surprised they’re back in Scotland,” he noted. “I don’t think they got a fair crack of the whip in England because they are both excellent players. I’ve definitely played with worse players than those two down south. They seem to come as a pair though. I’ve always watched Scottish football even when I was in England so I saw how good they were last season.”
Meanwhile captain Alim Ozturk explained that Inverness will encounter a Hearts side determined to get back on track tonight as they return to action for the first time since having their perfect start to the season ended in controversial fashion 13 days ago. Callum Paterson’s red card – since rescinded – proved pivotal in the 3-2 defeat at Hamilton, and the Tynecastle side are eager to banish that frustration in the Highlands, where a win would take them back to the top of the Premiership until tomorrow lunchtime at least. “We are looking forward to getting back on the pitch after losing the last game,” he said. “It is frustrating knowing we could already have been on 18 points if Callum hadn’t been sent off but that’s football – it’s happened now and we will look forward to Inverness and try to win the game. We will be fired up but we will arrive in the same mood as we go into every game.”
The international break last weekend allowed several Hearts players, Ozturk included, to rest some weary limbs. “I am almost there with my fitness,” said the skipper. “I’m not 100 per cent, but almost. The pain from my [stomach] operation is away. There were a few other players in the same boat as me, so I think the break came at the right moment for us.”
Tonight marks the first of three consecutive league games against last season’s top three, with Aberdeen and Celtic next up for the Jambos. “I think these games will give us a good idea of how good we are,” he said. “After these three games, we will have played almost everybody in the league, so we will have a good idea of where we are.”