Connections between the Hearts support and Clevid Dikamona developed rapidly, to the point that the Congolese is already their cult hero.
The self-proclaimed “Jambo Soldier” soldiered on through excruciating pain to help his club to a 1-0 derby win against Hibs at Easter Road last month and is already immersed in Tynecastle life.
He fully understands the importance of Sunday’s Scottish Cup fourth-round tie against Livingston. The competition not only brings a glint to the eyes of Hearts fans, it may also be their club’s last opportunity to win silverware this season.
Dikamona considers himself privileged to play in it. Having only arrived in Scotland in September, his commitment to the cause has endeared him to his public. There is also the small matter of a 5-0 defeat by Livingston when the teams last met in December. The aforementioned thigh injury forced the 28-year-old centre-back off in the first half with the score at 0-0. That doesn’t mean he felt the end result any less.
“I have never won a cup but I have played in a lot of cup ties. I know that the feeling is different than in the league,” he said in an exclusive Evening News interview. “I know that the Scottish Cup is important in the club’s history. Maybe we need to think about this, work hard in this game and try to get to the next round.
“It’s not revenge because this is a different game. You can lose games in football but there is a way to lose. You can’t lose 5-0 like this. It shouldn’t be possible. On Sunday, we have to show everyone that the last game was a big mistake. We have to show that we are better than that.”
If Hearts recover as well as their African defender, there will be no issue. Dikamona expected to be sidelined until after the winter break with that thigh problem, but two weeks later he appeared miraculously on the teamsheet at Easter Road.
“When I came off against Livingston, I thought I would miss the games until the break. But, in my mind, I said: ‘No. I have to be back for Hibs.’ I tried to be back for Hamilton but it was too early,” he explained.
“I was not 100 per cent against Hibs. I could still feel the pain. When you play for Hearts and you have an opportunity to play in this game, you can’t refuse. The gaffer asked me: ‘Are you ready?’ I said: ‘Yes. I’m not afraid.’
He knew there was a chance of a more serious tear in the thigh muscle. Yet the adrenalin of taking the field in an Edinburgh derby overruled his natural thought process. Dikamona would probably do the same thing again and put his body on the line to help Hearts.
“I told myself that if my muscle breaks again, it doesn’t matter. I had to be on the pitch and I think it was the right decision,” he said. “I want to play in every game but it was also because it was Hibs. You feel something different in a derby. I know that the game is important for the fans and the town.
“The last 20 minutes were hard for me. My team-mates helped me and told me they need me to stay on the pitch. When you feel the fans and your team-mates behind you, I can’t explain it. You feel more than a man. It takes the pain away. When I had to play on the ball I didn’t feel the pain but without the ball my leg was heavy and painful. But it’s okay.
“I found power from my team-mates and the fans. We were winning 1-0 so it’s easier to defend in that moment. If the game was 3-0 for Hibs, maybe I would be more tired and I would feel the pain more. There is something in your head telling you to be strong so I wanted to stay on the pitch until the end.”
He did and Hearts finished 2018 with a welcome victory over their neighbours, which was also their first success in Leith for four-and-a-half years. Dikamona’s selflessness and bravery earned him yet more public adulation. He is more than happy to reciprocate.
“I am lucky to do this job because, for me, it’s not a job. I have played football since I was a child and this is a game. I enjoy my life every day. When you see fans who support you all the time and spend money to come to see you play a game, it is nothing to respond to them and give them your time.
“I am just a lucky man. I have to enjoy this so much. Whether we lose or win, I don’t want to say it doesn’t matter. I just want to say this is amazing for me. I get money to play football. I have to be close to the fans who support me because this is not a job. It’s just something I enjoy.”