Hearts' Toby Sibbick passionately defends Scottish football and says some people in England need to educate themselves

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Fourteen months since moving permanently to Edinburgh, the Hearts defender Toby Sibbick still hears carping from his native England about the standard of Scottish football.

This is nothing new, of course. Comments like “pub league” and “farmers’ league” have been aimed north of the border for many years by those entrenched in the English game. Sibbick is slightly irked, although not surprised, hearing the same old derogatory phrases regurgitated.

His main gripe is that they simply aren’t an accurate reflection of standards in the Scottish Premiership. The versatile 23-year-old played against League One, Championship and Premier League opponents in England and feels Scotland is unfairly criticised by people down south who aren't properly informed about the game here.

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Sibbick advised those in question to engage in some education about the pros and cons of the SPFL in order to make a more accurate judgment. “In England, there are four tiers,” he said, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “There are some really good teams in League One, like Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County. Sunderland were in there for a long time as well. They struggled to get from League One into the Championship.

“If, let’s say Celtic, Rangers or even us to an extent, were to face some Championship teams, I do think we would give them a good game and beat them. Down south, I think they are still a bit stuck in that mindframe. If you actually watch the games and do some education on yourself, you will realise that there is quality up here.”

Thankfully, the player’s family and friends understand the merits of his decision to leave English Championship club Barnsley for Hearts in January last year. Since then, Sibbick’s career has reached highs which simply would not have been possible had he remained in South Yorkshire.

He experienced a Scottish Cup final last May – albeit as an unused substitute against Rangers – and so far this season has managed 32 competitive appearances in maroon. Five of those came in European competition against FC Zurich, Fiorentina, RFS and Istanbul Basaksehir. All of the above more than justifies his move to the Scottish Capital.

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“Every player wants to play in the big games an Europe and test yourself against the best in the league. Sometimes it’s not a nice scoreline but you do enjoy playing against those players,” explained Sibbick. “They have real quality and show it every week. I’m looking forward to the challenge of competing and trying to get that third spot in the league with Hearts.

Hearts defender Toby Sibbick says he feels rewarded playing in Scotland.Hearts defender Toby Sibbick says he feels rewarded playing in Scotland.
Hearts defender Toby Sibbick says he feels rewarded playing in Scotland.

“When this move came about, my family wanted me to do it. They know what’s at stake up here. You can win the Scottish Cup, you can compete in Europe and stuff like that. A lot of people look from the outside at Scottish football and might not think it’s a good standard.

“Every week you are playing against different opponents who ask different questions. Anyone can really beat anyone in this league. For me, I just need to stay switched on, stay in the team and do the best I can to help us keep doing well.”

Frustration still lingers following Hearts’ last two matches against Celtic. A 3-1 league defeat in Glasgow eight days ago was followed by Saturday’s 3-0 loss in the Scottish Cup quarter-final at Tynecastle Park. The Edinburgh club reached three of the previous four Scottish Cup finals and hoped to stride out again at Hampden on June 3.

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“The goals we conceded were probably from our own doing, not because they carved us open,” admitted Sibbick. “Maybe I switched off at the end for one. We took the game to them last Wednesday and we were well in it for a large part. At 1-0 and 2-0 on Saturday we got close to them and made tackles, but they keep making chances. It’s disappointing to go out having got to the final last year. Now we just need to focus on the league and do our best in that competition.”

Premiership business resumes for Sibbick and his colleagues with a trip to Aberdeen this Saturday. All concerned know the stake are high. “The gap between us and fourth spot is only five points so we need to try and get three points at Aberdeen before the international break. Hopefully we will start getting our full squad back, get back to winning league games and extend the gap.

“Our squad is bigger this year and it’s probably better than last year as well. There is a lot of competition for places this week and then after the international break when everyone is fit. We have full belief in ourselves. We have played some lovely stuff in our last two games against the best team in Scotland, so we need to take that into the Aberdeen game and the rest of the games this season.”

Overall, Sibbick believes the change of club has very much been for the betterment of his career. Hearts hope to qualify for European competition again this season to enjoy more continental adventures. For now, they are solely focused on securing that third spot in the Premiership.

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“When I first joined, I knew the targets Hearts were aiming for,” recalled the defender. “We have the same targets this year as well. There is still a lot of football to be played, obviously, and we are still striving to do better. Unfortunately, this year won’t come with any silverware but we still have third place to fight for. Hopefully we can compete in the Scottish Cup again next year.”