‘I had great moments at Hearts’ – Patrick Kisnorbo’s trip back to Tynecastle
Patrick Kisnorbo has spent the past couple of weeks on a trip down memory lane, revisiting the three cities he called home during his distinguished decade-long stint in British football.
The 38-year-old Australian, who returned home to Melbourne in 2013 and then hung up his boots three years ago, used the occasion of his former Leeds United team-mate Robert Snodgrass’s wedding a week past Friday to stage a nostalgic whistle-stop tour of Edinburgh, Leicester and Leeds, reminiscing about his halcyon days as a fiercely committed defender - and occasionally midfielder - for Hearts, Leicester City and Leeds United.
Fittingly, he began his trip in Scotland’s capital city, where he first arrived in 2003 as a raw and unproven 22-year-old with a dream of carving a career in British football. Two fruitful years in Gorgie under Craig Levein, and latterly John Robertson, brought a string of high-profile European nights, a third-place finish in his maiden season, a goal in an Edinburgh derby victory and, ultimately, a move to Leicester. The amiable Aussie will always cherish memories of his time at Hearts.
“We decided to stay in Edinburgh for a couple of nights before the wedding and revisit Tynecastle because that’s where it all started for me,” Kisnorbo said as he took some time out from his trip to the UK to speak to the Evening News. “It was the first time I’d been back since I left Hearts. I was quite emotional because obviously I started my career overseas at Tynecastle. It all hit me at once and I found myself thinking back on those great UEFA Cup days and things like that.
“I didn’t get into the stadium because I don’t really know anyone at the club now apart from Craig and I didn’t want to hassle him on his summer break. I nipped down quietly, got a few pictures and had a little walk around. The smell from the brewery is obviously still there and it was nice just to get some flashbacks of my time there. The stand has changed a lot. It looks fantastic and it looks like things have been moving along well at the club.
“I also walked up the Royal Mile, went to the castle and just did things I used to do when I was at Hearts, like walk around the city, soak it all up and have a coffee. I went back to my old apartment which brought back a lot of good memories. Hearts was a fantastic time in my life that I cherish, and I also miss it a lot.”
Dave McPherson, a former Hearts team-mate of Levein’s and now an agent, helped facilitate Kisnorbo’s career-launching move to Edinburgh from South Melbourne 16 years ago. “I had a couple of trials with Dundee United and Inverness but I ended up at Hearts and it was definitely the right choice,” he recalled. “It was quite difficult as I came over on my own. I had nobody with me. It can be hard as a foreigner to find your feet but the club did everything possible to make the transition from Melbourne to Scotland as smooth possible. Craig was great with me and guys like Mark De Vries, Alan Maybury and Scott Severin helped me settle in - they became lifelong friends.”
Indeed, Kisnorbo met up with Maybury during his trip to Edinburgh. The pair, who went on to play together at Leicester under Levein, played in memorable UEFA Cup victories over Bordeaux and Sporting Braga in a team which also included the likes of Craig Gordon, Robbie Neilson, Steven Pressley, Andy Webster and Paul Hartley.
“Signing for Hearts was one of my highlights,” said Kisnorbo. “Then obviously playing in the UEFA Cup. We had such a great team and a good team culture. Scoring in the derby (a 2-1 win at Tynecastle just days after facing Ruud Gullit’s Feyenoord in De Kuip) and getting through to the UEFA Cup group stage, which nobody thought we’d do, was great. I scored against Braga at Murrayfield. Then there was the win in Bordeaux the previous year - again, nobody gave us a chance in that one but we went over there and won 1-0. In the two years I was at Hearts we did a lot of things that won’t be bettered for a long time.
“I had so many great moments there. I just enjoyed every day at Hearts, knowing how fortunate I was that all the hard work I’d done at Melbourne had paid off in terms of getting the opportunity to go to Scotland.”
Kisnorbo is indebted to Levein for first bringing him to Hearts, then taking him to Leicester, where he spent four years and became captain before earning his move to Leeds in 2009. “The gaffer was fantastic for me - I’m so thankful to him because he took a punt on a 22-year-old Australian who had never previously done anything in football abroad,” said Kisnorbo, who won 18 caps for Australia. “That led to me spending ten years in the UK and representing my country, so I owe it all to him because he pretty much started it for me. He’s a great guy and he taught me so much. He taught me some great values that I still use myself as a coach in Melbourne.”
Kisnorbo outlasted Levein at Leicester, with the manager sacked just half-way through the Australian’s first season in the East Midlands. “We should have won a lot more games than we did at Leicester but it just didn’t happen for Craig,” rued Kisnorbo. “He had brought a lot of people from Scotland down the road like myself, Alan Maybury, Mark De Vries, Stephen Hughes, Rab Douglas and Momo Sylla but you don’t always know what’s going on behind closed doors in terms of budgets and stuff.”
Kisnorbo’s trips to Leicester and Leeds over the past week or so were just as fulfilling as his visit to Edinburgh, allowing him to reflect on a career in which he maximised his talent before injury started to take a toll. “I’ve got fantastic memories from Leicester and Leeds as well - I captained both of those clubs,” he said. “Every club I’ve played at, I’ve always had a bond. I don’t know why that is. Because you move around a lot in football, you don’t tend to keep in touch with too many people but I was fortunate to be around some good people at all my clubs who I remain friends with.
“When I look back on it, going to the UK was such a big thing for an Australian to do at a time when Australian football wasn’t particularly big and wasn’t at the level it is in Britain. As a little kid, I dreamed of going overseas and playing football but you don’t realise until after you’ve finished that you fulfilled your dream. It’s incredible.”
Now a coach at Melbourne City, Kisnorbo is open to returning to the UK to work in the future. “I’d love to come back to the UK or Europe as a coach,” he said. “As a footballer, you always want to sample the best, and I’m no different as a coach. I want to test myself as much as I can and be in the best leagues, working with the best players in the best clubs. If I get a chance to do that, it would be great.”