Yan Dhanda reveals why he reacted to abuse from Hibs fans and his early welcome from Hearts followers

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Gorgie followers approved the midfielder’s arrival weeks before it happened

A dusty car park in Dingwall back in March is the scene. Yan Dhanda is arriving to play for Ross County against Hearts, his imminent move to Tynecastle Park already public knowledge. Three days beforehand, he scored a stoppage-time equaliser for County against Hibs and celebrated with arms outstretched in front of the travelling support from Easter Road.

A group of Hearts fans spot the midfielder getting out of his car and gravitate towards him. Chants of “Yan Dhanda, he’s one of our own” are soon bellowing into the Highland air. Footage of Dhanda’s cheeky celebration against Hearts’ biggest rivals circulated on social media, helping him become something of a cult hero weeks before he had even tugged a maroon shirt over his head.

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He sits at his new club’s training base in Tenerife recalling that afternoon and the pre-match welcome he got from the away support. They knew a talismanic figure with flair and craft was on the way to Gorgie and decided to impart their appreciation. It was an unusual scene to watch as fans publicly acclaimed an opposition player who had yet to represent them, which underlined the esteem Dhanda commands.

“It was unbelievable, really,” he says. “I know how good the fans are through my uncle and grandad [season ticket holders at Tynecastle], but when opposition fans sing your name it makes you feel so happy. I knew I was coming here although it wasn't publicly announced. I couldn't wait to get here.

“When I signed, I knew I had to play on at Ross County and keep them up but, at the same time, I was so excited for the summer to move to Edinburgh and play for Hearts. Since I've been in Scotland, I've always wanted to be at Hearts. The way it happened was nice.

“I had loads of messages but I couldn't say I'd signed or that I was definitely coming to Hearts. I've got family who are Hearts fans so I know how passionate they are about the club and how much it means to them. I'm happy to be here, I wanted to be here to progress and keep improving. I think this is the perfect place for me.”

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If you have already irritated some Hibs fans before you even set foot inside Riccarton, popularity is guaranteed at Hearts. Dhanda explained that his celebration was in response to some verbals which had come his way during that 2-2 draw against the Easter Road side.

“I had quite a bit of stick from Hibs fans during that game,” he admits. “I thought I would give them something back. Every time I was taking a corner or was over there, I was getting quite a lot of abuse. It goes both ways. If they are going to give it then they have to expect it back. They didn't like it but I had it planned.

“I had a feeling I was going to score. Every time I was taking a corner and getting abused, I thought I was going to score. When I did, I obviously had it ready in my head to do it. The Hibs fans had seen I was coming to Hearts and I was given abuse. We have to take it, it's part of the game, so I feel it was tit-for-tat when I celebrated. If they give it then they have to expect to take it.”

His antics should he find the net in the season’s first Edinburgh derby at Easter Road in October will be worth watching, then. “I definitely will do something. I haven't thought what it will be yet,” smirks Dhanda. “I didn't know what I was going to do when I scored against Hibs. I knew I would do something to give them some back but it kind of just happened naturally. I was in the perfect place right in front of them. Scoring in a derby would be perfect, so hopefully it happens.”

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There is the rest of pre-season to negotiate first. This week-long camp in Tenerife has been exhausting for players but also necessary to provide base fitness for the months ahead. “It's been hard training to get up to fitness but training and the quality of players are really good,” says Dhanda.

“The facilities are unbelievable, the talent in the team is so good and the style of play is a lot different. Ross County was more counter-attack and direct football, whereas here is more about possession. I feel that suits me a lot more. The quality of player here is better as well. I feel I can play one-twos with people and they are on the same page, so I'm really enjoying it.”

Two years at Ross County after leaving Swansea City have proven to be the making of the diminutive midfielder. Liverpool honed his talent as a kid and Dingwall was the perfect stage to express it. “Definitely. When I was at Swansea, all I ever knew was possession,” explains Dhanda. “Even at Liverpool academy, you have over 60 per cent of the ball most games and it is all positional, going forward, keeping the ball. When you lose the ball you get it back straight away so I was used to that.

“I went to Ross County and feel I enjoyed playing without the ball now because you don't have as much of the ball, it's more counter-attacking, direct. I feel I got fitter and stronger and out of possession I feel I enjoy it. I've learned so much, especially from Malky Mackay because he was a defender. He taught me a lot as a person. I think he was a great guy, family-wise he helped me. I learned so much from him and Don Cowie as well, he was more attacking.

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“I had a good balance up there. Don really wanted me to come here. Even in January when Steven Naismith spoke to him, Don said: 'I'm telling you, Hearts is the place for you to go.' We had that relationship. Even though he knew I was coming here, he knew what I was like as a person and I wouldn't sack it off or do anything like that. I wanted to keep Ross County up because of how good they have been for me. Me coming to Hearts was the perfect move.”

The family connection endeared Dhanda to all things maroon long ago. “It is actually mad,” he says. “My nan, uncle and grandad would always come to Birmingham [from Edinburgh] every three or four months. Since I was six or seven and playing football in the garden, my uncle and grandad would be checking the Hearts scores or watching the Hearts games at my house.

“When I went to Ross County my uncle was a big part of it, saying: ‘Come to Scotland because you will stand out.’ I spoke to him because he knows Scottish football inside and out. He was like: ‘The way you play, you will stand out.’ He said Ross County is far but at the same time I was going to play and that's all I wanted, to play games. In my first season, we had Hearts away in the first game of the season and it was the first time I had been to Tynecastle. I had about 20 of my family there.

“We went for food in Edinburgh after and I was saying to my girlfriend, my mum and dad: ‘Hearts is where I need to be.’ Obviously, it is in the family but after seeing the stadium and the fans I knew it was where I needed to play. Every time we had a game against Hearts with Ross County, it was the only team in the whole of Scotland where Don Cowie would come to me and say: ‘This is where you need to be.' It was the only team.

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“He was a Hearts player so he knows how good it is and he would say Hearts are the team you need to be at next. When we were in the tunnel he would come and say: ‘This is where you need to be so go and show it.’ I had a couple of good games against Hearts and kept saying to my girlfriend and my parents: ‘I hope Hearts try and sign me.’

“Then in January when I had the phone call [with Naismith], I was so happy. I just tried to play well in every game and hope Hearts sign me. It was only a couple of days after the free-kick [against Hearts at Tynecastle last December] when I had a phonecall with the gaffer. Straight away, it was where I wanted to be but the way the gaffer spoke, I just knew it was the right place for me to come and kick on.”

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