Four and a half years after his promising start at Hibs fizzled out in demoralising fashion under Pat Fenlon, David Wotherspoon can now be considered as something of a Scottish Premiership stalwart.
The 27-year-old St Johnstone midfielder will always cherish memories of his career-igniting seven years at Easter Road, where he came through the ranks as part of a much-vaunted youth team, made a goal-scoring debut in the first team as a teenager under John Hughes and went on to accumulate more than 150 appearances over four largely enjoyable but fortune-fluctuating seasons.
Wotherspoon has no regrets about leaving Hibs when he did, immediately after suffering a second consecutive Scottish Cup final snub from Fenlon in 2013. However, he is still grateful to have represented the Edinburgh club and for being afforded a platform which allowed him to go on and play well over 300 competitive matches at Scotland’s top level, the vast majority as a starter.
Wotherspoon is relishing the chance to return to Easter Road as a player this Saturday for only the second time since leaving Hibs as Saints head to the Capital intent on stopping their own uncharacteristic form slide and simultaneously halting their on-song opponents in their tracks.
“I loved my time at Hibs,” Wotherspoon said.
“I was there from 16 years old to when I was 23 so I had a good seven years there and I really enjoyed it. I feel lucky to have been at Hibs. I was delighted with how many games I played although I was disappointed with how things ended. Overall, my time there was brilliant. I loved the club and I still have my connections there.
“A couple of my friends are big Hibs fans, so when I get the chance I go along with them. I love going back and I always see some familiar faces. Whenever I meet Hibs fans to this day, they still recognise me, and I love that. I’m looking forward to going back for the game on Saturday.”
Wotherspoon is in no doubt about his best moment in Hibs’ first team – his debut against St Mirren on the opening day of the 2009/10 campaign.
“I had played quite a few pre-season games that summer but I was quite lucky to get my competitive debut on the first day of the season because I think (Merouane) Zemmama was supposed to be starting but he came in ill,” recalls Wotherspoon.
“John Hughes chucked me in and fortunately I played well and scored a goal. They still had the old shed stand at the side at that point, and I remember scoring the equaliser in a 2-1 win. I think I got man-of-the-match as well, so it was brilliant. It’s a game I’ll always remember. I kept my place after that and I really enjoyed that season.
“John was brilliant with me, really encouraging. He was great to work with and was a top man as well. After that, we had a change of managers and a change of players – there was always change. These things happen in football so you’ve just got to ride with it. I was lucky with the managers I had at Hibs. Colin Calderwood was brilliant with me as well and Pat Fenlon was good, to an extent.”
That last line gives a subtle indication of the disenchantment the mild-mannered Wotherspoon felt at being omitted from the match-day squad for both the 2012 Scottish Cup final against Hearts and the one against Celtic a year later despite featuring prominently for the majority of the Irishman’s reign.
Indeed, Wotherspoon’s contribution against Hearts at Easter Road in December 2012 was crucial in Hibs earning their return to Hampden as his attempt from wide on the right took a wicked deflection off Marius Zaliukas and looped beyond Jamie MacDonald for the only goal of the fourth-round tie.
“I’ll always remember that goal against Hearts,” he said. “It did take a massive deflection but it’ll always rank up there as one of the best moments of my career. I’m still claiming it!”
Reflecting on not even making the bench for either of the two cup finals, when players who had contributed far less were picked ahead of him, it is clear Wotherspoon was irked.
“When I was left out the first time, I was disappointed considering how many games I’d played that season,” he said. “And then to miss out again the following season after the manager had said it was a mistake to leave me out the first time, it was just heart-breaking. I always felt it was a possibility that I’d be left out for the final against Celtic because I hadn’t been used in the semi-final against Falkirk either. At the same time, I had scored against Dundee on the last day of the league season, so I was still hopeful I’d be involved, but that never happened.
“It was all fairly amicable with the manager. It was his decision – he didn’t want to put me in because he felt I wouldn’t rise to the big occasion. It was unfortunate. I got along well with Pat but I was disappointed that I didn’t get into the squad after having had a good couple of seasons at the club. It felt like it was time to move on at that point because I couldn’t see things changing.
“The positive memories definitely outweigh the negative though. I got on with everyone at Hibs, it was a great club. I wish them all they success they get, except when they play us.”
Wotherspoon’s philosophical outlook probably owes plenty to the fact that being marginalised towards the end of his time at Hibs was not to the long-term detriment of his career. While the Edinburgh club suffered relegation the season after he left and then spent three years in the Championship, Wotherspoon swiftly banished demons by playing from the start as he capped his first season at Saints by helping them defeat Dundee United at Celtic Park to win the trophy in May 2014. In addition, he has been a mainstay throughout as his hometown team have finished each of the past four seasons in the top six of the Premiership under Tommy Wright.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better start at St Johnstone,” said Wotherspoon. “The manager was brilliant with me from the start. He got me going and he got the team going. We had cup success in my first season, and that will always be in the memory.
“It’s been a good move for me. I’ve been playing regularly with a good group of boys in a team that’s been quite consistent over the years. I never had any worries about leaving Hibs when I did. I was looking to progress my career, and I feel like I have done that I haven’t looked back since I left.”