Efe Ambrose: In Nigeria, the fans beat you up after derbies

Hibs defender Efe Ambrose
Hibs defender Efe Ambrose
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Efe Ambrose knows that whatever happens at Tynecastle tomorrow he can head for home safe in the knowledge there won’t be an angry mob waiting on his doorstep.

For here in Scotland he can actually look forward to a derby, unlike his native Nigeria where, he freely admits, he’d happily use any excuse to escape playing when his club Kaduna United came up against their arch-rivals Ranchers Bees.

Ambrose battles with Hearts' Prince Buaben at Tynecastle last month

Ambrose battles with Hearts' Prince Buaben at Tynecastle last month

Abandoned matches, players beaten in the street and unable to get into their homes because they were besieged by supporters makes the abuse bandied about on Twitter pale into insignificance.

“When I was back playing in Africa,” said the defender, “there was a derby just like Hearts and Hibs, my team against the second best in the city.

“But you didn’t want to play in this game. You always found an excuse; you were injured or sick, something else. You knew it wasn’t worth playing because you would get beaten, you would get harassed. You couldn’t even get into your house because the fans would be there waiting for you.

“Africa is much more crazy. I was scared, really scared. The first time I was supposed to play in the derby, I didn’t go to training for a week just so I would miss the game.

“The fans, they are crazy. The security is not as good as it is here. They could follow you to your house and there would be no security.

“Here you can play the game and go home, knowing there won’t be some crazy fans waiting for you. Here, the worst you get is some abuse on Twitter. In Africa, they come to you direct.”

And, according to Ambrose, players got it from both sets of fans.

He said: “It was their fans. Well, your fans if you lose. Both sides. Sometimes they couldn’t even finish the games. They had to abandon play because of the fans fighting and everything. I heard a lot of stories from friends and team-mates about going home to find fans there – they mobbed them.

“This one was chased, that one was beaten on the street – you can see why I was scared. But, for me, I always found a way to run before the game.”

Derbies in Scotland appear tame in comparison and, insisted former Celtic player Ambrose, there seems to be a greater desire these days to play football rather than indulge in the “blood and thunder” of such occasions.

He said: “For the past few derbies it’s not been as crazy as it used to be, the Old Firm or the Edinburgh derby. Players now want to play football, show how good they are. The time for tackles, kicking, the cards, it’s changed a lot.

“You want to win, not think about breaking legs or trying to hurt someone, do something crazy just to appease the fans.

“We are all humans. We have to respect our opponents and protect them if you have to. That’s the way it should be.”

However, as he said, Hibs head across the city tomorrow looking to win, determined to extend their current run of nine matches unbeaten against their arch-rivals.

Conceding that previously the Jam Tarts have held the upper hand in Edinburgh, Ambrose said: “This is one of those games you want to play in, to compete in. Once it comes, you have to enjoy the moment – and win.

“Everybody wants to be the dominant team, everyone wants to beat their rivals. For the past few years, we’ve been the dominant side. For them now, they really want to get back to where they think they belong.

“I know their past history against Hibs. I’ve seen the head-to-head and I know that Hearts are still ahead of us but for the past few years they’ve not been able to beat Hibs.

“So it’s a game they really want to win – but that’s the same for us. We want it for the fans, for the club, to keep the winning streak going. We need that mentality.”

Asked if he felt Hearts had been “spooked” by Hibs’ recent dominance, Ambrose said: “That’s for them to answer. For us, we just keep doing what we are doing. If it means beating them every now and then, all the better.

“The better side usually wins and I think we’ve been the better side for the past few derby games. Hearts are still a good side. We have converted opportunities, they’ve had some chances too.

“We’ve defended very well, stuck to our game plans, stuck to our tactics and we are a good team. We have matched them strength to strength, power to power and stopped everything they have tried to put on us.”

While Hibs have that unbeaten run to protect, Hearts go into tomorrow’s Scottish Cup clash buoyed by having kept six consecutive clean sheets, an admirable record but one which Ambrose feels they are lucky to have given the Oli Shaw strike which was not given the last time the two met.

He said: “When they beat Celtic like they did, that shows they are not a bad side. They stopped the Celtic streak, they’ve had six clean sheets, I think they are unbeaten in nine. That’s a good team. But we’ve studied them, watched them, planned our tactics and prepared for this game. They were lucky the last time. If we play like that, we know we can 

“We have strikers who can score, players who can create chances, so we’ve been working on that. The last game we had against them, we know 
we have to be better than that.”

Ambrose believes last week’s training camp in the Algarve has refreshed Lennon’s players and although he didn’t make the trip to Portugal following a visa problem, the 29-year-old insisted he’s just as ready for the first game of the year having spent the time training at East Mains. He said: “I trained with the Under-20s which was great. Working with the young ones is great because they are so tricky. You learn new things from them.

“You can never understand how they think, can’t predict what they are going to do because they’ve been taught the game differently.

“So it really helped me, I learned a bit. They are too tricky, too fast. I never know what they’re going to do. So that helped my concentration level having to chase them around the park, trying to figure out what they would do next.”