Farid El Alagui today revealed how he was ready to turn his back on derby day glory to dash to support his sister as her newly-born son fought for his life.
Assured that Milhan, born three months prematurely, was winning that battle, El Alagui remained in Edinburgh to score the goal which clinched victory over Hearts before ripping off his jersey to reveal a T-shirt emblazoned with a heart and the tot’s name.
Milhan put in his early appearance after Hibs midweek match with Dumbarton, El Alagui learning his big sister Atika was being rushed to hospital in Bordeaux and that the little boy’s life was in danger.
He said: “I was in touch with my sister because she was in the ambulance going to hospital and then after that she went into labour. It was really hard for a few hours because they weren’t sure if the baby was alive when he came out, but thankfully he was and now he can breathe by himself which he couldn’t do at the start – he had to be helped by a machine.
“It was difficult because we weren’t sure if he would make it. It was hard being so far away. I was quite down and if I could have then I would have driven to France to be with them.
“I was checking the situation daily and had it got any worse I would have tried to go back to France to be close to them, but once I found out the baby and my sister were fine then I was more relaxed.
“I didn’t tell the manager about it. I knew the baby was fine on the morning of the derby.”
Although he had remained in close touch with his sister, his more public support for her was seen both by Atika and the rest of his family as they watched the derby. He said: “We’re a very close family and facetime every day. I knew the day before the derby I wanted to do something and decided to get a T-shirt and write his name
“It was just a little contribution but important for me to make sure they knew I was thinking about them. Atika was lying in her hospital bed and saw the message so she was happy. It was complicated for them and that’s why you want to be close to them but unfortunately I couldn’t so I wanted to give something back on Sunday so she knew I was there for her.
“All my family and friends always watch my live TV games – but my dad and cousin will be at Hampden today – and that’s why it was important to score against Hearts.”
The goal which announced Milhan’s arrival to the world was El Alagui’s first since the French-born Moroccan ruptured his Achilles tendon at the end of August and, he admitted, it was a moment of relief for him.
He said: “It might sound stupid, but you want that confidence again that you can score goals after such a long time out. It was important to score and the fact it was in a derby was just a bonus. I said before the game I wanted to score and I managed it.”
Now the 29-year-old has his eyes set on scoring again in today’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Falkirk at Hampden but, he insisted, should he do so his celebrations will be more muted given the respect he has for the Bairns where his career took off with 27 goals in his solitary season at Westfield.
He said: “It’s special to talk about Falkirk. They were my first club in the United Kingdom and that started everything. Steven Pressley gave me the confidence and I met some great people, it’s a great club. The year before I’d been in France and in Morocco before that. In France I was in the fourth division, which wasn’t very entertaining for me.
“I wanted to play higher so moving to Scotland gave me that chance to make a name for myself. It was a massive part of my career. We had some great games when I was there. Whenever I speak about them it’s always respect.
“I played a semi-final with them against Celtic and we lost which was disappointing, although it was great for the club to reach that stage.”
Such is the affinity between El Alagui and Falkirk that he received text messages from people there as he spent almost seven months battling back to full fitness. He said: “A few players are still there like Craig Sibbald, Blair Alston, Kieran Duffie and I still talk to Alex Smith sometimes.
“We will see how it goes today but I will show Falkirk respect and I wouldn’t celebrate as much as normal. At the start of the season we spoke about the possibility of me not celebrating before we played Falkirk, but I didn’t score so there was no decision to make.”
After such a long time out of action El Alagui is, naturally, delighted to be back at a time when Hibs are facing a string of big matches on two fronts, the hope today being they’ll be back at Hampden for the cup final at the end of May, while also aiming to win promotion back to the Premiership.
El Alagui said: “It feels good to be back from injury before the big games coming up. The manager has been great with me, he has always made sure I’m fine, talking to me and including me in the group. That’s a big thing when you are injured. Sometimes when you are injured it’s easy to be forgotten, but I appreciate the fact the manager didn’t do that with me.
“He wanted to make sure I was fine and to be back as strong as I could. He never tried to rush me – he told me to come back when I was ready.
“Now we have a big chance to make the fans proud and help the club reach the Scottish Cup final. I wasn’t involved in last season’s semi-final with Dundee United, but we won and got to the final.
“I’d like to be involved this time and win. This is a big event and as soon as the game starts I will forget who the opposition are. I can only concentrate on Hibs.”