From Palmerston Park to the Global Energy Stadium to the mighty Ibrox in the space of ten days. All in the life of a present-day Hibs player.
Variety is the space of life, as they say, and Mark Oxley, despite having been farmed out by a club in the richest league in the world, is savouring what he sees as something of an adventure in Scotland.
Playing in the SPFL Championship means travelling to less salubrious venues like Indodrill Stadium, Palmerston and Central Park one week, then running out at some of the best stadia in the country the next, such as Ibrox, Tynecastle and Easter Road.
As he prepares for his second trip to Rangers since joining Hibs on loan from Hull City, the 24-year-old goalkeeper said: “That’s what makes it what it is. I enjoy the small grounds as much as Ibrox and playing at Hearts. It’s part and parcel of football. The tighter grounds where you can hear what every fan is saying, I love that as much as the big grounds, so I’m loving it here. It’s a bit of an adventure.
“If you are in the English Premier League you are going to be at big grounds every week, and I have played in grounds like that when I was out on loan before, such as Anfield, but then you can be at Alloa and it’s like playing at Crawley when there’s 2000 there, so it’s not like I haven’t [played in small grounds] before.”
After playing in front of crowds of 1819 and 3089 in his last two games, Oxley now prepares to run out at one of the biggest stadia in Britain. He has already been to Ibrox, of course, when he made his Hibs debut there in the extra-time defeat by Rangers in the Petrofac Training Cup. On that July evening, only 18,000 people turned up, although on Monday, when seventh-place Hibs visit the Championship’s title favourites, it will probably be in excess of 30,000.
Having played against Liverpool at a full-house Anfield while on loan at Oldham in January, Oxley will be unfazed by the size of the Rangers support. Indeed, he believes a large home turnout could be a positive for his side given the level of disenchantment among many Teddy Bears over the way their club is being run off the field. “I loved it through there the last time,” recalls Oxley.
“There weren’t that many there that night. There were a fair few, but there will be more for the league games, I assume. I like it because in some of the new grounds, the fans are miles away from the pitch but it’s pretty tight in at Ibrox which can’t be said at a lot of big grounds. I actually said when we went on the pitch before the last game that it reminds me a bit of Anfield. It’s not overpowering but it is a nice, old-fashioned kind of stadium.
“Allan McGregor [Oxley’s Hull colleague and former Rangers goalkeeper] has played in front of massive sellout crowds there and he has said how good it is, and I have seen games on TV, but I think this is a good chance for us to play there at a time when the fans are getting a bit uptight – we can use that as a tool to help us and get our fans behind us. We’re not fussed either way what the crowd is. It won’t bother us if there’s 10,000 or 35,000 there. We are going there with the view to get a result. We are not going there just to make up the numbers.
“We will go into the game fully aware of what they are capable of. I thought we matched them for most of the last game. They got the result in the end, but if we put in a performance that we know we are capable of and cut out the mistakes that we have been making, I don’t see why we can’t get a result.”