As a kid growing up in Linlithgow, Ross Laidlaw’s football ambitions stretched no further than hoping that one day he would turn out for his hometown club.
Saturday afternoons were spent watching the local Junior outfit play and, during lunch breaks at the nearby school, he and his chums would sneak into Prestonfield to watch reserve games involving the likes of Falkirk and Hearts.
Tomorrow, the 25-year-old will finally realise his schoolboy dreams of playing at the ground he knows so well, not playing for the “Rosey Posey” but Hibs, as Neil Lennon’s side begin the countdown towards their Europa League encounter with NSI Runavik.
It will, he admitted, be a special occasion with family and friends – most of whom will be hoping to witness a shock result – among the all-ticket crowd.
Laidlaw could walk to the ground from his home but will, instead, arrive on the Easter Road team coach following their pre-match meal at a local hotel and, after eight months out following surgery on a shoulder injury, it’s a moment he is eagerly looking forward to.
He said: “I’ve always had a soft spot for Linlithgow Rose. I went to their games quite a bit as a boy and saw them lift the Scottish Junior Cup which was a great day for the town.
“Like most boys in the area, I would dream of one day playing for them but the closest I got was a primary school tournament at Prestonfield.
“Quite a few of my team-mates have been asking me what I know about Linlithgow but while I don’t know a lot of their players now I’m sure they will give us a good game. For them, this will be something of a glamour match – they’re one of the biggest Junior clubs in Scotland and are now moving into the East of Scotland League.
“As far as we are concerned, it’s a case of the boys staring to get game time, minutes on the pitch both tomorrow and in our next two games against Berwick Rangers and Blackburn Rovers with a view to being ready for the European games.”
And, of course, it’s an opportunity for Neil Lennon’s players to catch their manager’s eye and make an early claim for a place in the squad for those matches against the minnows from the Faroe Islands.
Laidlaw said: “We’re going there with a full-strength squad. It’s not going to be a gentle stroll in the sunshine but ninety minutes of hard work as the manager will demand.
“We’ve been doing double sessions every day since we returned for pre-season training, football in the morning and running in the afternoon with gym work thrown in as well – it’s the toughest pre-season I’ve ever had.
“As ever, though, everyone looks forward to when the games start, the aim being to impress the manager ahead of the Europa League games and the start of the new Premiership season.
“Tomorrow is the start of that and it’s a game we are all looking forward to and me probably a bit more as it’s going to be a special occasion playing in my home town. Hibs were given 1500 tickets for the game and I know Linlithgow have sold out the 700 they had so it promises to be a good atmosphere.
“My family will be coming along as will some of my friends who, no doubt, will be cheering Linlithgow on and hoping we are beaten.
“I’d imagine they’ll be all too ready to give me a bit of abuse – I just hope they stand at the halfway line throughout and don’t make a point of getting up close by standing behind my goal.”
With Lennon’s No.1 choice, Israeli internationalist Ofir Marciano, still in his homeland recovering from an operation on a finger injury, Laidlaw and Polish youngster Kevin Dabrowski will be vying for the gloves in the meantime with the former Raith Rovers keeper admitting he’s become something of a forgotten man following the freak injury which brought his season to a premature end.
He said: “I am fit and ready and I think I have shown that. I’ve come through all the hard pre-season work unscathed and haven’t missed a session.
“Picking up such a serious injury was frustrating and it’s probably inevitable that people tend to forget you are still about when you are missing for months.
“I can’t do anything about that but now I’m fit again. I came in a couple of weeks before the other guys to work with the physios and get myself ready for pre-season. The shoulder is completely healed, I’ve been diving about in training saving shots without a second thought.”