Stevie Mallan is a firm believer in the old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”.
And to that end, the Hibs midfielder will be happy to laugh along at any abuse hurled at him by Hearts fans in tonight’s derby rather than take offence. But, he insisted, that’s as far as things should go, that the rivalry which engulfs the fixture should never descend into missiles being hurled.
Mallan was sitting in the away dug-out having been replaced by Emerson Hyndman at Tynecastle in October when Hibs boss Neil Lennon was felled by a coin which struck him in the face, Hearts goalkeeper Bobby Zamal having already been punched by a visiting fan.
“You’ve seen it growing up, daft stuff like that happening,” he said. “But you do get taken aback. There’s the laughter side and stuff but then it’s more serious when something like that happens and that’s when tensions start to flare.
“If you are a player or a fan, you know how to take it and it should never spill over to those depths. That’s the bad side of it, but 99 per cent of the time it is light-hearted.
“Fans can take it, players can take it and then you move on. But when you see that side of the game that’s not the best.”
Mallan didn’t initially know what had happened to Lennon that night but was shocked when he found out a coin had been thrown at him.
He said: “I was probably talking to the boys and then you’re like ‘what’s happened?’ That’s the side of the game you don’t want to see at any club. Even if it was the Hearts manager you wouldn’t want to see it. You want to make football enjoyable. People just want a bit of entertainment and I think I talk for every player when I say that.”
Mallan’s only previous derby experience had been clashes between his former club St Mirren, and Morton but, he admitted: “They are not so intense because it is not as big a crowd.
“It was my first experience of going there with Hibs and it is intense because the fans are so close to you. I had heard past experiences from the boys who have been there before, telling me to wait until I go out to take a corner.
“There is a short run-up, but for the whole time you are getting dogs abuse. That just makes it funny, that interaction with the fans. That’s what people want, they want football to be entertainment.
“The last time tempers started to flare but the shouts etc are part and parcel of the game. That’s what happens when there are that many fans and they are that close to the pitch and emotions get high.
“But you can dial that back and if fans give you abuse and you are allowed to give something back and everyone takes it the right way then that is the way football should be.
“There are guys who can say something bad and as long as it is done in the right manner and everyone takes it the right way then you can have your little interactions. But usually the best thing to do as a player is just to have a little laugh and get on with the game because if you let your emotions get the better of you then bad things could probably happen.”
Mallan is made of stern stuff and does not have any difficulty in not reacting to the flak directed at him, saying: “It’s not really hard. I can take stuff, I can hear it without reacting and I can dish it back in the right way.
“If it’s coming from a fan you know that the abuse is just the kind of thing that you get not just at derbies, but at normal games. So I just get on with it.
“I am quite an easy going, funny person and I can just laugh along. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest, I can enjoy it to be honest.”
As for tonight’s game, Hibs go into it with eight players out injured while Martin Boyle, Mark Milligan and Jamie Maclaren are preparing with Australia for the Asian Cup which starts next week in the United Arab Emirates.
Mallan, however, believes those negatives change nothing, saying: “We’ve had a few players missing for the past couple of months. For the Celtic and Rangers game we had a few boys out and we’ve seen a few boys who have been out or not really played much, step in, play and do really well.
“Two of Sean Mackie’s first games were against Celtic and Rangers, two of the hardest teams in the league and he’s not looked out of place, if not one or our better players.
“It just shows you what we have here with squad depth. We’ve got good players in abundance and I’m sure the manager is pleased to have that calibre of player to step in. We’ve got the players to go out and win.”
Hibs’ injury problems have resulted in Mallan, who has scored seven goals but the last of them coming almost three months ago, operating in a deeper-lying role but, he insisted, it is one he’s happy to play.
He said: “The past few games I’ve had a more defensive role because Marvin [Bartley] and Mark have been missing. My game has had to change a little bit but it’s given the boys in front of me the freedom to play.”