Kevin Thomson admits it’s almost as if the clock has been turned back at Easter Road as he settles into life at Hibs for a third time.
The midfielder was part of that “golden generation” which thrilled Hibs fans during the Tony Mowbray era and now Thomson sees many similarities to those days as Alan Stubbs’ youngsters begin to make names for themselves.
One trait he does like is that today’s players appear as fearless as Mowbray’s kids, the likes of Thomson, Scott Brown, Steven Whittaker, Steven Fletcher, Garry O’Connor and Derek Riordan who didn’t let the occasion get to them no matter how big it may have been.
And to that end he believes Stubbs’ players are more than capable of handling tonight’s Scottish Cup derby against Hearts, the fifth round replay attracting a 20,000 sell-out crowd which is sure to create a white-hot atmosphere within Easter Road.
The 31-year-old said: “I think there’s a will to win. I played in some good teams here and played in a couple not so good. The current squad has got a belief and there’s a lot of young boys who generally don’t get fazed by anything. That reminds me of when we were younger when we used to go to Tynecastle and they used to come to Easter Road.
“They had a really experienced team at the time with the likes of Steven Pressley and Paul Hartley when we were first breaking through but that certainly never fazed us. You could argue that’s the same just now with your Hendos [Liam Henderson], John McGinns and the young boys. They certainly won’t be fazed by the big occasion.
“Being fearless is a good trait to have as long as you don’t get carried away by yourself. There’s plenty of older players to keep them grounded, but to have confidence within yourself as a football player is a good thing to have.”
Thomson firmly believes the current crop of players have the ability to match that of Mowbray’s, saying: “We’ve got a fantastic manager who has pretty much the same background as Tony Mowbray did when he came here. Mogga was at Ipswich and the gaffer was at Everton working with younger players.
“He treats you and talks to you in the same way and wants to be there for all the players – just like Mogga. It’s a nice environment to work in and if you’re a young player you couldn’t ask to be in a better place.
“I think the Mowbray era was the best we’ve had for a while – the players that produced. A lot of older players say ‘my era was better,’ pundits say the same. I think the era is the era. They’re a good team and have good players and I hope a lot of them go on to have great careers.
“Certainly, when I speak to the fans, there’s a feeling that they appreciate the young boys, appreciate the quality they’ve got and enjoy watching them play.”
While Hibs may have turned in an indifferent performance in disappointingly drawing with Livingston at the weekend when they had the chance to close the gap on Championship leaders Rangers, Thomson believes he and his team-mates showed in the first match at Tynecastle that, despite Hearts being in the Premiership, a place in the quarter-finals and home tie against Inverness Caley remains very much in the balance for either side.
The bookies may have made Hibs favourites after their epic fightback from two goals down to grab a last-gasp equaliser through Paul Hanlon, but Thomson claimed: “There are no favourites in derbies, are there? They are big games and it’s a toss of the coin – the same as it was at Tynecastle. We’re all looking forward to it, it’s a big game, a big occasion and we’ll have a big backing. It’s nice when people give you a fighting chance, it’s one we are confident in doing well in.
“At 2-0 a lot of people would have written us off and, like the gaffer said, it was their game to win. But to score a last-minute equaliser, you’re going to be delighted. We were over the moon with the result, it gave us another chance.”
Thomson has been involved in derbies up and down the country during his career, in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Middlesbrough and Dundee but, as a life-long Hibee, he naturally rates the clashes between Hibs and Hearts as the best of the lot.
He said: “I’ve been lucky to play in a few derbies. I played in one down the road for Middlesbrough against Sunderland, I don’t know if Sunderland class it as a derby, but Middlesbrough hold on to that. There’s a hatred in the Old Firm game, as everyone knows, and I’ve played in the Dundee derby.
“But this, as a Hibs supporter, is extra special for me. I’ll always be biased and say this is the best.”
While Thomson’s allegiance to the green and white is unwavering, he is, he revealed, part of a Hearts-supporting family with his wife Calley, her father Jackie and brother West all die-hard Jambos. However, he insisted: “I was born a Hibee, I was brought up a Hibee and I want my kids to be Hibees.
“But everyone has a choice. Calley knows nothing about football and that’s the best way. Her Dad is a Hearts season-ticket holder who goes when he can. When we play Hearts he hides under the covers. He’ll miss the game as he’s flying to Dubai but hopefully I’ll be sending him a text to wind him up afterwards.”
However, despite signing on at Easter Road for a third time, Thomson revealed former Hearts boss Gary Locke made a pitch to take him to Gorgie as his second spell with Hibs under Terry Butcher drew to a close and his contract was about to expire and not be renewed.
Locke and Thomson spoke by telephone call before the final derby of that season, the former Scotland player claiming the then Hearts manager was “desperate” to have him sign on in Gorgie.
He said: “I didn’t record how long the conversation was, but it must have been about ten or 15 minutes. He was desperate for me to go. It was a situation when I didn’t have a job. I know Gary quite well, and what was said between us will stay that way.”
Asked if he was surprised by Locke’s approach, Thomson replied: “I’d like to think I shouldn’t be surprised because I’m not a bad player, I got man of the match in that derby after waking up to about 100 messages saying I was going to Hearts. It didn’t faze me.
“I spoke to Gary, I didn’t hang up the phone, I have respect for everyone and he was the manager of Hearts. I was free to speak to who I wanted to speak to and I respected what he wanted to say.”