Back at Easter Road for a third time but the dream still burns as brightly for Kevin Thomspm as the day he first walked through the door as a teenager – to lift a trophy for Hibs.
A lifelong fan of the Capital club, Thomson missed out when John Collins’ side romped to a 5-1 victory over Kilmarnock to lift the then CIS Insurance Cup nine years ago, having made a £2 million move to Rangers only the day before Hibs defeated St Johnstone in the semi-final.
By an astonishing twist of fate, Saints are again Hibs opponents at the penultimate stage of this year’s competition – now named the Utilita Energy Scottish League Cup – and at the same venue, Tynecastle.
While declaring himself as fit as he could be, the 31-year-old, who has endured an injury-ravaged career including two serious knee injuries and twice breaking a leg, probably knows deep down he won’t be called upon by head coach Alan Stubbs on Saturday.
But, nevertheless, that doesn’t stop him dreaming of Stubbs’ side taking care of a Premiership outfit for the third round in succession – they’ve already knocked out Aberdeen and Dundee United – to set up a Hampden outing against either Celtic or Ross County on March 13.
He said: “It would be a dream for me. It would be a fairytale, but I don’t know, is football made of fairytales? I’m a believer that you make your own luck and you get back what you put in and for me, although it’s an old cliche, it would be a boyhood dream to potentially lift a cup for Hibs.
“As long as I am playing, I will always have that dream.”
Thomson, however, acknowledges his playing days are numbered as he talks about his “OAP body”, revealing he contemplated retiring as the frustration of being captain at Dundee and not being able to play a full part for the Dens Park club build up inside him.
The news that he wanted to terminate his contract and leave Tayside came as a shock to everyone, not least Dark Blues boss Paul Hartley, who tried to persuade him sleep on it but to no avail. Hartley later said Thomson wanted to leave as he felt that with his injuries he couldn’t handle top-flight football, but the former Rangers, Middlesbrough and Scotland midfielder insisted he’d keep his own counsel as to the discussion the pair had.
He said: “I got frustrated in myself. The situation of being the club captain and being at the top of the foot chain, I felt I wasn’t always fit and available and that was becoming frustrating.
“The travelling – and hour-and-a-half to training and the same home – certainly wasn’t helping my OAP body. I thought about retiring, it was something I thought about. I spoke to Scotty [Brown] and people who were close to me in my career for advice – his advice was ‘you’re bloody mad,’ which I would expect from him. I spoke to my dad and he said the same.”
Nevertheless, Thomson thought he may have sad idle at home for a few months, only to be surprised to get a call from Hibs boss Alan Stubbs. He said: “I had a couple of offers from Premier League clubs so I must still have something to offer, but when Hibs came in it was something I wanted to be a part of. It is an exciting time to be at the club.
“I’ve never played in the Championship so this is a new challenge with a new group of players – only Paul [Hanlon] and Lewis [Stevenson] are still here.”
Thomson is under no illusions that he’ll again become a first team regular given the strength of squad at Easter Road, but his return has also given him the chance to begin a career in coaching.
He said: “The manager up there [Hartley] relied on me a lot and not being available every weekend was a frustration between him and myself. I don’t think the manager here will have that problem because he has a big squad and I’m not coming here to play every single week and in every single game.
“The manager has some good young players and if I can play a part in helping bring them on then I will feel I have done a good job. I’m not going to sit here and say I’m going to knock them out the team. I just want to try and help as much as I can off the field as well as on it.
“If they can learn any wee thing from something they think I do well then great, but if they don’t and they don’t think I am very good, fine.
“It is a different situation for me and hopefully one that can help me maintain a little bit of fitness and be available a bit more. I’m certainly not coming here to make up the numbers, but I think the way the manager is going to use me is the perfect thing for this time in my career and the problems I’ve had.
“I had a couple of hours chat with him and I am excited to be part of his plans. The coaching aspect was another thing that ticked all the boxes for me and I’m over the moon to be back.”
It’s an open secret that Thomson, along with other senior players didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with previous Hibs manager Terry Butcher and his assistant Maurice Malpas but, he insisted, he’s happy to let bygones be bygones while agreeing there’s now a great feeling about the club’s East Mains training centre.
He said: “I’m not going to be disrespectful to previous managers. Everyone has their opinions – my criticism means nothing to anyone. I wish them all the best.
“The manager is brilliant. He is in there in the morning playing darts with the players – I think he’s spent a lot of time in the boozer by the look of things. When I came in to do the media he was beating the young boys at table-tennis.
“He’s in the gym with Danny Handling every day. I think he’s doing that because he knows how hard it is to be injured at a young age. He helps him along and I think that’s absolutely terrific.
“I wish I’d had that throughout my career. I think he has created an environment that people love coming into.”
Thomson admitted he’d be “over the moon” if he could play on for another couple of years but revealed he’s also prepared for the time he has to call it a day.
“I think I have had an alright career,” he reflected. “If I hadn’t had injuries it would have been better. But I have probably achieved a lot more than other people would have in certain circumstances. I’m proud of what I have done, I’m proud of the person I am and I am proud of the teams I have played for.”
Now, though, Thomson hopes he can pass on what he has learned to future generations, revealing he’s “quite excited” at the prospect and claiming he feels like an apprentice again in need of cleaning someone’s boots.
He said: “I have enjoyed not so much doing the badges as such, but I have quite enjoyed doing some coaching and helping one of my pals’ teams. I quite like the challenge of trying to make people better.
“I have kind of been like that as a player, even when I was a kid here and I was captain people always asked me for advice. I must either look like someone who wants to give advice, or I have too much time on my hands.
“It’s something I have always been quite humbled by and hopefully that will be a good art to take into management. I love football, I’m a football man. I’ve met a lot of players in my career who don’t like playing football but they play it at a great level.
“I have been the opposite. I don’t know if that’s because of bad luck, that I have appreciated it a wee bit more. But I have always said I would like to give something back because the game has been good to me, financially, winning trophies and playing at big clubs.
“I think it’s always nice and humbling to give something back. How far can I go in management? I don’t know. It’s the same as when I was a player. It’s something I will definitely grab with two hands and I will give 110 per cent.”
Returning to the present, Thomson accepted helping Hibs win silverware would help redress the misfortune he has suffered in his career, but he insisted: “I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I never wanted anyone to feel sorry for me.
“I know there are 100,000 Hibs fans who would love to win a trophy with Hibs so I don’t think I somehow deserve it and no-one else does. But it would be a nice way to get closure on the career that I have had.
“If I could finish the season or maybe even have another season here and retire, having been playing in a good team, having a good vibe and playing like you were going out on a high, playing for the team that you grew up supporting plus the team where it all started 14 or 15 years ago.”