Marvin Bartley big interview: My tremendous time at Hibs was fizzling out ... I'm now loving it at Livingston

Marvin Bartley’s move from Hibs to Livingston has been vindicated in pretty emphatic fashion so far.

Wednesday, 16th October 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th October 2019, 9:52 am
Former Hibs midfielder Marvin Bartley is enjoying a new lease of life with Livingston. Pic: SNS

After starting only 17 out of 71 matches in his last 18 months at Easter Road, due to a combination of fitness issues and other midfielders being preferred to him, the Londoner needed a change of scene and circumstance. For all that Hibs will always hold a special place in his heart, his decision to sever ties with the club which gave him one of the most fulfilling spells of his football career has proven to be a fruitful one. Already this season, he has started all 14 of Livingston’s competitive matches, making a mockery of any notion that his ability to play regularly in Scotland’s top flight was on the wane. The fact he wore the captain’s armband in the absence of skipper Alan Lithgow during the 2-0 victory over Celtic underlined the influence the 33-year-old is having at the West Lothian club who currently sit sixth in the Scottish Premiership, four places and five points above his former team.

“Part of the reason I left Hibs was to play week in, week out, so the move has been vindicated by the way things have gone so far,” Bartley said in conversation with the Evening News at a coffee shop in Livingston. “Even when I wasn’t playing at Hibs, I never doubted myself. Maybe I wasn’t as fit as I could have been last season because I wasn’t playing enough games. My match sharpness wasn’t there. I knew I was still capable of playing regularly at a good level though. I just needed a run of games because, the older you get, it’s very hard to come in every fifth or sixth game and expect to perform. Playing week in, week out allows you to perform and I feel I’ve done well so far at Livingston. I feel brilliant. I’m already 3kg lighter than I was last season just because I’m playing regularly and I’m recovering well after matches. Hopefully I can keep it up for the whole season.

“It makes a massive difference playing regularly. Everyone knows training Monday to Friday and then not being involved at the weekend is one of the hardest things for a footballer, both physically and mentally. Getting ready for a game all week and then playing two minutes or ten minutes here and there is not what anyone wants to do. You have to respect the manager can only pick eleven players. If you’re not involved for a few weeks it’s okay, but for me it was long term and it was becoming frustrating because I wanted to play football like everyone else.”

Bartley felt his time at Hibs, which had brought such joy in his opening three seasons at the club, had drifted towards a natural conclusion by the end of last term. “It had been a bit stop-start for me towards the end of Neil Lennon’s time,” he said. “Then I picked up an injury just as Paul Heckingbottom was coming in and he basically kept the same starting XI when he could for the rest of the season. The team was doing well and it was hard to get back in so I just accepted it. It was a bit of bad luck on my part and also other boys being in form.

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“I felt like my time at Hibs was fizzling out. It was coming to the end of an era not just for me but also for the team when you look at the boys who were there at the start and the fact there weren’t many of them left towards the end of my time. I felt like the club were going in a new direction so we parted ways. It was really respectful. I’ve got a lot of love for the club and a lot of respect for the manager. I didn’t leave on bad terms at all. I’ve been back to see them a couple of times since I signed for Livingston. It was a footballing decision on my part and everyone accepts that.

“I had a tremendous four years at Hibs. I went into a club who were sleeping giants in the Championship. I felt I went in at the right time and that I could make a difference, and I felt I made an impact. I obviously didn’t play in the Scottish Cup final but I played in the earlier rounds and helped them get to the final and also get promoted out of the Championship and into Europe a couple of times. We also equalled the record-points tally in the top flight so I like to think the fans felt I played a part in all of those achievements.”

Bartley, who had previously represented Bournemouth, Burnley and Leyton Orient, views his move to Livingston as a continuation of his gratifying period in Scotland. Now into his fifth year north of the border, he loves the football scene in this country and envisages himself remaining here for some time yet. He is contracted to Livingston until 2022 and eventually hopes to kick off his managerial career in Scotland. Being given the chance to coach Livingston’s reserves is helping him on this mission, although, given the considerable influence he is still having on top-flight matches, the ever-present anchorman has no plans to hang up his boots any time soon.

“It’s proved to be the perfect decision to come to Scotland,” he said. I could have probably floated around the bottom of the English Championship and League One and then drifted into League Two and been just another small fish in the sea if I’d stayed in England. None of the offers I had at the time floated my boat. I needed a spark after leaving Leyton Orient, where everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and Hibs was that spark for me. I’ll forever be grateful to the club for that and now I’ve moved on to Livingston where I’m thoroughly enjoying it. This move has allowed me to look towards the next step which is coaching, so it’s the perfect fit.

“I’ve had a view on coaching for the last eight or nine years and at 33 this felt like the right time to start it because my next ambition is to go on and coach and manage. The chance to coach had to be part of my contract wherever I went and Livingston have allowed me to do that with the reserves. I’ve done my UEFA B License and I’ll do my A License at the end of this season. I’m also doing a football management course at Napier University. Darren McGregor, David Gray, Steven Whittaker, James McPake, Christophe Berra, Dougie Imrie and Liam Craig are some of the other footballers doing it and it’s a brilliant course that teaches you about all the other things that you have to think about away from the pitch. Playing and winning points at the weekend is still the main thing for me but I’ll be 36 when my contract here expires so I need to plan for the future.”

After finishing his coffee, Bartley was off on his way to oversee an 8pm training session with Livingston’s reserves at the Tony Macaroni Arena. It’s all go for the revitalised Englishman and, having found himself on the periphery at Easter Road not so long ago, he wouldn’t have it any other way.