Russell LATAPY can boast the proud record of having never lost an Edinburgh derby, recalling with more than a degree of fondness the “Millenium” triumph over Hearts at Tynecastle, and the day Franck Sauzee lost his front teeth in steering Hibs to another victory over their biggest rivals.
Oh, and don’t forget to mention the 6-2 hammering of the Jambos. Moments guaranteed to still bring a smile to the face of the little magician from Trinidad. In all Latapy played six games against Hearts, scoring in three of them – including a penalty on his derby debut. Today he’s well aware how times have changed from those halcyon days when Hibs ruled the roost in Edinburgh, admitting that hearing Hearts had extended their unbeaten record over his old club to eight games in the latest clash between the Capital’s big two had soured his weekend.
News of the Jambos’ 2-0 win in Gorgie pained Latapy, but he knows no-one will be hurting more than Ian Murray, well aware of the Hibs skipper’s lifelong love affair with the Easter Road club.
Murray was a fresh-faced teenager just beginning to make his mark under Alex McLeish as Latapy and co thrilled one half of the city, while making life a tad miserable for those on the other side of the divide.
But on Sunday Latapy, now 43, will return to Easter Road to help pay tribute to his former team-mate as his ten years of service to Hibs – over two spells – are marked with a testimonial match which will see French legends Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires pull on a green shirt. As he prepared to set off from his home in Portugal, Latapy told the Evening News: “Ian’s a young boy who has lived the dream that few get the chance to fulfil, not only playing but captaining the club he grew up supporting. I remember him as that young lad looking for the chance to play for the club he loves. You could tell straight away he was one who had a future in the game. When he trained with the first team he always showed great attitude, he was very enthusiastic, hard-working, willing to learn and, of course, he always wanted to win.”
Murray made his debut a couple of months shy of his 19th birthday in a 0-0 draw against Dundee United at Tannadice, celebrating his first goal in the 4-1 demolition of Dunfermline a week later, perhaps not too remarkable until Latapy recollects some of the names battling to play for McLeish at the time.
He said: “It was a special, special team with a top manager in Alex McLeish who has gone on to prove that at Rangers, Scotland and now in the English Premier League.
“We had fantastic players, buys like big Franck, Mixu Paatelainen, John Hughes, Matt Jack, David Zitelli, Stuart Lovell, John O’Neil, Pat McGinlay, so many it’s easy to overlook some of the names. I shouldn’t forget Ulrik Laursen, Gary Smith or Paul Fenwick.
“Then there were young players coming through such as Kenny Miller and Ian. It was a tremendous team which played entertaining football which was great for the fans. I had some fantastic years in Scotland with Hibs, that’s why it’s going to be such a thrill to be back this weekend, to see all the old faces and, most importantly, to honour Ian’s service to the club.
“The way football is today, there are very few players who can say they have played ten years for the one club. Hopefully Ian can go on an represent Hibs for a while yet.”
Latapy is well aware he’ll be in good company on Sunday with former Arsenal stars Vieira and Pires – both World Cup and European Championship winners with France to go with their glittering array of medals – and he joked: “I think we might rely a bit more on technical ability than pace, that will make the difference!
“Having the two of them at Easter Road is certainly going to make it an interesting game. I’m sure it’s going to be a fantastic day.”
Latapy is aware that Murray’s tribute game comes at a difficult time for Hibs with Colin Calderwood’s side sitting bottom of the SPL table, but he insisted that shouldn’t detract from the occasion while arguing that with a little patience the tide will turn in terms of derby day celebrations.
He said: “I was fortunate in the time I spent with Hibs that I never ended up on the losing side to Hearts. We had some good victories, the 3-0 at Tynecastle, the 6-2 at Easter Road spring to mind immediately of course.
“But it is always the same when there are two clubs in one city, Rangers and Celtic in Glasgow, United and City in Manchester. There are always periods when one team is on top. It’s great when you are the side on the ascendancy but not too good when you are the ones suffering.
“I’m sure the Hibs fans enjoyed our supremacy in the derby just as much as the Hearts supporters will be happy they are on top at present, there is always that agony and ecstasy. Unfortunately Hibs are going through it at the moment but the great thing about football is that everything changes and can do so very quickly.
“There’s the saying in football you are only one game away from the sack or from winning a trophy. It’s hard when things aren’t going well but you learn to enjoy the good times all the more for it.
“The Hibs fans have always been terrific supporters, I’m sure they understand the complexities of football and that on Sunday they’ll be out in force to show their appreciation for a player who has always given his all for Hibs.”
Latapy, who is looking for work after his contract as manager Trinidad wasn’t renewed after two-and-a-half years in charge of his homeland’s national side, revealed he also has a game of golf against Hughes pencilled in, the pair still firm friends not only from their days together with Hibs but at Falkirk.
He said: “I’ve maintained contact with a lot of people I worked with at Hibs. I was over to see Mixu when he was manager and he showed me round the training centre which was stunning, a big difference to Wardie playing fields, and now I am looking forward to seeing the new-look Easter Road but most of all to playing at the ground again.”