It started with nothing more than a routine phone call home, Hibs star Scott Allan making a quick check to find out how his heavily-pregnant partner Natalie’s latest scan had gone.
But rather than get the news that, with the birth of their first child still an anticipated ten days away, all was going to plan, she told him that in fact her hospital visit indicated she was in the early stages of labour.
Those few minutes sparked the most exhilarating – and exhausting – 48 hours of the midfielder’s life. Within an hour he was in a taxi from the Easter Road outfit’s training base in the south of Spain heading to Alicante for a flight home to Scotland.
A long night followed before Zac, a bouncing 6lb 8oz, made his appearance, Allan admitting there was a tear in his eye as he cradled his son for the first time.
And yet, barely 24 hours later, the player was back in La Manga, the proud father showing his team-mates a photograph of the new arrival before getting down back down to preparing for the coming season.
“I was knackered, to be fair,” admitted Allan after his whistle-stop visit, having hardly slept and yet determined to be involved in Hibs first pre-season friendly, Saturday night’s “bounce match” against Wigan Athletic.
“I came in after training, a hard day on Wednesday – it had been 40°C – and phoned Natalie to see how the scan had gone and she said it was an early labour.
“Obviously people tell you first babies tend to be late rather than early and I genuinely didn’t think it would happen while I was away.
“It was about 11.30am when I called. I was out of there by 12.30 and on the plane at 3.40 and when I got to Edinburgh my agent was waiting to drive me to the hospital in Glasgow.
“I was hoping I’d make it in time, but Natalie was in labour for quite a bit. It was a long night and Zac didn’t arrive until lunchtime on the Thursday.
“I was up all night – I hardly slept. I was emotional. There was a tear in my eye when I first held him, seeing what they go through as well to deliver – it was tough.”
Allan’s return to Scotland inevitably re-ignited speculation that he was about to sign for Rangers, a rumour which has circulated all summer, although Hibs insist they’ve had no approach for the 24-year-old other than a bid from his former club Dundee United during the January transfer window – one which was rejected out of hand.
Sure enough, having been spotted on the plane, social media went into over-drive, just as Allan had predicted to George Craig, Hibs’ head of football operations, as arrangements were being made to whisk him home.
He said: “A few were badgering me on the flight wanting to know. I told them the script – they probably didn’t believe me to be honest. They will now they’ve seen the pictures, but that was going to happen.”
Allan again reiterated his determination to honour the second year of his contract at Easter Road, the first having seen him voted Championship player of the year after Hibs had rescued him from the soccer scrapheap after his much-vaunted move to West Brom turned sour, the player moving out on loan deals to Portsmouth (twice), Milton Keynes Dons and Birmingham City.
He does, however, believe Hibs fans have yet to see the best of him, and his determination to improve on last season lay behind his quick-fire return to Spain, even if it meant leaving Natalie and little Zac behind. He said: “Obviously you don’t want to miss too much and having missed pre-season last year I want to hit the ground running and improve on things from last year.
“Natalie and Zac were going to be in hospital until Saturday so there wasn’t really anything I could do. I went home, but I hardly slept again and I was back up at five the next morning to head back out to La Manga.
“I want to improve all round and dominate a lot more games. I had a good year last season but I want to move on and adding more goals to my game is something I really want to do.
“Last season it took me about three-and-a-half months to get up to speed, that first run of games.
“Ask any player who has missed a pre-season when you get that base fitness you are left a long way short of match fitness looking, but now I am looking forward to having that in the bank.
“I always knew myself if I got a run of games I could show what I could do. The only time I got that down south was when I was with Portsmouth and I did well there.
“I have already improved my fitness by two levels from where it was at the end of last season when I was playing every week. Pre-season gives you that base level of fitness to kick on.
“I feel as if Alan Stubbs has already got some of the best out of me last season, but I think he is the man who can improve me again. I’ve enjoyed my time here, it’s the happiest I have been.”
To that end, Allan firmly believes the seven days his team-mates have spent in the searing heat of Spain will stand them in good stead.
He said: “Pre-season is quite a long process before you kick off the games, so it breaks it up a bit, gives you a bit of freshness and obviously it was a bit tougher trying to breath in that heat.
“It was a bit hotter than we probably expected, but it was good for team bonding as well with a few new players having come in. One or two weren’t there, but we have a tight-knit squad because we all do things together and I think this was part of it.”
Allan, like his team-mates, also enjoys a close relationship with Stubbs and his backroom staff, and that, he insisted, was the secret behind the transformation at Easter Road. “It’s man-management,” he said. “Even boys that aren’t playing week in, week out have a good relationship with the manager.
“I’ve been at a few clubs now and that’s not always like that and that’s why he gets the best out of players.
“You always need to respect where the line is, but the gaffer can take a bit of banter from the boys. That’s massive and that’s why he’s got the full respect of the team and the boys will go the extra yard for him.”