Marvin Bartley admits he couldn’t have chosen a better night to clock up his 100th appearance for Hibs than beating Capital rivals Hearts.
But, revealed the midfield powerhouse, his Easter Road career was almost over before it began as he considered quitting after only his second game.
Although he’d only just signed a two-year contract, Bartley was ready to walk away after the “shock” of playing at Dumbarton and the thought of having to go through a similar experience every other Saturday.
“The boys tried to prepare me for it,” he recalled, “But you have to experience it for yourself, the unusual surroundings at a stadium with just the one stand, a pitch which isn’t exactly even, the grass long and the ball going out of the ground every ten minutes.
“I’d come up through non-league football in England and the grounds at that level are far better – so it was a real shock.
“It was my second game and almost my last. My first had been against Montrose at Easter Road and it was brilliant, a massive ground, a great pitch and the training ground was fantasti c... and then to go to Dumbarton.
“It was a bit of a wake-up call. I was a bit naive thinking all away grounds were going to be like that and I remember going back down south to my home and my partner Sasha asking me how the game was and I said ‘you wouldn’t believe me if I told you’.
“Alan Stubbs didn’t tell me about it and I don’t blame him for not telling me. I was thinking I couldn’t do it, everything about Hibs is top-notch and I was thinking every away game would be the same.
“Sasha is the positive one, she told me I wasn’t a quitter, that I’d signed a two-year contract and that it would be fine, while I was thinking of asking Alan if we could have a parting of the ways based on that experience.
“I can look back now and laugh at it because I’ve played in some brilliant stadiums and in huge games. And, despite that first impression, I have huge respect for Dumbarton and everyone at the club.
“They obviously live within their means, they are part-time but they always gave us a tough game and you have to respect the way they fight to stay in the second tier season after season.”
By the end of that first season, Bartley could count himself as a Hibs legend, part of the squad which ended the Easter Road outfit’s increasingly agonising wait of 114 years to lift the Scottish Cup.
Bartley said: “I’ve enjoyed my time here immensely. It came at a time in my career where I’d been at Leyton Orient, they’d thrown a lot of money at it but it had become a bit of a circus.
“As a player when that happens you lose your hunger, the excitement of getting up in the morning as a professional football player, something a lot of people would give their right arm to do.
“I needed something fresh, something that would excite me and this move has been fantastic.”
However, Bartley admitted he needed a little persuasion as Hibs’ head of player identification and recruitment Graeme Mathie chased his signature.
The 31-year-old said: “It was something I had to think about. I’m from the south of England and while I’d played for Burnley it was cold enough there and Edinburgh is a further four hours in the car.
“I’m a warm weather boy who goes on holiday to Jamaica whenever I can. But everyone knows who Hibs are. I came up with my brother, saw the stadium, the training facilities and after that the money didn’t really come into it, I was sold on the move.”
Bartley quickly realised there was something else Stubbs had neglected to mention, Hibs’ Scottish Cup hoodoo. He recalled: “That was the one thing I noticed when I moved here – it was all about the Scottish Cup.
“Hibs fans would introduce themselves when I was shopping, walking the dog, whatever, and it was always: when are we going to win it?
“I didn’t know how long it had been so I did a bit of research and got a bit of a surprise. Alan didn’t tell me and I understand why.
“We were all bitterly disappointed to lose out in the promotion play-offs at the end of that season but to win the Scottish Cup was fantastic. I’d ask Hibs fans what they wanted, the cup or promotion and 100 per cent the answer was the cup and promotion the next year. We’ve done that.”
Friday night’s victory over Hearts not only took Hibs 12 points clear of their city neighbours with a game in hand but closed the gap on third-placed Aberdeen to just two points in the Ladbrokes Premiership with hopes high that they can enjoy another tilt at European football next season.
Bartley said: “Winning the cup got us into Europe; it may have been short-lived but it was a great experience, definitely something I’d never have experienced had I stayed in England and, to be honest, something I didn’t think I’d get here. Hopefully, we can achieve it again at the end of this season.”
Promotion was achieved under new boss Neil Lennon, Stubbs having surprised everyone by quitting for what proved to be an ill-fated spell in charge of Rotherham but, insisted Bartley, the change in manager has proved to be seamless. He said: “Alan did extremely well but then the chance came which he thought was right for him to go to Rotherham. It was a bit of a surprise to us all but the group chat was a bit fiery, everyone wondering who we were going to get as our next gaffer.
“Again, I think everyone was surprised to discover it was Neil Lennon, I don’t think anyone expected him to take the job. But it’s been seamless and none of us are surprised to find ourselves sitting in fourth place in the Premiership in our first season back.
“We have a good bunch of lads, not only in terms of a football team but off the pitch as well. Some people may take this as arrogance, and I don’t mean for it to sound that way, but no matter who we are playing I can say, hand on heart, we’ve never sat in that dressing-room after training on a Friday and said ‘we might struggle tomorrow or be beaten’.
“I’ve had that at previous clubs, but not here. We have always gone out believing we can get the three points no matter who it is against. You can be beaten, that’s life, but we never think we will be.”
If Hibs fans have taken Bartley as one of their own, he has found himself to be “Public Enemy No 1” as far as those from the other side of the city are concerned, a fact which, he insists, makes victories like Friday night’s all the sweeter.
He said: “I think they have taken a personal dislike to me, but that’s all right.
“You must be doing something right if people are going to shout at you and try to get under your skin. I just laugh it off.
“I couldn’t have picked a better game for my 100th. It was extremely enjoyable.”