Kevin Nisbet big interview: Fulfilling promise to dad, Hibs form and missing out on Birmingham move
Kevin Nisbet could so easily have been in Birmingham with a relegation fight on his hands and unsure whether the new manager rated him or not. Instead, he is full of pride that he could be close to fulfilling a promise made to his dying father that he would one day play for Scotland.
It is reasonable to presume this poignant pledge – made only a few months ago – will be realised any day now as Nisbet prepares to make an international bow in the World Cup qualifiers against Austria, Israel and the Faroe Isles.
Nisbet, who has just turned 24, is also back in the starting line-up for a Hibs side looking to seal third place – and the potential of European football until Christmas – in the coming weeks.
Birmingham, meanwhile, are dropping like a stone and are currently just three points above the relegation zone under Lee Bowyer. The new manager replaced Aitor Karanka, who was so determined to bring Nisbet to St Andrew’s during the most recent transfer window, last week. Nisbet enjoyed his first day training with Scotland at Oriam yesterday. It’s the first time he has been involved with Scotland at any level.
Despite the slight contretemps with Hibs in January after the club rejected several big-money bids for him from Birmingham, it seems things have worked out for the best. However, that’s a facile interpretation of events over what proved an emotional period. Nisbet still feels justified in handing in a transfer request on a hectic last day of the window. Hibs rejected that as well as Birmingham’s final offer of around £3million.
“It’s easy for people to say now that thankfully he stayed put but at the time it was a massive opportunity for me,” said Nisbet yesterday. “But it did not work out, and that’s football. The day after the transfer window I just put it behind me and my attitude was spot on. That’s the reason I am back in the team and that’s the reason I am back scoring goals.”
It’s been another enormous test of a confident young man’s mettle as he continues to endure the loss of his father in late October. Although the family had been informed Thomas had terminal cancer of the liver, it was very sudden in the end. Nisbet was called away from a Hibs training session to be with him for one last time.
His father was an ardent Scotland fan and travelled to a lot of the matches – he still has photographs of him taken at recent games at Wembley. “When he was younger he used to go to all the Scotland games,” Nisbet recalled. “He has always said to me that you are going to play for Scotland one day. It was one of the last conversations we had together: ‘go and get yourself in the Scotland set-up’.
“I am obviously happy to have fulfilled a promise I made to him. I have got myself here and now it’s time to show what I can do and keep myself there.
“It will be a big moment for me and my family,” he added. “I think they are very proud of me and I know my dad will be looking down on me very proud as well. He always had faith in me. He always said that I would make it even when I was in the hole after being released by Partick Thistle. He said I would bounce back. I am just delighted to have kept a promise to him.”
Amidst this grief, Nisbet accepted the task of taking a penalty in a Scottish Cup semi-final against Hearts which would have put his side 2-1 up in extra-time. In a rare misstep in a season where he has scored 14 goals in 37 appearances, his effort hit the bar. Hearts went on to win 2-1.
Nisbet’s most recent Hampden appearance was the 3-0 trouncing by St Johnstone in the Betfred Cup semi-final in January, shortly before all the transfer speculation surrounding him intensified. He is extra keen to ensure he has better memories of the place in the coming days, as Scotland prepare to host both Austria and the Faroes.
“I am not a big one for superstitions or anything like that,” he said. “It’s not going to affect me. At the end of the day it’s a pitch with two goals. There’s a lot of them over the country. It (missed pens) is obviously going to happen in your career. It was done and dusted a long time ago. It has been forgotten about. I think for me it is about, if I do get on the pitch, going out and proving myself and taking my chance.”
Nisbet’s story mirrors that of Lawrence Shankland’s in that they both experienced top-flight football – in the former’s case with Thistle, the latter at Aberdeen – before re-igniting their career further down the leagues. It’s ironic then that Nisbet’s joy should come at Shankland’s expense. He seems to have been brought in as a direct replacement for the Dundee United player, who has found goals harder to come by this campaign. Nisbet, despite scoring just twice since this year, is still the second highest goalscorer in the league behind Odsonne Edouard. It’s proved a remarkable debut campaign with Hibs.
“I’m here on merit with the season I’ve had,” he said. “It’s my first proper season as a starter in a Premiership team and I think I’ve taken it by storm. I think I’ve played really in games and, even games where I’ve not scored, I’ve still put in a shift.
“I feel it’s the right time for me (to play for Scotland). For me, now it’s just about doing well here and then going back to Hibs and getting top goalscorer.”