Playing in Portadown-Glenavon derbies as schoolkid prepared Bobby Burns for Hearts-Hibs
The teenager will simply take it in his stride. As a 16-year-old schoolboy, he revelled in victory with Glenavon at Portadown’s Shamrock Park in the Mid-Ulster derby. Negotiating the pyrotechnics during the heat of the battle made life a tad more interesting, although Burns admits the Edinburgh derby is the most heated he has been involved in.
“At Glenavon, we played Portadown a few times but it was nothing like the Edinburgh derby,” said Burns. “I played in one of the games and at the time I thought it was great. There were 2000 or 3000 people there.
“Playing those men’s games gave me great experience. It might not have been as big as the Edinburgh derby but at the time it felt like the biggest game in the world. Lurgan and Portadown are right beside each other so there is always a bit of hostility. You have to avoid the flares coming in round about you. There is different abuse but I love all that, too. It’s part of football.
“It’s just like any derby but on a smaller scale. You hear some of the shouts and a bit of craic going back and forward. Sometimes that makes it a bigger occasion.”
Flares and fan behaviour is a touchy subject within the Capital’s football community right now. Smoke bombs have become a fashion both Hearts and Hibs are attempting to stamp out.
“I saw a picture of me looking at the flares in the last derby. That’s all part of it too, although I don’t think the clubs like it too much,” acknowledged Burns. “It stops the play but the crowd and all the singing gives it that atmosphere and that gives you extra motivation to give your all. The fans give so much to the club and us as players. We appreciate we need to give everything we’ve got when we take the field.”
Burns also remains thankful for his grounding in Northern Ireland. He learned life lessons as a 15-year-old walking into a man’s dressing room at Glenavon. He is now putting those to good use at Hearts as a deputy left-back, although his long-term future at Tynecastle Park is likely to be in central midfield.
Having beaten Portadown with Glenavon, he is desperate to experience the same elation by helping Hearts defeat Hibs. “I only played one derby back home but we won. That was away. Glenavon were in financial trouble in my last year and were moved down a league. I went there at 15, played, then went out on loan in my second season and played every week in my third season. By the third season they were in a division below.
“I made my debut when I was 15 but started playing more regularly when I was 16. It was mad at the time, a bit of an eye opener going into a men’s dressing room at 15. Especially in part-time football. But it was a really good way to go because I learned the real side of football, the win-at-all-costs mentality. I’m thankful for that. I still keep in touch with all the boys there. They always tune in to Hearts games because we’ve had a few 12.15 kick-offs and their games are on later.”
Moving to Scotland brought its own challenges. After spending the first half of the season on loan at Livingston, the 19-year-old is now thriving in Hearts’ first team.
“I was still at school when I played for Glenavon and it was class. I was still at school until last May,” he recalled. “I only finished my A-Levels then. It was nice combining the two because I felt like a bit of a superstar going into school the day after a game. I’d been on BBC News or something, then I was back with my mates.
“To be honest, one of the things I struggled with when I first came over here was being in the football environment all the time. When I was back home, if football wasn’t going well or you were injured, you had school the next day. Everything was forgotten, you would take enjoyment from all your other different interests.
“At the start here, it was tough if football wasn’t going well because it was my whole focus. That’s why I’ve started doing an Open University degree in business management and sports accounting. I also play a bit of golf. It’s important to have another interest to take your mind off football.”
Tomorrow’s assignment is clear: Beat Hibs and savour the experience of winning a huge derby. Burns is fully prepared for it.