Why it’s hush hush on Joe Newell’s old boys now playing for Hibs’ rivals Hearts
Joe Newell is best of mates with Conor Washington and Michael Smith – but the Hibs new boy admits they’ll probably have to arrange meetings in secret now they are on opposite sides of the Edinburgh football divide.
And, he believes, there might be no better place than a golf course, the midfielder having already proved to be a bit of a “bandit” in taking money off his Easter Road team-mates.
Despite undergoing a testing pre-season with days spent at East Mains interspersed with Betfred Cup matches, Newell has managed to swing a club at King’s Acre, Musselburgh and Archerfield alongside the keen golfers in Paul Heckingbottom’s squad.
“We have a golf school with a few of the lads,” he explained. “Ben Stirling is meant to be the best but I haven’t played him yet. I’ve been winning so my handicap has been cut by the lads. It was 14 but I won the first two games and took the money off the lads so they cut it – I need a few dodgy games to get it back up.
“There’s a few who should have higher handicaps, Chris Doidge has been trying, bless his heart, but he’s been having a bad time. There’s him, Tom James who is good, playing off six. Steven Whittaker, Martin Boyle, Ryan Porteous and a few of the young lads.”
Newell knows Washington and Smith well from their time together at Peterborough, and although he’s been in touch they’ve yet to hook up again, the 26-year-old well aware of the demands on Hibs players to defeat their city rivals.
The Staffordshire-born player said: “Any Hibs fan I have spoken to has straight away said ‘beat the Hearts, beat the Hearts’. The derby and the big games are the ones that every player will be looking forward to.
“It will be similar to the Birmingham v Aston Villa derby in that sense, but I hope there are not fans running on and punching anyone.
“The derby will be a great experience to play in and I am really looking forward to them.
“I know Conor and Michael having played with them when I was younger at Peterborough. I’ve spoken to both of them, although we might need to meet in secret locations, maybe a golf course.
“Michael told me that I’d love it up here, that it’s a great city – but he didn’t say Hibs was a great club though.”
Newell will have to wait until September before facing the Hearts duo at Easter Road, his immediate focus being on ensuring Hibs qualify for the last 16 of the Betfred Cup when they face Elgin City in their final Group C match tonight.
Although the format of the competition – and the early start – is all new to him, Newell has enjoyed the edge to the games, admitting he has been pleasantly surprised at how hard the likes of Stirling Albion, Alloa Athletic and Arbroath have made it for Heckingbottom’s men.
He said: “It sounds bad, but I didn’t even know about it until I signed here. Back in England it’s about fitness for the first two or three games, it’s a bit different up here but I think it’s good.
“There is a competitive edge and it gets you ready for the season a bit better. You’re expected to win these games being the bigger club in the group, but they are not easy against these teams because they make it really hard, particularly away from home.
“Tuesday (against Arbroath) was probably the best we have played, it was the most enjoyable for me. I’ve been impressed by the standard of the lower league teams, no disrespect to them, it’s been good.
“It’s hard going to these little grounds with dry pitches so there was a big difference at home where we can move it more quickly on our own pitch.”
These games also offer an early path towards silverware, the Betfred and Scottish Cups regarded as realistically the best chance for any club outwith the Old Firm to get their hands on a trophy, something which Newell has set his eyes on. “When I first met the gaffer, that’s what he said,” he revealed. “His aspirations for the season were to get a cup, we’re wanting to do well.
“There has been no talk of where we want to finish. You want to win the league, don’t you? That would be perfect. The gaffer said to me he wanted a cup, to be in the European places, you just want to finish as high as you can.”
Newell admitted the possibility of Europa League football was something he could never have contemplated while playing at Peterborough or his last club, Rotherham United, but Hibs’ exploits against NSI Runavik, Asteras Tripolis and Molde this time last year are already well known to him.
“It’s not set in stone,” he said, “but the possibility of it is attractive. If it happened, it would be good. I spoke to the lads about it when they were in it last year and they said it was a really good experience, one they enjoyed.”
Newell believes he has settled in well, helped by the familiar face of Scott Allan, a team-mate at Rotherham. He said: “I knew of Scotty’s ability but I didn’t know how popular he is with the fans, he’s like a god isn’t he?”