‘If anything, I think the game will be a celebration of two young boys’ lives’
TERRY Butcher wants to use the Edinburgh derby as an opportunity for everyone to remember the two capital footballers who lost their lives over the festive season but says it is the players who can pay the biggest tribute.
Former Hearts kid Jamie Skinner died on 22 December after collapsing during an under-14 game, just hours after David Paul, a promising Hibs U20 player, had passed away in his sleep. It was a double tragedy that united the city’s football fraternity in mourning. Hearts and Hibs paid their respects ahead of their Boxing Day fixtures but the clubs and both sets of fans want to use the derby as a way of underlining their sympathies.
“If anything, I think it will be a celebration of two young boys’ lives more than anything else,” says the Hibs manager, who is looking forward to his first capital derby but concedes it will be a more poignant affair in the circumstances. “These players never played [first-team football] for their clubs. I’ve known a few people who have passed on – the Phil O’Donnells and Davie Coopers of this world – who had excellent careers and were able to make their families extra proud but poor David and Jamie never had that opportunity and the players that will be playing in the derby are the lucky ones in that they can go out there and play at that level.
“It’s very poignant for our players, in particular, because David was always around and was full-time, and doing very, very well. They liked him and loved him and it does bring an extra significance to the game. I know we’ll have played against Ross County and Kilmarnock [by the time we get to the Hearts match] but I think the derby, with the loss of both players, will certainly bring it home to people that it’s only a football game and that life and family is worth more.
“It does bring it into perspective. The players are the lucky ones that they’re able to go out there and do what David would have loved to have done himself.”
The Boxing Day victory over Ross County was dedicated to their lost colleague and friend and Butcher says there will be the same determination to triumph in his name again on Thursday, when the circumstances may dilute some of the animosity but crank up the intensity. “We’ll certainly remember them before the game but battle will commence after that,” he adds.
“I think there will be extra significance in the game and extra intensity in the game as well.” That need to dial in fully to proceedings in a derby could also help the players, claims their boss.
“It certainly gives players the opportunity to escape for 90 minutes on the pitch. Instinct takes over, their training, their experiences, it all takes over when it comes to the games themselves.
“Before the game we’ll be thinking of David and after the game, but during the match you’re fully concentrated on what you have to do, because that’s what you do. I think it does help when you’ve got games coming round. The longer it goes on – and I’ve known it when there’s been a long period of mourning for a player – then all the players want to do is get back to what they do best and to do their jobs. They certainly now have an extra incentive to do well at their work, and that’s for David and his family.”
But, despite the fact the evening match is likely to be highly charged, emotionally, Butcher is looking forward to the head-to-head. He doesn’t bother with trite lines about the game simply being another three points. He has been involved in enough Old Firm and, more recently, Highland derbies to know that, psychologically at least, there is a lot more at stake. “It is something I am looking forward to very much. But I want to win it, there’s no doubt about that. There’s none of this enjoying the experience and then losing. That doesn’t happen.
“I’ve played in a few and been involved in a few and even a few at New Year as well. There have been some great ones. I’ve scored and not quite been sent off, but nearly, and I’ve won and I’ve lost. You can’t beat them because they’re special occasions.
“It can always bubble up into a really good football game and I think this year could well be the case because of the unfortunate circumstances. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it brings a sense of freedom to players, who say ‘we’ll, play this game as if it could be our last, because you never know’.
His favourite derby memory is simply winning. “Winning any derby.” The inability to win, or at least compete in the biggest Edinburgh derby of them all, the infamous 5-1 Scottish Cup final rout in 2012, was a major factor in his predecessor’s downfall. Butcher says there is nothing he can do about the past, though.
“When you have had the biggest derby loss ever, or you lose to Malmo 7-0, you are in danger of allowing that to affect what goes on in the future. You wouldn’t be doing your job to the best of your ability if you had those anchors, had those worries. But [the players] say they are free from the past and I want to move on.”
He doesn’t even see any value of those upsets as motivational tools. “Some would say use that pain, disappointment and that anger as a motivating tool but it doesn’t motivate you, it makes you tense, overeager, and over keen, so you are not actually really fully focused. So you have to get rid of that. Pain is not a motivating factor. It is what you want to do in the game that is going to motivate you.” The pain of loss will be keenly felt but it is the chance to shine in a fixture two young lads must have dreamed of featuring in that will provide the inspiration. The players can’t change what has happened but they can pay the ultimate tribute by making the most of the opportunity they have been given, the same opportunities so tragically denied others.