KEVIN Thomson has no regrets about swapping his boyhood heroes Hibernian for Rangers in 2007, even though it meant he missed out on a League Cup victory just a few weeks later.
While it was tough to know that his former team-mates were revelling in a 5-1 victory over Kilmarnock at Hampden Park, the midfielder’s opportunities widened to the extent that he went on to win two League Cup winners’ medals, as well as play in a Uefa Cup final.
Now that he has returned to Easter Road he has another chance to achieve a cup win in a green and white shirt. It didn’t happen for him in the Scottish Cup last season after Celtic’s victory over Thomson and his team-mates in the final. However, with manager Pat Fenlon yesterday repeating his contention that this is the best side he has worked with at Hibs, maybe this season might see Thomson ease the anguish he felt at missing out last time around.
Hibs entertain League One side Stranraer in the third round of the League Cup at Easter Road tonight. Although things have not improved at the club to the extent that they can confidently expect victory, a win on Saturday against St Mirren – only the club’s second home success in the league in 2013 – offers further evidence that Fenlon’s recent reshuffling at both player and backroom staff level is beginning to bear fruit.
Thomson, too, is looking more like his old self as he attempts to relive some of the high times of his first stint at the club – or, in the case of a League Cup victory, sample it for the first time as a Hibs player.
Having already moved to Ibrox in the January transfer window, he couldn’t even bring himself to go to the 2007 final. Instead, Thomson explained yesterday, he went to visit his mother at the nursing home where she works. “It was hard to see the team I left win the CIS Cup in 2007 – I never watched the game,” he admitted. “I sent all the boys a good luck message and I went down to my mum’s work, and she said: ‘They’re winning, they’re winning!’
“I wanted them to win, but…”
The conflicted emotions were understandable. No-one likes to miss out on a party, particularly one that you had helped organise. Thomson played in the first three rounds but by the time of the semi-final he had already left Easter Road, bound for Rangers in a £2 million deal that Hibs fans found very hard to accept.
Casting him in an even worse light was Scott Brown’s contrasting situation. Although he too was attracting interest from an Old Firm club, Brown left for Celtic at the end of the campaign rather than in mid-season, and earned a degree of favour from Hibs supporters as a result.
Not that Thomson feels that there is anything he must apologise for. “I was delighted for them, but would I have changed moving to Rangers? Probably not. I managed to play in a Uefa Cup final, I played in the Champions League. I won leagues.”
He also collected two League Cup winners’ medals – against St Mirren in 2008, just 12 months after Hibs had lifted the trophy, and Dundee United in 2010. In addition, he was a member of the Hibs side that lost to Livingston in 2004 in the final, although he is now aiming for a hat-trick of League Cup winners’ medals. He might already have earned this distinction had he remained with Hibs a little longer.
“You need to weigh up these things,” he said. “If I could have won that [in 2007] and then moved to Rangers and had the success I had, then, yes, of course I would have [preferred to stay]. But when these opportunities come…I have not got a crystal ball.”
It has, though, simply intensified his desire to get to Hampden again, for his father Alan’s sake as well as his own. “Even if I am not playing, my dad wants to come through and watch the boys,” he said. “He is a Hibby whereas, if I was playing down the road [at Middlesbrough] or along the road [at Rangers], he certainly wouldn’t jump in the car to support the team. Here, he comes across quite faithfully every week to support the boys, whether I am playing or not. It’s the same for me. Even when I was down the road, the first result that I wanted to see was the Hibbies, it’s just the way you are.”
Fenlon is hoping to ensure things continue on an upward curve tonight, although he is alert to the dangers posed by Stranraer. He is also aware that a setback would mean undoing all the good the work achieved over the course of the past five unbeaten matches.
The manager also revealed that he has had the visitors watched three times since the draw was made, conscious, perhaps, of the defeat by Queen of the South at the first hurdle of the same competition last year.
“Stranraer had a great result in the last round when they beat Ross County, which we haven’t done,” Fenlon noted. “You have to prepare properly. They played well on Saturday [in beating East Fife 2-0] as well and changed their shape a bit, so we know they are a decent side.”
Stranraer have a doubt over attacking midfielder Sean Winter, who picked up a knock in the win over East Fife, but manager Stephen Aitken is looking forward to the task that awaits at Easter Road.
“It is always harder for part-time teams in midweek games against full-time sides as you have been working all day and Hibs are on a good run just now,” said Aitken. “But we are going there boosted by winning in the league for the first time on Saturday. We will give it a go.”