THE playing staff and management at Hibernian and Heart of Midlothian united to pay tribute to the two young Edinburgh footballers who died suddenly on Sunday.
Hibs captain Liam Craig knew David Paul well, and as a former player with Tynecastle has remained friends with the staff at that club. The midfielder was on media duty yesterday at the club’s East Mains training ground to discuss the league match at Ross County on Boxing Day, but said playing football was the last thing on his mind.
“Still shocked – disbelief,” he said. “It’s just horrible. A sad, sad day for the club, Edinburgh, Tynecastle, everyone – horrible.
“The reality is that we have got a game of football to play, but I’ve not even thought about that if I’m being honest. Yesterday when I found out … You just sit in disbelief and I can’t imagine. Being a parent myself as well, I took my boy to bed last night and I didn’t want to let him go.
“I said to my wife last night, when I took the wee man to bed, it’s a game of football at the end of the day and there are things far more important. When something like this happens it just puts everything into perspective. You’re lost for words really; it’s just a sad day.
“You feel a bit embarrassed, actually, sitting here talking about football if I’m being honest. Two families have lost their sons and to talk about football, it’s just horrible.
“David was a popular guy. It’s tough, really tough. I’ve never had to deal with anything like it in football.
“You have young Jamie at Hearts as well. Tynecastle was a club I played for at under-13s, and I spoke to my manager at that time this morning on my way to training. I just can’t imagine what they’re going through.
“My coach at the time is still there, Raymond [Wales]. There’s Dougie Dalgleish – you still keep in contact with them. I just can’t believe it happens, two young boys; it’s a horrible, horrible day.”
As a senior member of the squad, Craig knows he has an important role to play in doing what he can to help his own team-mates and the under-20s come to terms with the tragedy.
“We’ve got together as first-team players and it’s important we are there for each, we unite together,” he continued. “You talk about the Hibernian family and this is when we really need to be a family and stick together.
“It’s important we are there, especially for the younger players. They’re off on their Christmas break, but it’s important
we are there and on the other end of the phone whenever they need to talk, because they were the ones that were closest to him. It’s about sticking together and helping each other through it.
“There are boys that have grown up with him, and that’s why it’s important that experienced boys, the first-team boys, are there for the younger boys.
“We don’t know if it will help or not, but as long as we’re there to listen to them and help as best we can.
“I’ve never had to deal with anything like this before and hopefully never again.
“I signed for Falkirk six months after Craig Gowans died. That is a boy who will never be forgotten at that club and it will be the same here now: David Paul will never be forgotten.”
Hibs manager Terry Butcher echoed the sentiments of his captain, and explained it was especially hard to comprehend because the under-20s had had a party on Friday in the same room in which he was addressing the press.
“It’s been a tough weekend,” he said. “Very tough. It’s very difficult to put into words the feeling at the club at the moment. There’s a lot of shocked and very upset people.
“He was a very popular member of the 20s and had been at the club since he was ten years old. He was in his second year as a full-time player and we had high hopes for his future. So he’s going to be sorely missed.
“It was in this very room on Friday that the young boys had a Christmas show for the players. The boys had to come and sing – it was done along the lines of the X Factor and there were four judges from the senior players.
“Jamie Beaton was Maurice Malpas – he was like the compere. It was priceless, unbelievable.
“And then David was one half of Jedward. The panel voted him off after about a minute because the singing wasn’t that great.
“He was singing away and getting voted off and everything. Now he’s gone. It’s just so, so hard to comprehend.
“Whilst there’s a football game to be played on Thursday, and the players will certainly be okay to play, it’s a hard thing to ever go through as a player, and as a coach and manager as well. We just have to get on, which I’m sure we’ll do.”
The mood was just as subdued at Riccarton, where Hearts manager Gary Locke also paid tribute to the two young footballers.
Skinner had been a member of Hearts’ youth set-up until being released last week, and had been appearing for Tynecastle for the first time.
“It’s devastating,” Locke said. “As much as we think we have got problems, that puts everything into perspective.
“The thoughts of everyone at Heart of Midlothian go out to the families of both boys. It’s tragic news, and it’s certainly a very sombre atmosphere in here this morning, because we have lost a young lad who was doing what he loved by playing football.
“Without a shadow of doubt, it is devastating for both sides of the city. As I said, it puts things into perspective. We have lost two talented young footballers and that is tragic.”
The SPFL released a statement last night, offering its condolences to the families. “Everyone at the SPFL was shocked and saddened to hear of the tragic deaths of two talented young Scottish footballers over the weekend,” said the statement.
“We all offer our sincere condolences, thoughts and prayers to the families, friends and team-mates of David Paul and Jamie Skinner at this enormously difficult time.”