THE Hibs dressing-room, like many in football, uses music to get the juices flowing. Depending on whose ipod is in the dock, it could be 50 Cent or it could be Swedish House Mafia, but it is usually a dance anthem. Jason Cummings knows what he would pick were he given the choice at Easter Road this lunchtime. “Me? Before a derby? Well, you’ve got to have a bit of trance and that. DJs and that. To get you, get you, get you going.”
Either Cummings is struggling to get his, get his, get his words out or this is him – cans on, hand at the turntable – pulling off a pretty neat verbal trick. My money’s on the latter. In a game too often stifled by cliché, Cummings has his own, instinctive vocabulary, the street language of a local lad who knows he is a lucky so-and-so, playing professionally and loving every minute of it.
There are shades of boxer Charlie Flynn about the 19-year-old striker who will lead the line against Hearts this afternoon. He is proud of how far he has come. He is always on the front foot, always “buzzing, man”. But most of all, he is endearingly – some would say naively – willing to share it all with anyone who will listen. Hence, the tales already of his “Sexy Beast” boxer shorts and his “Zing” tattoo (Cummings, you quickly discover, doesn’t score goals, he “zings” them).
“Aye, I’ve got a zing there on my left foot,” he says, reaching down to pull up his sock. “I got it two years ago when I was in Ayia Napa with the boys. I just woke up with it. I couldn’t remember [what happened] the night before. It was our first night, and I had had a few tinnies. I woke up and I was like ‘how did I get that?’ ”
Not everyone appreciates his patter. For some, the charm is cheek, the confidence cocky. After he scored twice in the 3-1 victory at Ibrox last month, he said he had the “touch of an angel”, and that one of his goals could have opened a tin of beans. While Leigh Griffiths responded by referring to him on Twitter as Billy Big Time, there were no complaints from the Hibs fan who was later photographed asking Cummings to sign a can of Heinz.
This, for Cummings, is what it’s all about. He used to play for Hearts, the club he supported as a boy, but two years ago, after his long and painful comeback from a cruciate ligament injury, they let him go. Now, he wants to make the most of his second chance, and if that means savouring every moment in his own inimitable style, so be it.
Cummings, who made his Hibs debut against Inverness Caledonian Thistle less than a year ago, is out to prove that dedication need not be a joyless commitment. “Obviously, when it comes to playing, you get the job done. It’s serious. But other than that, man, you have to let your hair down and have a laugh. That’s what it’s all about.
“You can’t please everyone. Everyone’s got different opinions. They say ‘that guy’s just mucking about. He doesn’t care about Hibs. He doesn’t care about winning games. He’s only bothered about having a laugh’. But it’s not about that. I take it seriously when I play. I wouldn’t be this far in the game if I was just mucking about. I would be in Saughton Park on drugs or something.”
Cummings cares about his football. He takes defeat badly, which is a shame, for there were too many of them last season, when Hibs plunged to the bottom of Scotland’s top flight and through its trap door. It was no fun for him and, by the sound of it, no fun for his mother, who still cooks and cleans and chases after him in their Gorgie home.
“When you win, it’s brilliant. You go home buzzing. Probably go out and have a few tinnies. Enjoy yourself. If you lose, man, it’s a nightmare. You go home and you just can’t sleep. You struggle to eat as well. You don’t like talking with your family. I normally just go to my room, turn off my phone and watch TV on my own. I think about what I could have done better.”
A regular at Tynecastle when he was growing up, Cummings may find that, of all the Hibs players trying to impress their long-suffering support, he has the least room for error. He remembers being taken to derbies by his father, David, with his older brothers, Ross and Dean, all of them Jambos. When he joined Hearts in 2007, everything seemed right with the world.
All of which is brought up before every derby, and will be for as long as he plays in them. He points out that the other half of his family are Hibees, but nobody wants to know that. His wee cousin, Joe, sits behind the goals at Easter Road every home game. As for his relationship with Hearts: it has never been the same since they showed him the door.
At 16, just when he needed their support most, he was flung on the scrapheap, at which point he became a gardener, flunked an interview with Primark, and fared no better in trials for Celtic, Dunfermline Athletic and Huddersfield Town. Only after a season of prolific goalscoring for Hutchison Vale Boys Club were Hibs persuaded to make him an offer.
His determination to repay their faith in him is driven also by a desire to prove Hearts wrong. He played for them and supported them, but it hasn’t stopped others crossing the divide, and it won’t stop Cummings, whose view of the Tynecastle club appears to be tainted by lingering bitterness.
“Obviously, I can’t change the way I was brought up, but I’ve left the dark side now haven’t I? I saw the light. If you look at John Robertson, he was round about Hibs when he was younger, and he turned into a Hearts legend. I just can’t wait to score against Hearts. It’s been one of my dreams ever since I got the phone call saying that they didn’t want me to play there. Ever since that phone call, I’ve always said, ‘I can’t wait to get a bit of revenge’. Every week, I want to score. It doesn’t matter who I play, but it would be extra sweet to score against Hearts. Scoring in a derby… it’s one of the things I want to tick off in football.”
You wouldn’t bet against it. The Scottish Championship’s Young Player of the Month for September has scored four in his last eight matches. With Farid El Alagui injured, Cummings – aka “Mr Zing King” – has emerged favourably from a three-way battle with Dominique Malonga and Paul Heffernan for a regular berth in Alan Stubbs’ side.
Already in his short career, he has started two derbies, one a victory, the other a defeat. Since the 2-1 loss at Tynecastle in August, when he was an unused substitute, Cummings has been waiting for the next one, like the rest of a city that beats to the rhythm of its football rivalry.
“With me living in Gorgie, you can really feel it. On Twitter and all that, everyone’s up for it. You can just feel it coming. It’s like Christmas.”
He’s not exaggerating. Ask Cummings to describe what it feels like on the morning of a derby, and he rises from his chair, as though from his bed, rubbing his hands in anticipation.
He says he sings louder in the shower. He laps up the chat on social media. Even the journey to work, winding his way through the crowds, sets the pulse racing.
“Driving up to the stadium, everyone’s just walking on the roads, singing and downing their pints.
“A few of my mates, they’ll be doing the same at this one. It’s always a good excuse to have a day out with the boys. It takes over Edinburgh.”
The game itself is like no other, at least in the capital. Cummings says the fans are louder, the tackles harder and the emotions stronger. It’s a bit crazy, like the lad who wants to write his name all over it.
Bring it on, man.