FRASER Mullen is perhaps being optimistic when he claims that the fuss surrounding his moving from Hearts to Hibs has now, in his words, “settled down”, particularly since the two teams are due to meet in just under a month’s time at Tynecastle.
However, he has made a more-than promising start in his bid to be accepted by the Hibs supporters, after scoring a free-kick in a 3-1 win over Gibraltar last weekend. Now he is concentrating on ensuring he is part of the side who will kick off the Easter Road club’s competitive season next week, when Hibs take on Malmo in the Europa League second qualifying round.
Tonight’s friendly match against Raith Rovers at Stark’s Park offers the full back one more chance to stake a claim as he seeks a first taste of European action. As Sweden’s most successful club side and as European Cup runners-up to Nottingham Forest in 1979, Malmo have pedigree – although Mullen has already sampled the Europa League atmosphere when he watched from the stand as Spurs and Liverpool travelled to Tynecastle in the previous two seasons. Even though he was only an onlooker, the experiences have whetted the 19 year-old Mullen’s appetite for being part of the action.
“It was great experience just being able to sit and watch the games,” he said. “But it’s going to be a big occasion next week and everyone is trying to push to get into the team.
“Of course, even when you watch European games on the telly, you think to yourself that you would love to play on that stage. I don’t know if I will get a chance or not, but if I did it would be brilliant.”
Along with fellow new signing Liam Craig, Mullen was given a tour of Easter Road stadium yesterday. The last time he featured at the ground is a painful memory for the full back, since he was forced off injured after he attempted to tackle Matt Done in March. He didn’t feature again in the campaign and was released at the end of the season, perhaps partly because of some lingering concern over his ankle ligament injury.
He admits that he feared he might have to drop down some divisions in the financially-stricken climate. He was, he says, “shocked” by news of Hibs’ interest. “There was a bit of a wait because when I was told [my contract was not being renewed] I was still injured,” he said. “I didn’t know what to think at the time and then a few weeks later my agent told me about Hibs.
“At first I never really expected any of it and then it became apparent that I could sign for them and I was delighted I would get the chance to come to a club like this.
“It was a brilliant chance for me so I couldn’t say no to it”.
“I was shocked at the time,” he added. “When I first heard I was taken aback because I would never have expected that. I couldn’t turn the chance down. I didn’t have a clue they would come in for me. I had a think about the offers I had and Hibs were the best one.
“I’m not from Edinburgh, so I’m not a Hibs or a Hearts supporter. That made things a bit easier for me. I just thought about it as a football player and a job. It was the best offer I had so I signed.”
“That’s all settled down now, though I don’t know what it will be like with the game at Tynecastle. I’m just concentrating on being at Hibs and getting myself match fit and a place in the team. You expect a wee bit of banter about crossing the city. I’m not really too bothered about it.
“The Hearts boys are having a wee bit of banter but they’re all wishing me the best of luck. They’re a good bunch of boys and I’ve known them since I was young.”
Perhaps not surprisingly considering he had been with Hearts since the age of 12, his new team-mates have taken to calling him “Jambo”. He has already scored at Easter Road – for Hearts in an Under-20 Scottish Cup tie, though Hibs were the winners in the end. “I didn’t give a gesture,” he stressed, when asked about his goal celebrations that night.
Mullen was on the receiving end at the same ground when he limped his way around the pitch, after being injured during his last Edinburgh derby appearance. Sadly, it also meant he missed the League Cup final defeat to St Mirren the following weekend.
“I got a bit of abuse that day walking around the park,” he recalled. “That’s football. You’ve got to expect that.
“It was me that tackled the boy Matt Done when I got injured. I’d hope the Hibs fans would appreciate the same battling qualities for them if the roles were reversed.”
A group of Hearts fans who attended Hibs’ recent match in Gibraltar gave Mullen a taste of what he can expect on 11 August, when the first derby of the new season is due to take place. “If I get a chance to play, I’ll try to look on it as just another game and not let it get to me,” he said, with reference to the taunts that he can expect after crossing such a great divide. “I’m sure I’ll be a fine. As a full-back you’re right up against the fans, especially at Tynecastle where the fans are close to the pitch.
“If I do get the chance to play I’m sure I’ll hear the stick.” Having only signed for a year, Mullen knows that every game counts as a stepping stone towards convincing manager Pat Fenlon that he deserves to stay longer. “It’s just a straightforward one-year deal with no option to extend it to it’s just up to me to prove I’m worth keeping for longer,” he said, having already taken one of the biggest steps in Scottish Football – moving from Hearts to Hibs.