The similarities are uncanny. A rampant Hearts team (check). Top of the league and pretty much invincible, if you don’t count a cup defeat away to Livingston (check). And facing them a Hibernian side already one-nil down in the derby stakes who were anxious not to lose again in front of their own fans (check).
For October 2005 read right now, apart from the small matter of Sunday’s square-up coming in the second tier. Oh, and apart from Hibs no longer being able to call on the silky skills of a smiley French playmaker, name of Guillaume Beuzelin, but known to all and sundry with clunky Scottish inevitability as “Boozy”.
Beuzelin scored in Hibs’ 2-0 win to put Hearts’ gas at a peep and the former Easter Road favourite was able to remember most of what happened nine years ago when we caught up yesterday, apart from one thing Hearts fans still regard as crucial: George Burley had just been sacked as Tynecastle manager.
To this day, Jambos reckon that team could have won the SPL. If only Vladimir Romanov hadn’t sacked the boss; if only this hadn’t been the first intimation of “Vlad’s mad”. Of course, plenty of clubs from outwith the Old Firm have led the top division in the autumn – Hamilton Accies, for whom Beuzelin made a handful of appearances during his injury-hit final years, are doing this right now and Hibs have been there a few times – only to be caught around Christmas. Nevertheless, the 35-year-old is generous in his praise of his old foes.
“Oh yes, my friend, Hearts were very good,” he said. “Solid at the back with [Steven] Pressley, [Webster] and [Takis] Fyssas. They had [Roman] Bednar up front and of course Paul Hartley in my area, who was a very difficult opponent. At that time he played as a No 10, always down your shoulder, very clever and very strong.”
Beuzelin remembers the hype surrounding the city rivals, and the pressure his Hibs team of Scott Brown, Derek Riordan, Garry O’Connor and other cocky colts faced going into the second derby of that season having lost the first 4-0. “Hearts were efficient that day. It wasn’t a four-zero game,” Beuzelin insisted. “But still we lost. Next time we didn’t want to be beaten, not in front of our own fans.” Having misplaced their manager, John McGlynn temporarily taking charge, Hearts quickly went a man down, Edgaras Jankauskas being red-carded. Boozy talked me through his goal: “Ivan [Sproule] went up very well on the right and managed to cut the ball back, looking for a midfield runner. I didn’t do that very often! But it was a good finish, I think, because Craig Gordon in goals was fantastique at that time.”
Now No 2 at Dumbarton to another ex-Hibee, Ian Murray, Easter Road’s second most-celebrated Frenchman after Franck Sauzee never tried to be anything less than tres debonair in a century of appearances in the green and white. The following season, he masterminded Hibs’ CIS Cup quarter-final victory over Hearts and, although a young Lewis Stevenson was the sponsors’ pick for man of the match in the Hampden triumph over Kilmarnock, The Scotsman’s Glenn Gibbons, who died this week, awarded the honour to Beuzelin. One of Tony Mowbray’s first signings in 2004, he almost didn’t stay. “The club at that time used to train in parks. I was shocked. One day at Inverleith I thought: ‘Why am I here?’ We played a pre-season friendly at Cowdenbeath, another bad surface. But there were 2,000 Hibs fans in the stadium. I said to myself: ‘This is a club’.”
In his first year in Edinburgh, Beuzelin claims his English was so poor he didn’t understand team-talks, which only goes to show how simple a game football can be – if you’ve got his talents, that is. The nickname came from the fans. “Mr Mowbray asked if I was okay about it. I didn’t know about the connotation with alcohol.” A fine romance was thus sealed and another followed, Beuzelin eventually marrying his Edinburgh girlfriend Kayleigh. The couple have two children, Aaron and Ava.
It might surprise you to learn that a footballer who did everything in his own sweet time really loved the derby frenzy. “We don’t have derbies in France,” explained the former Le Havre player, “so to be in this environment was something new for me. In derbies you can shine and be a star, or totally the opposite and a villain. Unfortunately our ’keeper [Zbignew Malkowski] didn’t have a good time in derbies and didn’t really recover.”
As they say, the form book goes out the fenêtre in these intense affairs and Beuzelin says history could repeat on Sunday. “Back then Hearts eventually finished second and won the Scottish Cup, so great for them. But they had more money than us. I remember when Jankauskas signed for them, a Champions League winner who became my next-door neighbour, and thinking: ‘Wow they must have a few quid’. But, my friend, that was a very good Hibs team which should have achieved great things. I meet old players who say: ‘Boozy, I remember you beat us 3-0 and we didn’t get a touch – why didn’t you win more?’ ”