Darren McGregor doesn’t come across as the sort to have had a misspent youth. But he did used to be thrown out of Easter Road after scaling a fence at the back of the old East Stand to watch games.
Now the Hibs defender knows he can drink for free forever in Leith, as well as be guaranteed VIP treatment at the local football stadium.
But there was once a time when he was just another scallywag, memories of which have helped make Sunday’s emotional Scottish Cup homecoming after the historic victory over Rangers all the more special.
McGregor cheerfully admits being greeted as heroes on an open-topped bus by a packed Leith Walk is far better than being chased down the same street by local bobbies.
He really was being welcomed home as thousands lined the pavements and streets in Leith during the Scottish Cup parade. McGregor grew up in North Fort street, went to primary school in the area and then on to Trinity Academy. It’s a good school of course but there were times, as with most boys, when he crossed the line. McGregor joked that he was once a local tearaway. “It’s a lot better than being chased down Leith Walk by the police when I was younger,” he said, while reflecting on how it felt to be feted on Sunday, rather than pursued.
“It was absolutely incredible. I still don’t think the whole thing has sunk in yet. I’ve got about 120 minutes of footage on my phone from the bus that I’ll look over. I’ll maybe put together my own DVD, I could make a few bob when I’m older!”
He doesn’t need to worry so much about funds this summer. The Scottish Cup win-bonus means he is looking to switch his holiday plans from Portobello to Gullane beach, an upgrade he apparently thinks partner Erin will greet with enthusiasm. “We’ll potter about and relax for a week or two then I’ll take Erin away because she deserves a holiday for all those ups and downs and bad moods I have taken home in the past months,” he said.
“Winning the Scottish Cup has given me a bit of extra money to play with, so she might get taken to Gullane beach instead of Portobello.”
She deserves it, he explained. The season wasn’t always particularly easy for those close to Hibs players, particularly towards the end of the league campaign as the team slipped from second to third place before losing out at the promotion play-off stage to Falkirk.
“The other guys will testify, you go home after defeats and it’s hard not to take it with you,” said McGregor. “When it means so much to you, I’m miserable when we lose. That’s football. The highs are short-lived but the lows can drag on for days and days.”
But it will take some time before the events of the weekend can fully sink in. This is one particular high that is surely guaranteed to endure.
“The whole thing, from start to finish, was an absolute dream,” said McGregor. “I didn’t allow myself to dream of this. Some sports scientists and psychologists will say you should visualise winning and the full-time whistle but that was too much for me to think about, potentially winning the Scottish Cup with Hibs!
“To hear that final whistle, it was just shock. I thought I would get floods of emotion – I was crying after the League Cup final – but this was almost emotionless because it was such a massive achievement and we know the significance behind it. After 79 minutes a lot of people had written us off and said ‘Hibs have Hibsed it again’ and that drove us on.
“It doesn’t matter what team you are at, whether it is Manchester United or Barcelona, that parade from City Chambers to Leith Links will match anything,” he added. “Every inch of Leith Walk was consumed with people enjoying themselves and that brings it all home.
“When you are playing you can become wrapped up in the game and sometimes forget the magnitude it can have on people’s lives.
“There are a lot of older fans who have been coming for 50-60 years and have never seen that. To have contributed to those people’s dreams is fantastic.”
McGregor hopes the group who secured such a longed-for prize can remain mostly intact, and that includes Alan Stubbs. The manager has been linked with two English clubs in the last few weeks. Leading a second-tier club to a first Scottish Cup victory in 114 years will likely only encourage suitors.
“There is always that danger,” said McGregor. “I personally hope he stays because I get on really well with him. The dynamic in the changing room, and what he brings to the place day in, day out, is what has led to us being where we are today.”