Boozy night to remember for Hibs star

GUILLAUME BEUZELIN believed the days of hearing "Boozy, Boozy" ringing in his ears had long gone, a fading memory of his four years at Easter Road.

Those days, though, became as vivid as yesterday as the French ace took to the stage at the Usher Hall, one of 50 or so former players who had gathered to mark the 20th anniversary of the Hands Off Hibs campaign which saved the club from the clutches of Hearts chief Wallace Mercer.

Today the 31-year-old admitted he'd been simply stunned at the reception he'd received as he reminisced about what he insists will remain the happiest days of his career.

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Now settled in Falkirk with his wife Kayleigh and their children Aaron, aged two, and newly-born Ava, and looking for a new club, the midfield star said: "I'd been invited along to the celebration but I didn't expect anything like that.

"I was quite surprised by the reaction but it was good to hear my nickname being shouted by the fans again. It certainly brought back all the good memories I have."

The nickname, coined by Tony Mowbray, below, after he'd signed Beuzelin from Le Havre, became popular as quickly as Beuzelin himself as he proved to be the linchpin of the then Hibs' boss young side which took the SPL by storm.

Names as unfamiliar as Beuzelin's – such as Steven Whittaker, Scott Brown, Derek Riordan, Garry O'Connor and Kevin Thomson – also rapidly becoming instantly recognisable. Beuzelin said: "I was out of contract with Le Havre, wanted a new challenge and my agent lined up a few trials. The first one was with Hibs and Tony signed me very quickly.

"It was a new country, a new team, I didn't speak any English and a lot of my new team-mates were very, very young. But it was exciting, things just took off and we finished third.

"No-one could say my name and Tony came to me and asked if it was okay to call me 'Boozy' given all the connotations with drinking. I said 'okay' and it sounded good hearing it booming down from the stands."

While most would rank winning the CIS Insurance Cup under John Collins as the highlight of his time in Edinburgh, Beuzelin insisted that first season remained hard to beat.

He said: "I don't think the club had been doing very well and no-one expected us to do what we did. The style of football we played was very good and to win a place in Europe at the end of it was terrific as I'd never played in the UEFA Cup before."

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The 5-1 hammering of Kilmarnock does, of course, figure highly in Beuzelin's memory, hearing The Proclaimers and 2,300 Hibs fans at the Usher Hall recreating the atmosphere of Hampden that day.

He said: "I'd ruptured my cruciate ligament at Rugby Park and my first game back coincided with John taking over from Tony. But he came straight to me and said I was part of his plans.

"We played some good football, going to Fir Park and winning 6-1, a day when everything was perfect, everything we did was right and then, of course, Hampden, winning the Cup and coming back along the streets of Edinburgh on that open-top bus. A special night."

By then, of course, the team Beuzelin joined had begun to break up, only Dean Shiels remaining from the side which faced Killie in his first game when he pulled on a green and white shirt for the last time against Motherwell in 2008.

Beuzelin said: "That year was a bit like last season for Hibs, we started really well, beat Hearts, Celtic and Rangers but then things didn't go so well. I felt it was time for a new challenge, there was the opportunity to go to England and I took it."

Coventry City was his destination, the Sky Blues bossed by Collins' former team-mate at Fulham, Chris Coleman, but, alas, it lasted just one season.

Beuzelin said: "I played a lot of games, 38 or 39. The Championship is a very physical league in which you play twice a week but I felt I did well. We beat Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup and then had Chelsea at home in the quarter-finals.

"I had family from France over, French TV was there because it was a smaller club against all the big names of Chelsea and I still have Didier Drogba's top from that day."

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Having only signed on for a year Beuzelin was keen to stay in the Midlands and, according to him, Coleman was equally as enthusiastic but no new contract was forthcoming, a situation which remains a mystery to him to this day.

Given the situation, Beuzelin returned north, training under Mowbray – and playing friendlies against the likes of Cork City and MK Dons – at Celtic before signing a short-term deal with Hamilton then moving on to Cypriot outfit Olympiakos Nicosia in what, he declared, was the most frustrating season of his career.

He said: "I'd had no pre- season, I'd never realised how important a good pre-season was until then and that's why I am determined to find a club to at least train with to get myself fit.

"I know from last year's experience that training by yourself isn't good enough, you need others about to push you. I want to stay in Scotland, I quit Cyprus because I didn't want to miss the birth of my daughter.

"I don't want to do any more travelling but I know the financial situation is difficult."

Beuzelin insists he has few regrets but, having driven past Easter Road to see the new 6,400 capacity East Stand taking shape, he admits he wishes he could turn the clock back six years.

He said: "Time passes so quickly in football, you have to enjoy it for the day but it would be nice to be 25 again, to be coming to Hibs, a club which is moving forward so quickly.

"I only had six months of the new training centre and now the ground is just about complete, it will be an even more wonderful place to play."

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And like the vast majority of fans, Beuzelin admits that at times he indulges himself in thinking "what if?"

The what if being had Hibs been able to keep hold of that glittering array of young talent over the intervening years, reflecting on the sort of force the club might have become had the likes of Scott Brown, Whittaker, Gary Caldwell, David Murphy, Ivan Sproule, Shiels, Thomson, O'Connor, Riordan and Steven Fletcher and, of course, himself still been around.

He said: "It's fantasy football to think like that, clubs and teams everywhere are continually changing, new faces come, old faces go. But what a team it would have been, we would be competing with the Old Firm – easily.

"I am a Hibee for sure. It's a club that gets under your skin, Easter Road seems like home to me. It was good to be part of the club and having come from France as someone who was an unknown to the Hibs fans a few years ago, to be given such a reception by them even although I no longer play for the team was fantastic, it makes me very proud."


A HOST of former Hibs stars will take to the field for a charity match on Sunday as part of the Leith Festival, writes DAVID HARDIE.

Darren Jackson, Keith Wright, Mickey Weir, Paul Kane, Gordon Hunter, Callum Milne, Mark McGraw, Michael Renwick, Tom Aitchison, Lee Bailey, Stephen Raynes and Darran Thomson will line up alongside former Meadowbank Thistle goalkeeper Steve Ellison to take on Leith Athletic.

The teams will be playing for the Peter Smith Memorial Trophy.

Entry to the match at Leith Links (kick-off 2pm) is free and a collection will be taken at half-time in aid of children's cancer charity CCLASP and the Leith Festival.