Guillaume Beuzelin was so good in a pre-season friendly against Albion Rovers that the club were worried the performance had not gone unnoticed. For “so good” read flamboyant, nonchalant, languid, debonair, four more words appropriated from the Gallic. So maybe the spy network of rival teams was already thrumming with rave notices. And perhaps one of these teams would try to pinch him from under Hibs’ noses. Merde!
“I played well at Coatbridge,” recalls Beuzelin, “so it was a surprise, next game, that I was told to sit in the stand. I had not signed a contract at that stage so I was to stay hidden. At least I didn’t need a blanket over me or have to wear a disguise! But that match was away to Cowdenbeath and it made up my mind about Hibs. I was sat with 2,000 fans, for a game that didn’t matter on a terrible pitch. I thought to myself: ‘This is a team.’”
What a smart move because Beuzelin, first for Tony Mowbray and then John Collins, would turn out to be a diamond. A musketeer of the midfield whose feet swished like rapiers. And in 2007 he played a huge part in the Hibees winning the League Cup, the last time their name was etched on the trophy.
A move born, perhaps, of Hibs having been stung before? Beuzelin nods as we talk on Zoom when I mention Didier Agathe. “Funnily enough I met him in Glasgow just the other day and we spoke about Hibs and how he was there and then – boof – he was gone.” Beuzelin’s fellow Frenchman pitched up at Easter Road in 2000, shone too brightly for a player who’d not put pen to paper in a meaningful sense, and Martin O’Neill spirited him away to Celtic.
Thanks to 2004’s covert Auld Alliance trade deal, Easter Road enjoyed the artistry of Beuzelin for four seasons. And how did the fans show their gratitude? By nicknaming him – in Scotland, what else? – “Boozy”.
That fetching smile glows today as Beuzelin, from his Falkirk home, remembers his stint in green and white: “Hibs changed completely my life for the better. My hometown team, Le Havre, did not want me anymore. The new manager said: ‘That’s you.’ I had been there from six years old and at 25 there didn’t seem to be anything else for me in France.
“My agent said: ‘Do you want to try Scotland?’ I said: ‘Why not?’ Of course I knew the Old Firm and actually Hearts, because loads of Jambos had come to Bordeaux a few years before. It was a big transformation for me but superb, absolutely magnificent. I played my best football for Hibs and if it wasn’t for them I would never have met my wife.”
The future Mrs Boozy, Kayleigh Hamilton, had tagged along after a game when her friend sought out the playmaker for a photograph. “In it I was smiling at Kayleigh.” The couple are raising two children, Aaron and Ava, and now Beuzelin’s younger brother Nicolas is doing the same with his Scottish wife. “He came to visit me, decided to study engineering here, and has ended up staying because like me he loves Scotland. Here we’re ‘the French’ but when we go back to France we’re ‘the Scots’.”
Before that epiphany at Central Park, however, farmer’s son Beuzelin, now 42, was not sure he’d made the right move. “I’d never been to Scotland before and could speak no English. The young guy from Hibs who collected me from Edinburgh Airport, Wee Gav, talked very fast and the only thing I could make out was ‘Sauzee’. It was ‘Sauzee, Sauzee, Sauzee’ the whole journey. Of course I knew Franck. The team I supported growing up were Marseille and he won them the Champions League. But I didn’t know he was so loved at Hibs.”
Culture-shock continued at the sometimes bumpy public parks where Hibs trained in those pre-East Mains days. And presumably the language barrier made understanding Mowbray difficult? “Actually no. He had a tactics board but basically he just let me go out and play. I loved him being my manager.” Then there were his team-mates: Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson, Derek Riordan, Garry O’Connor, Steven Fletcher, Steven Whittaker. Maybe Scotland, and Hibs, could be a fun ride …
The first time your correspondent saw Beuzelin in action was an Easter Road friendly – this was still pre-season – against Leeds United. “Action” was perhaps pushing it, and reflecting on his performance later I wrote that he “could have been reading Le Figaro, smoking a croissant and waiting in a boulevard cafe for Francoise Hardy to finish her LP cover-shoot for all the perspiration he expended”. Preferring inspiration to perspiration is all very well, but was Beuzelin worried Scottish football would be too hectic for him?
“No, I wasn’t. I liked it right away. French football at that time was very tactical, very slow, positional play, side-to-side, not always trying to score. Scottish football was lots of things happening and lots of goals. I’d got frustrated in France and Tony allowed me absolute freedom which was fantastique. I remember against Leeds letting the ball run across me, switching it wide and being applauded. I thought to myself: ‘If theylike this here, I’ll be okay.’”
Though his game has inevitably slowed over the years, the last thing Scott Brown was at Hibs was side-to-side. “The energy he had was unbelievable, and the same with Whittaker,” says their old team-mate. “They were all great, these boys, and I couldn’t believe how young they were.
“I’m not surprised Broony has had this amazing career. He’s some character but an example [to others] as well. To find both qualities in the same player is rare. Of course he had hair in those days and there were some crazy styles in that changing-room. Remember Riordan’s Mohican? Dean [Shiels] had something the same. Deek loved to score goals. Not the hardest-working at training but the best finisher I’ve ever seen: left foot, right foot, from anywhere, frightening. In that first season he scored 20-odd goals and so did O’Connor.
“We had a lot of laughs at Hibs. I remember Deek asking if he could come round to my flat. ‘I’ve brought some of my family,’ he said when he arrived and honestly there were ten of them. The thing I remember about Broony which makes me laugh is him locking the changing-room door after we were all inside, turning off the lights and smashing a bag of balls everywhere.”
It didn’t take long for the “Boozy, Boozy” chant to be heard. “Tony came and asked me: ‘Are you okay about this?’ I didn’t know the connotation with alcohol but I said no problem, it didn’t bother me. Now my kids call me Boozy and my wife, too, if I’m ever in the bad books.”
In his first season Hibs finished third in the top flight, something only equalled last term. In his second, 2005-06, he was on good goalscoring form. There was a double against Kilmarnock as the Hibees roared back from two down to win 4-2: “That was the only time I scored two in a game and a good day to do it because my nephew Logan who was just five was in the crowd.” Two further strikes were Socrates-esque, stealing in at the near post in the manner of the great Brazilian’s goal against Italy in the 1982 World Cup. “The one against Hearts was special – and French TV filmed it. Ivan [Sproule] went on a great run and somehow I managed to keep up with him and finish. I loved the Edinburgh derby. It was new for me because in France we don’t have two teams in the same city. And I especially loved that one because Hearts had begun the season tremendously, winning every week and were top of the league.”
Then came a classic match, demonstrating Hibee swashbuckling but also their shortcomings. “I know the one you mean,” says Beuzelin, “we go to Celtic, take the lead but they come back at the end to win.” Boozy levelled the contest with a header – “That was a good one because I was up against Bobo Balde.” Then his diagonal crossfield pass to the angle of the Celtic box picked out Steven Fletcher – “A beautiful volley from him.” But Hibs’ possible next manager, Shaun Maloney, struck a free-kick and some indecisiveness from Zbignew Malkowski contributed to the home team’s winner.
“We went through a lot of goalkeepers. Particularly in the derby they would all get nervous and make big mistakes.” Hibs were bumped down to fourth that season and losing Beuzelin to injury at the halfway point was a blow. He missed almost an entire calendar year and wouldn’t return to the team until the quarter-finals of the League Cup in the following campaign but his timing was perfect. “That was against Hearts. Mikey [Michael] Stewart was sick in the first few minutes and I came off the bench.” Boozy ran the show, captain Ron Jones scored the decisive goal and Hibs – with John Collins having just taken charge – had Hampden in their sights.
Not for the first time, or the last, our man’s close control was merveilleux and you might be surprised at the identity of his inspiration: “Growing up watching Marseille I loved Chris Waddle’s dribbling.” Collins, though, would only last a year, falling out with the hierarchy led by Rod Petrie at what seemed an inopportune moment – the opening of the swish training centre which brought an end to Hibs’ park life.
There had been of course a notorious players’ revolt against the manager’s methods and I read out a quote from Michael Stewart when I interviewed him about how “even Boozy, a lovely lad who was never any bother, said of the training: ‘I’m turning into a robot. I can’t express myself.’” The smile turns wry and Beuzelin, possibly because he’s gone into coaching and appreciates the challenges of the job, says: “I don’t want to criticise managers. That was after we lost at Dunfermline. There was a big talk in the changing-room for a long, long time. I was very frustrated.”
Beuzelin’s admiration for Mowbray was obviously mutual. When the latter moved to West Bromwich Albion he tried to sign the player but in the final year of his contract new Easter Road boss Mixu Paatelainen persuaded him to see out his four years to the end. After getting a move to England with Coventry City Mowbray would also take him to Celtic, albeit briefly. “I played one game, a pre-season friendly at Cork City, but I wasn’t in a good state and beginning to get injured a lot.” When forced to hang up his boots at the age of 32 he returned to Hamilton Accies, where he’d played a handful of games, and as the No 2 helped first Martin Canning then Brian Rice contrive ritualistic acts of escapology to keep the club in the top division until relegation last season. He awaits his next appointment and keenly hopes it will be in Scotland.
That “frustration” he mentions, all Hibbies know it and live it. For fine sides full of promise, lots of flair and a high entertainment value, only for them to fall away at the end. But in 2007 in the snow against Kilmarnock Boozy & Co didn’t falter, triumphing 5-1.
He says: “We felt good about that final. The team had a very nice balance: strong defence with Rob and Hoggy [Chris Hogg] and Murph [David Murphy], Broony in the midfield with myself and Lewie [Lewis Stevenson] coming through, and Fletch up front with Ivan and Benji [Abdessalam Benjelloun] who when he came to us was immature, a baby in his head, but his goals that day were wonderful.” Stevenson was awarded man-of-the-match but many observers including The Scotsman’s Glenn Gibbons reckoned Beuzelin had been the star performer.
“Afterwards there was champagne on the bus and back at Easter Road I caught up with Kayleigh. We didn’t know it at the time but she was pregnant with our son, which has made 2007 even more special for me. The party was superb, even Rod Petrie was on the dancefloor, and Sunshine on Leith – wow. If ever I’m feeling low I’ll find the clip of the fans singing it. Then I’m smiling again …”