If he had seen out the season in Germany, Jamie Maclaren knows he could have been dodging flying beer bottles as he battled relegation. Instead, he is in the hunt for a runners-up spot in the Premiership, well aware that if he and his Hibernian colleagues achieve their goal they are more likely to be handed bottles of beer from grateful punters.
On loan from Bundesliga 2 side Sv Darmstadt, the Australian striker joined Neil Lennon’s side in January on the hunt for regular first-team football. He has enjoyed that and more and, while his parent club tussle with the possibility of a second successive drop, he has been basking in the positivity that currently prevails in Leith.
Tainted by only one league defeat in his time in Scotland, he is on the brink of securing European football for the Easter Road side next term and, in the process, moving himself closer to World Cup involvement.
“You certainly know where you want to be on the ladder,” he said. “You want to be winning games and confidence breeds throughout the team.
“In Germany, it was more of a hostile experience. We had Ultras come to the training ground, get in your face and almost grab you by the scruff of the neck. It’s a different sort of culture but I’d rather be in a position where you are winning games of football and enjoying your work than being in a relegation scrap.
“Because Darmstadt were in the Bundesliga last season, fans expected so much, so the idea of suffering back-to-back relegations would be something catastrophic for that club.”
The strength of feeling was obvious as the players ran a gauntlet of hate and intimidation after matches and following training sessions.
“There was one time when we went to training after losing three matches on the bounce and the three main Ultras came to training – the so-called gangsters – and they got in our faces and grabbed us by the shirts, not touching our skin, but by the shirt and shouted ‘what is this? We are paying our money and you’re taking the piss!’ As players, you don’t go out to lose games or not play well. However, it just goes to show the different ways passion comes through in different cultures.
“I lived in the city and I’m a friendly person who can take criticism well, but in the stadium when you were losing games, you would have beer bottles thrown at you and it’s a whole new level in Germany.
“Walking down the streets in Edinburgh, you hear people saying ‘well done, keep it going’ which is nice to hear and the environment here is so positive, seeing the fans go home happy.”
Maclaren’s arrival in the capital, along with Florian Kamberi, pictured, and Scott Allan, in January, has elevated a Hibs side capable of entertaining and creating chances into one that has now added a clinical edge. It has taken them level on points with one of their main rivals, Rangers, and to within three points of second-placed Aberdeen.
That gap could be overhauled if they manage back-to-back victories over Derek McInnes’ men and leave Pittodrie with a win this afternoon.
“Every player wants to play in big games and when you are winning and the team is full of confidence, you just want to keep that going,” MacLaren added. “We know what is at stake and we want to take maximum points.”
The 24-year-old has already made waves courtesy of goals against Rangers, Hearts and Celtic. His overall performance since arriving in Edinburgh has raised his chances of being named in Bert van Marwijk’s Australia squad for Russia 2018 but a solid run-in, and a few more goals, would advance those hopes further.
“I’d like to think my World Cup chances are good but, as a striker, you need to keep scoring goals,” said Kamberi. “I’m in a good place now but that needs to continue. I’ve scored against Celtic, and Kilmarnock [in the last two games] and I can’t wait for the next game.
“I think my best performance in a Hibs jersey came against Aberdeen. I rise to the big games. But I need to keep that going.”