Moments of madness poisoned the last Edinburgh derby but Hibernian midfielder Stevie Mallan says there were also instances when he had to laugh.
The 22-year-old accepts that the on and off-field rivalry spilled over at times but says he loved the intensity and the passion, of which, as the man taking corner kicks he was the focus on several occasions, and he insists there should always be room in the game for good-natured banter.
“It was definitely one of the most intense experiences,” he says of that 0-0 stalemate. “My last derby before that was st Mirren v Morton and they are not as intense because it is not as big a crowd but when you go to Tynecastle, it is intense because the fans are so close to you.
“That was my first experience of going there with Hibs and I had heard past experiences from the boys who had been there before, telling me to wait ’til I go to hit a corner and stuff like that.”
The warnings had substance, as Mallan quickly discovered. “There is a short run-up [for corner kicks] but for the whole time you are getting dogs abuse,” he said. “That just makes it funny, that interaction with the fans. That is what people want. People want football to be entertainment and that is part and parcel of it but hopefully we can give it back.”
He managed to escape flying cups of coke, bovril and coins and although verbal insults rained down on him, he says he is thick-skinned enough to handle that and more than capable of offering his own jibe in retort.
“If fans give you abuse and you are allowed to give something back and everyone takes it the right way then that is the way that football should be. It makes it that bit more enjoyable. In the last game there was plenty of it.
“At Tynecastle someone told me my head was massive, well that is the polite way of telling you what was said. But there were a few things that made me laugh in the corner. Funnily enough, we nearly scored from that corner, when Darren McGregor had the diving header, and I was gutted we didn’t score because I was going to say something back but I just blanked it and carried on with the game.
“I can take stuff, I can hear it without reacting and I can dish it back in the right way. I’m quite an easy-going, funny person and I can just laugh along. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I can enjoy it to be honest.
“You can have your little interactions but usually the best thing to do as a player is just to have a little laugh because if you let your emotions get the better of you then bad things could probably happen. We have seen that in the past. In these types of games that is the kind of thing that comes in abundance, that hostility, and that is what makes derbies more intense and enjoyable. They are the games you want to be involved in as a player.”
But there is a fine line and fans of both teams crossed it that night as Hearts keeper Zdenek Zlamal and Hibs manager Neil Lennon were assaulted. Mallan had been substituted and was in the dugout when his gaffer crumpled in front of him, having been struck by a coin and he said that should not be happening.
“You’ve seen it growing up, daft stuff like that happening, but you do still get taken aback,” he added. “There’s the laughter side but then it’s more serious when something like that happens and that’s when tensions start to flare. If you’re a player or a fan, you know how to take it and it should never spill over to those depths.
“That’s the bad side of it but 99 per cent of the time it is lighthearted and fans can take it, players can take it and you move on, but when you see that side of the game then that’s not the best.”
Hibs could be without 11 first-team squad members, making Mallan’s contribution all the more important as they try to close in on Hearts and a place in the top six before the winter shutdown. But take away all the hullaballoo and Lennon says there are still three points at stake.
“It is a derby so there is a lot more spice to it,” said the manager. “It is an important game for us psychologically and to get into the top six as we have been hovering around for a while and not getting there.
“It would be nice to win and finish the month off in good style.”