Despite all the talk about the physical nature of derbies as Hearts and Hibs gear up for their third head to head of the season, Efe Ambrose says that while rivalries remain intense, the games are a lot tamer than in the past.
“Now, probably the craziest thing is the fans,” he said. “The past few derbies, it’s not been as crazy as it used to be – in the Old Firm or the Edinburgh derby. Players want to play football, show how good they are.
“The time for tackles, kicking, cards, it’s changed a lot. The philosophy of the game has changed. But it’s still a derby.”
For the fans, the fixture remains vital to their mood, affording the winners bragging rights as well as a place in the next round of the Scottish Cup but win or lose Ambrose says that he won’t return home fearing for his safety unlike players in his homeland.
“Africa is much more crazy,” said the Nigerian, as he put Scottish footballing passions into context. “When I was playing in Africa, there was a derby just like Hearts and Hibs, my team against the second team in the city.
“But you didn’t want to play in this game. You always found an excuse, you were injured or sick. You knew it wasn’t worth playing because you would get beaten, you would get harassed, you couldn’t even get into your house because the fans would be there waiting for you.
“I was scared, really scared, the first time I was supposed to play in the derby. I didn’t go to training for a week, just so I would miss the game.
“The big game was Kaduna United against Ranchers Bees. But the fans, they are crazy and the security is not as good as it is here.
“They could follow you to your house and there would be no security. Here, you can play the game and go home, knowing there won’t be some crazy fans waiting for you. Here, the worst you get is some abuse on Twitter. In Africa, they come to you direct!”
In the most recent capital derby, the worst abuse was reserved for the officials after Hibs’ Oli Shaw was denied a goal. The referee erroneously did not believe the ball had crossed the line but television evidence supported the view of others in the ground, including the Hibs manager Neil Lennon, who insisted the goal should have counted.
Asked if he is looking for the man in the middle to clamp down on overly-robust challenges as each side has talked of the physicality of the other, Lennon said he had other priorities.
“He could give a goal if it’s a goal, that would help for a start,” he said, still smarting from the poor decision on 27 December. “I think the referees in the main, with the games that I’ve been involved in, have come through them pretty well and let the game flow as much as possible.”