A HERO in the capital derby, Farid El Alagui admits that he had considered missing the match after a late-night call from his sister informing him she was being rushed to hospital to give birth three months prematurely.
That was in the aftermath of the midweek win at Dumbarton and, while he waited through the night for news on his elder sibling and his impatient nephew, he says he contemplated asking his head coach if he could be excused from the Hearts match so he could head home to be with his family in France.
“It was really hard for a few hours because they weren’t sure if the baby would be alive when it came out but thankfully he was and now he can breathe by himself which he couldn’t do at the start – he had to be helped by a machine,” said El Alagui.
“It was hard being so far away. I was quite down. If I could have then I would have driven to France to be with them. But I was checking the situation daily and had it got any worse then I would have tried to go back to France to be close to them but once I found out the baby and my sister were fine then I was more relaxed.”
An extremely close family, the 30-year-old says they Facetime every day, but he still struggles with playing his football so far away from them, especially at such an emotionally fraught time. That is why he was so keen to let them know that he was with them in spirit.
Lifting the ball over Neil Alexander in the first minute of stoppage time, the ball had hardly crossed the line before the Hibs striker was peeling off his strip to reveal a white T-shirt with a scrawled ‘Milhan’ inside a heart across his chest and racing to the television camera to kiss the lens.
I will show Falkirk respect and I wouldn’t celebrate as much. We had great games when I was thereFarid El Alagui
“The message on my T-shirt after I scored against Hearts was for my nephew Milhan who was the one born prematurely,” said El Alagui.
“It is my big sister Atika’s baby – she lives in Bordeaux. She was lying in her hospital bed and saw the message so she was happy.
“I knew the day before the derby that I wanted to do something and decided to get a T-shirt and write his name. It was just a little contribution but important for me to make sure they knew I was thinking about them.
“All my friends and family watch my live TV games and that’s why it was important to score against Hearts.
“When you come back from injury you want to play and score and get that feeling back of hitting the back of the net.
“It might sound stupid but you want that confidence again that you can score goals after such a long time out.
“It was important to score and the fact it was in a derby win was just a bonus. I said before the game I wanted to score and I managed it.
“It was a complicated time for my family and that’s why you want to be close to them but unfortunately I couldn’t so I wanted to give her something back on Sunday so she knew I was there for her. If I could help Hibs to the final then it would be for Milhan. It would be too soon for him to travel but I’ll try to bring as many of my relatives over if we get there. My dad and cousin are coming for the semi-final.”
Getting to the final will necessitate a Hampden performance devoid of sentiment today, though. Opponents Falkirk are the club where El Alagui first made his mark in British football and he attributes all future success to his season at a club that remains dear to him.
Scoring 27 goals in 43 appearances for the Bairns, he admits he is unsure how he will react if he can net a goal against them at the national stadium today.
“At the start of the season we spoke about the possibility of not celebrating before we played Falkirk but I didn’t score so there was no decision to make,” he added.
“Then I was injured so we will see how it goes on Saturday but I will show Falkirk respect and I wouldn’t celebrate as much as normal.
“A few players are still there like Craig Sibbald, Blair Alston, Kieran Duffie, and Alex Smith is also there. I still talk to him sometimes. Even when I was injured I received some text messages from people at the club which was nice. It was a massive part of my career.
“We had some great games when I was there. Whenever I speak about them it’s always respect. I played a semi-final with them against Celtic and we lost which was disappointing although great for the club to reach that stage. But as soon as the game starts I will forget who the opposition are. I can only concentrate on helping Hibs.”
At Dundee United 12 months ago, when Hibs made it to last season’s final, he was an observer. “I’d like to be involved this time and win,” said the French-born Moroccan.
A key man in head coach Alan Stubbs’ plans, netting four goals in five games before picking up an Achilles injury at the end of August, he has been nurtured back to full fitness in the hope that he can have an impact in the crucial final stages of the season.
With four first-team appearances under his belt, the latest two in the starting line-up, he has given the Hibs frontline more presence and his experience and enthusiasm has helped the team win both the games he has started.
He would love to help them to another victory, one that will be just as popular as the derby win, but he knows as well as anyone that Hibs would then have to back up both those results with even more triumphs in the league, the play-off and the cup, for them to be considered more than a pick-me-up for his family watching in France.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS