FC Edinburgh's Alan Maybury opens up on management, Craig Levein's Hearts' knuckle injury, Rangers trial, Leeds United and life at Hibs

As an introduction to professional football it blew Alan Maybury’s mind – and almost had him checking the ferry sailings to beat a hasty retreat back to Dublin where he would forget all about his silly idea of a career in the game.

Alan Maybury is enjoying life as manager of FC Edinburgh.
Alan Maybury is enjoying life as manager of FC Edinburgh.

Remember Tony Yeboah’s party-piece for Leeds United: the thundercrack strike which crashed into the net off the crossbar, always the most aesthetically appealing and downright thrilling way a goal can be scored?

On this occasion – for this intercontinental ballistic missile – ex-Hearts and Hibs defender Maybury was on ball-boy duty for the first time at Elland Road as a YTS hopeful. “I was up the far end but had a perfect view and couldn’t believe it,” he recalls in his cheery brogue. “The anticipation of the knock-down, the athleticism, the accuracy, the power, every muscle in his body concentrated on the hit – and why didn’t the bar break? It was wonderful but it was sickening. I just thought: ‘There’s no way I’ll become a player. I’m never going to be able to do that. What am I even doing here?’”

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Though he persevered and enjoyed a ten-club career over two decades, Maybury never again witnessed as stupendous a goal as the one netted by the great Ghanaian. But, after posting a clip on Twitter marking its 27th anniversary at the start of the week, he was in the dugout on Wednesday night as manager of FC Edinburgh when what did his captain do but Yeboah one in off the woodwork. “It wasn’t quite Tony class but still pretty good,” says Maybury of the first of Danny Handling’s hat-trick in the 3-2 Challenge Cup win over Stranraer.

Maybury swaps sides and turns out for Hibs.
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The victory maintains the decent start to life in a new division for the club with a new name – formerly Edinburgh City – and the decent start to Maybury’s managerial career.

He’d only been in charge a few weeks back in the spring when, as City, they battled through the playoffs elevating them to League One, though he confesses: “I’m not sure we were overly ready for promotion, if I’m honest.” But Maybs, though he won’t take all the credit, raised them up. “I know where you’re going with this,” he laughs.

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The one factoid just about everyone knows about Maybury is that he’s good pals with Westlife (biggest hit: “You Raise Me Up”). Hearts supporters can get misty-eyed on fansites for the red cards their old full-back took for breenging into both halves of the Old Firm until someone will halt the reverie to remember: “The worst thing he ever did was bring those clowns to Tynecastle.” Presumably that day the Gorgie faithful did not greet the boyband by copying their trademark move – springing from their seats in unison.

We meet in the Marriott Hotel on Edinburgh’s western outskirts and I don’t know why I didn’t suggest the Maybury across the road. The question I ask all managers and especially new ones is: why? Why do it? Why subject yourself to all the stress?

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“D’you know, I like being in charge,” he says. “My dad’s retired from being an accountant back in Dublin and now he chairs lots of committees so maybe I get that from him.” Cyril and June produced eight children, Maybury somewhere in the middle, twin brothers two years older. “I was always trying to keep up with them and that toughened me up.”

When the FC Edinburgh post presented itself he just felt that at 44 he was tough enough to take charge. Previously, he’d lost coaching jobs almost because of guilt by association: the unwritten and not always fair rule which states that if the manager is sacked, the under-20s guy must go too. “So I just thought: ‘This time I’ll be the one putting my neck on the line.’ I’d always wanted to try, to find out if I could be a manager. If I’m rubbish at it I’ll take the consequences.”

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So it’s early days at the reconstructed Meadowbank but what kind of boss are the Citizens encountering? A shouter and bawler, a crockery imperiller? “No, I don’t think so, because I had a rant at them the other day and then regretted it. I said to Mark [Kerr, his No 2]: ‘Don’t let me do that again.’ If you shout and shout and shout it just loses its effect.”

Some big names and big characters had power and influence over Maybs the player – George Graham and Republic of Ireland teammate Roy Keane among them – but right now he’s thinking about a couple of the less celebrated. At Falkirk, his entry into coaching, Alex Smith advised: “Make a decision. It might be right, it could be wrong – just don’t dither.” Meanwhile Rob Kelly at Leicester City was “caring and technical. ‘What do you think?’ he’d say. I was taken aback because I don’t remember Craig ever asking my opinion!”

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Craig is Craig Levein who signed Maybury for Hearts in 2001 then three years later took him to Leicester. “I got on well with Craig and knew he liked me but I always had an opinion as a player and probably argued with him more than anyone else in football. If he bollocked me about something and I didn’t think it was deserved I told him.

“The biggest explosion I ever witnessed in a dressing-room was after Hearts lost 2-0 to Motherwell and Craig accused us of playing too deep. Elvis [Steven Pressley] stuck up for us and said he was wrong. The arguing got worse and worse and then Craig punched the tactics board – so hard that it bent and his knuckle shot right through his hand. He kicked us out and went to hospital – but then discharged himself when he remembered there was a game he needed to see.”

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Maybury is a product of the quaintly-named Dublin club Home Farm and might have begun his professional career at Rangers. “They flew Mum, Dad and myself over and put us up in a hotel. Walter Smith couldn’t have been nicer and they let me train, aged 15, with Basile Boli, a European Cup-winner.” The club sent him away with a big bag of club kit and even though he was subjected to some low-level abuse on the streets of Dublin for innocently wearing a Rangers jumper, this didn’t sway his decision towards Leeds.

The number of Irish boys already at Elland Road or on their way was a key factor and he headed for his Yorkshire digs with Nicky Byrne, a Home Farm team-mate from the under-10s and a promising goalkeeper. Other likely lads in that intake included Harry Kewell, Alan Smith and Jonathan Woodgate. So what happened to Byrne?

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“The funny thing is that while it didn’t work out for Nicky as a footballer back then, he got to play with [Zinedine] Zidane and [Luis] Figo in big charity matches at World Cups as a member of Westlife.

“He wasn’t always singing in the showers or anything like that when he was at Leeds, but his dad did cabaret in the pubs and clubs around north Dublin and when Nicky got released he bought a karaoke machine and went on the road with him.

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“He fancied himself as the new Ronan Keating, which I suppose he became in the end, but when he told me he was auditioning for a boyband I thought it was a wind-up. I went to hear this motley crew sing and have to say the record company did a very good job of removing the rough edges. I saw Westlife loads of times back in the day and suppose I was a bit of a groupie. They’re having a reunion so I guess they must be short of a few quid. Folk take the mickey out of them for that routine where they rise up from their seats but they’re good Irish boys.”

Playing deep and occasionally enraging his bosses, Maybury career tally of goals amounted to seven, the favourite while it wasn’t Yeboah-esque being a last-minute winner for Hearts against Partick Thistle. He was sent off the same number of times and considering he appeared in 20-odd Edinburgh derbies reckons this demonstrated admirable restraint.

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“I was competitive, a bit hot-headed but gave my all,” he says. “This went back to Leeds where the young players had to develop the attitude: ‘If you want to play football, we’ll win. If you’re going to work hard, we’ll outwork you. And if you want to fight, come ahead.’” His youth coach was Scotland great Eddie Gray and he offers up a decent impersonation: “Eddie would go, ‘I know, boys, let’s go for a run,’ like he’d just thought of it. He was fit as a fiddle so the time his calf went we were like: ‘Yay, Eddie’s broken at last!’

“A few years ago he interviewed me for [Leeds club station] Radio Aire. First question: ‘We thought you were going to be our best-ever right-back – what happened, son?’ I said that maybe I didn’t take the chances I was given but also didn’t get the ones I thought I deserved. He said: ‘Son, if you don’t take them we stop giving them.’ That’s my philosophy, too, but I’m not sure you can be like that with young players anymore.”

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Another from the school of hard knocks was of course Roy Keane. “I missed the first version but played with the second. Had he mellowed? I remember him firing a pass at me at training which I struggled to control and him roaring: ‘Sort your bloody feet out!’ I remember a five-a-side game, [Ireland coach] Noel O’Reilly awarding a penalty, Roy going mad and chasing him and training having to be cancelled. But when I’m telling players to work hard and do their jobs properly it’s Roy I’m hearing in my ear. He was a brilliant competitor – the best.”

Maybury had never been to Edinburgh before joining Hearts and right away fell in love with the city, although his mother on a visit when greeted with “Pieman out!” placards amid protests against then-owner Chris Robinson was compelled to ask her son: “What kind of madhouse is this?” Little did she or any of us know that things would get much madder during the reign of Vladimir Romanov, Maybury missing its worst excesses.

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“My debut for Hearts was a nice 3-0 win over St Johnstone and if I thought I’d got a handle on Scottish football we then went to Easter Road and conceded a goal inside 20 seconds. I was like: ‘What’s going on here?’ The game was ferocious, the crowd were going crazy. Brilliant!” The Jambos lost that derby – the Ulises de la Cruz game, some would say his only one for Hibs – and Maybury in maroon would only be defeated in one other, Hearts even managing to stir themselves from 4-2 down in the 93rd minute to force a draw. “[Scott] Brown, [Derek] Riordan and [Garry] O’Connor were coming through for Hibs and getting a lot of hype – but we usually won.”

That draw felt like a win, victories usually being celebrated uptown with team-mates Scott Severin, Phil Stamp and Mark de Vries. One fan on Kickback, the Algonquin Round Table of Jambo philosophising, reminisced of Maybury: “Seen him outside the Opal Lounge in 2003 sucking on a lollipop – he thought he was it.” He laughs: “You can’t please everybody!” It was on such a George Street excursion that he met his wife Leigh. They have two children, Grace, 15, and 11-year-old Jude, a Rangers prodigy. “He’s been with them for five years. I wouldn’t want to have been in the academy system, training three nights a week with games on Sundays. But technically he’s already miles better than I ever was.”

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De Vries of course has derby folklore all of his own, bagging four goals in the 5-1 rout of 2002. “I didn’t see that coming,” says Maybury. “Mark had just joined but got injured pre-season. He was a big, heavy lad who in the lead-up to the game became very nervous. To try and calm down he had a few beers the night before but didn’t get to sleep until 3am. And then he went out and played like that. It was my birthday so there was a party afterwards at my house in Liberton. Mark was last to leave only the taxi driver refused to take him - the guy was a Hibby!”

Speaking of not being able to please everyone, how did Hearts fans who’d watched Maybury in two European campaigns react when he signed for Hibs in 2012? Come to that, how did the Hibs supporters? “Let’s face it, neither lot were going to be happy so my attitude was: to hell with all of them. I was at Hibs to do a job and after Colchester United glad to be back at a big club again.” His debut for the Leith team came in – what else? – a derby and unfortunately it was his mistake which led to his old club’s equaliser.

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His two seasons at Hibs were – euphemism alert – eventful. There was a Scottish Cup victory over Hearts leading to the only final of his career, lost to Celtic. There was a derby dismissal and a last-minute victory at Tynecastle – “I jumped on top of Ross Caldwell when he scored the winner - I was celebrating with my team”. But then came the disastrous Terry Butcher era.

“It started okay but then things began to unravel. There was a lot of negativity and I thought we were talking ourselves into trouble. Some players who’d been told they could leave had to be brought back. New ones arrived, no better than what we had. No one could cope with the pressure. And even two-nil up against Hamilton Accies in the playoff we still mucked it up.”

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For Maybury, FC Edinburgh completes the capital set. The hope is that in time the prefix will be dropped from the name. So the club become known as simply, grandly Edinburgh – will that not put Hibee and Jambo noses out of joint? “Ach I don’t know about that,” he smiles, “but the club are ambitious and so am I.”

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