New Hearts signing Toby Sibbick's story at odds with Hibs' version of events

As a capital derby warm up act, the hullabaloo surrounding Toby Sibbick’s return to Hearts has been intriguingly effective.

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 28: Hearts new signing Toby Sibbick & Stephen Kingsley (R) during Hearts media access at the Oriam, on January 28, 2022, in Edinburgh, Scotland.  (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 28: Hearts new signing Toby Sibbick & Stephen Kingsley (R) during Hearts media access at the Oriam, on January 28, 2022, in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

The 22-year-old did make it onto a list of possible targets in Gorgie and in Leith, but when it comes to explaining why the former Barnsley defender ultimately ended up at Tynecastle, accounts of who delivered the custard pie and, who took it flat in the face, vary depending on the tint of the narrator’s spectacles.

“I think the two clubs [Hibs and Barnsley] were speaking about it. But, when my agent proposed it to me I said: 'No, I don't want to do it.' I just don’t think it would’ve been right considering the history between the two clubs,” said the Englishman, who had impressed in his previous spell at Hearts, before illness and the first lockdown curtailed his involvement and brought that loan to a premature end. “The type of person I am, I couldn’t do that to a club like Hearts.

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“When my agent mentioned [Hibs] to me, I just thought I couldn’t do that. It wouldn’t be fair on the fans. They had seen me here, they took to me so well and I’d been linked with Hibs before, but I said no, because that was just after I’d been with Hearts and to go there wouldn’t have been right on the club or the fans.

Hibs manager Shaun Maloney says his first choice for defensive reinforcements was Norwich loanee Rocky Bushiri.

“In the back of my mind, I always wanted to come back here, and I think now is the perfect time to do that.

“The fans kept messaging me when I wasn’t playing at Barnsley, they kept looking out for me and telling me to come back and now obviously I’ve listened to some of them.

“I’ve played for a fan-owned club before, so I know what it means for the fans, they give the club everything, so us as players, should give it back to them.”

The version across the city is different.

New signing Toby Sibbick speaks to the media ahead of Hearts' match against Motherwell.

“No, that’s not true,” countered Hibs boss Shaun Maloney. “When I came in I immediately wanted Rocky [Bushiri]. That was the player I knew a lot about and the player I really wanted at the club. Credit to the CEO and owner, they went and did that for me. So, no, it’s not true.”

If Sibbick wasn’t their first choice, there is no denying the Easter Road club did have him on a long list, but insiders claim that despite being offered his services he never made it onto the pared-back version.

But the back and forth, both public and private, has undoubtedly stoked the derby fires ahead of Hearts’ trip to Leith on Tuesday, with few even pretending to play down the significance.

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Acknowledging the rivalry, Hibs posted a social media skit addressing another former Hearts loan player, Demetri Mitchell, choosing to cross the divide and sign a two-year deal with Hibs.

Sibbick, though, maintains there was only ever one Edinburgh destination for him, with unfinished business to attend to and solid prospects to attract him.

“I think I always had it in my mind to come back. The fans took to me, I know the history of the club, it’s a massive club in Scotland, so when I heard that the opportunity had come up, I just wanted to get it done.”

He only made two appearances the last time he signed up, in early 2020 – an impressive showing in the relegation battlers victory over Rangers and another positive showing in a draw with St Johnstone – before factors fused to prematurely bring the curtain down on his loan spell and the season. That led to Hearts’ demotion but, after a season in exile, they are flying again.

“It was frustrating. Especially considering the position we were in at the time. We were bottom of the league, I was brought in to play and unfortunately I only played two games, so my time was cut short.

“Now I’m here for three-and-a-half-years, so hopefully they can be good years.

"I do feel Hearts should always be up there fighting for Europe. When I came and they were bottom of the league, it's always easy to blame other people in the dressing room. When you're winning, everybody comes together.

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"When I walk in now I just see everyone happy and smiling. They are all together and they just want the best for themselves and the club. It's a really good atmosphere.”

Hearts are now settled in third place in the top tier and looking to extend their lead over the chasing pack, against Motherwell on Saturday and Hibs on Tuesday, and while they have improved since his initial stint, so too has Sibbick, he says.

“I’ve grown as a player and as a person. When I came here before, I think I was a bit rawer, but now I think I’ve learned my trade in the game. I’m still young, but I do think I’ve got a lot of experience for my age.

“I’ve nailed down a position at right centre-half, but I could fill in at other positions if needed, but I just can’t wait to get started now.”

Despite ongoing speculation about John Souttar and whether the Scotland defender will remain beyond this transfer window, and uncertainty over Craig Halkett’s hamstring injury and Michael Smith’s lay-off with back problems, patience may have to be a factor for Sibbick, who hasn’t played since November.

“Match fitness is always different to normal fitness but I feel fit and ready to go. It might take me one or two games to get back to full fitness but I feel fresh and ready.”Especially for Tuesday night’s derby confrontation.

"I've seen my social media. I'm getting tagged in things saying I could never go there. I think the two sets of fans are having a go at each other but it's part of football. I'm looking forward to it. I've played at some hostile places before.”

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