Hibs appear to be making a habit of granting testimonial matches to those in their prime. It’s a far cry from the days when the recipient of such awards could also expect being put out to pasture.
Lewis Stevenson has only got better since his own testimonial match, last summer’s clash with Sunderland. He recently made his Scotland debut against Peru in Lima.
Paul Hanlon, meanwhile, is still only 28. As a centre-half who is adept at reading the game, his best years could also still lie ahead. This is good news for Hibs, who have risked losing this home-grown talent on a couple of occasions in recent years. The defender has revealed there have been times when he thought he might have to leave Hibs, though not through choice. It’s ten years and counting since he made his debut under the recently appointed Mixu Paatelainen in a 3-0 Scottish Cup win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle in January 2008.
“It was a dream come true as a Hibs fan who was just desperate to get into the Hibs squad,” he reflected yesterday. “I’m very grateful for Mixu putting me in that day. It would have been really easy for him to go with a more experienced team that day, especially in his first game as the manager, so I was delighted to get that opportunity.”
Hanlon’s enduring love affair with the Easter Road club has been threatened only twice since then.
“After relegation, when Terry Butcher told us we were free to go, I thought about leaving then,” he said. “And also after we won the [Scottish] cup I was out of contract so I spoke to a couple of clubs then. But nothing was anywhere near enough to make me think about leaving Hibs. It would need to be something really special to move my family and to leave the club I love playing for.”
Benefiting from having experienced both the good and hard times at Hibs, Hanlon is getting better and better and was called up to the Scotland squad by interim manager Malky Mackay for the friendly against the Netherlands last November.
He has since signed a new four-year contract at Easter Road having impressed Neil Lennon, his seventh permanent manager at the club. He even remembers training on occasion under Tony Mowbray shortly after leaving school. It’s appropriate that Mowbray’s Blackburn Rovers are the opponents for Hanlon’s testimonial match on 8 July. He recalls the thrill of watching a very exciting Hibs side under Mowbray as a boy. Things are not so bad now either.
“I’d like to think I’m coming off the back of my best season for Hibs,” said Hanlon. “It was really enjoyable for everyone involved. The fans came back in their numbers and seemed to be enjoying the football we were playing every week. I was happy with my performances and there was a real feelgood factor around the club which has continued over the last couple of years.”
Evidence of this is next month’s return to Europa League qualifying action, against NSI Runavik from the Faroes Isles, the prize for Hibs’ fourth-place finish last season.
Before Europe, before even his own testimonial, comes this weekend’s friendly at Linlithgow Rose. After double training sessions this week, Hibs won’t be taking it easy against the East of Scotland League side.
“My dad Derek actually played for Linlithgow back in his day although I think he was only there a season or two,” said Hanlon. “He was a centre half as well, he says he was two-footed but I am not convinced. He’s on holiday so he is going to miss the game and he is gutted.
“We won’t treat them lightly – we don’t treat training sessions lightly so it won’t be treated any differently,” he added. “Any game we go into the manager wants us to do well and win.
“The Blackburn game will be the same. It might be a testimonial but we’ll be taking it seriously. It’s going to be a big part of our preparation going into the European game. That’s the way it is now, that’s what we’re used to.”