His own distance – both in emotional and geographical terms – from the events of that night, when the heavily unfancied Hearts secured a 1-0 League Cup victory which sealed then Hibs manager Pat Fenlon’s fate, helps support Butcher’s contention that tomorrow’s league clash is not framed by the notion of revenge. He knows enough about derbies to realise that winning is the only thing that matters, whatever has happened in the past.
Indeed, long before he had tasted the intensity of an Old Firm clash, the former Rangers skipper recalls driving back home “at 150 mph” after losing an East Anglian derby to Norwich City while at Ipswich Town. “I didn’t care because I hate losing,” he stressed yesterday. “I don’t like to lose to my fiercest rivals. It just doesn’t sit well with me.”
There is no need, then, to invest tomorrow’s match with further meaning by harking back to one of the most surprising Edinburgh derby outcomes of recent times. Few gave Hearts a chance when their team comprising mostly of youngsters turned up at Easter Road in October for a cup quarter-final clash. The match looked to be going as anticipated. Hibs played as well as they have done in recent years in the opening 25 minutes before retreating into their shells after Ryan Stevenson scored with an unstoppable shot from outside the box.
If anything, Hearts might have added to their solitary goal in the second half. It didn’t help that Hibs had also gone down to Hearts in the opening league derby of the season at Tynecastle. But still Butcher cautioned against using the idea of retribution as a sole motivating force. These defeats had little to do with him – and several other Hibs players whom Butcher has restored to the first team.
“I watched the two previous derbies on television,” said the manager, who turned 55 on Saturday. “The players have spoken about those games but they’re history now.
“So there won’t be any talk of revenge or ‘this is our day’ or anything like that,” he pointed out. “We’ll be going out to win it, but half of our team didn’t play in those two matches. It will be a different team which faces Hearts in terms of attitude, sharpness and confidence. We’re buoyant going into this one.”
Butcher’s point is that the team has changed in terms of personnel since even a few months ago. Although the transfer window has only just opened, Butcher has been able to tinker with the line-up by bringing in players who were being excluded by Fenlon earlier in the season. Jason Cummings and Paul Cairney are two regular starters now under Butcher. Meanwhile, James Collins, who was in the line-up that night against Hearts, has reacted well to Butcher’s arrival. Although he has only scored once under the new manager, Butcher described him as showing all the hallmarks of a “seasoned professional” in the way he has led the line of late.
“You see them now and they’re confident enough to try things that make you go: ‘Wow!’ he said of Collins and his team-mates. “They weren’t doing those things before. So we’re progressing.”
Describing the work-rate during Sunday’s 3-0 win over Kilmarnock as “immense”, Butcher noted an extra resilience in his players. It is in marked contrast to the meek way they surrendered to Inverness Caledonian Thistle, for example, in November, as Butcher waited for his move between the clubs to be officially ratified. “When I watched Inverness win at Easter Road on that infamous day when I was in limbo, there was a lot of power in that Caley team,” he reflected. “On Sunday, there was a lot of power in the Hibs team and a lot of steel, too.
“So we’ve come a long way in a short space of time but there’s still a long way to go. We didn’t quite know what was here when we took over but, since getting in, we’ve realised that there are some really good players at this club. They are now starting to express themselves better, which comes from having confidence and knowing what they are supposed to be doing.
“I don’t think there is a softness about Hibs now – five clean sheets out of seven games is pretty good. And it’s not as though the boys are flying into tackles or being over-physical because we haven’t had many bookings recently – only two in the last three.
Butcher’s relationship with Ross County manager Derek Adams was sometimes tested by the high passion of the Highland derbies. However, he already enjoys Hearts manager Gary Locke’s company. Indeed, the pair sat together at the Livingston v Raith Rovers clash last weekend, although they pointedly avoided the subject of tomorrow’s meeting. “We play Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup plus one of our players [Callum Booth] plays for Raith Rovers so that is why we were there watching the game,” explained Butcher. “It was a good chance to watch Callum play and I spoke to Callum as well just to say we are watching him and were looking forward to working with him. I sat next to Gary and I get on well with Gary as he is a good lad. We swap texts regularly.”
Butcher says they will share a beer together after the final whistle, something that is particularly apposite on a day that will be so pregnant with emotion. Both clubs have lost young players in recent days and the match is intended to act as a tribute to both Jamie Skinner and David Paul, who passed away on the same traumatic weekend late last month.
“I am sure it will bring both clubs together before the game and after, but surely during it no as we will let battle commence,” said Butcher. “I think that is what Jamie and David would have liked and enjoyed in the past.”