Hibs' Harry McKirdy opens up on being a maverick, standing out in Scotland, social media storm and what he needs when season resumes

When Harry McKirdy answers the door, the bright orange slippers are the only real nod to the colourful and more individual style shown by the man who has been tagged as a maverick more than a few times in his football career.

Hibs forward Harry McKirdy has only played 230 since arriving from Swindon Town in the summer.
Hibs forward Harry McKirdy has only played 230 since arriving from Swindon Town in the summer.

The back to front cap (in Chelsea blue, of course) covers the latest hair do, and the oversized jeans and jumper, while a clear deviation from the monochrome tracksuits preferred by many of his peers, are pretty subdued for a man who has been known to push the boat out when it comes to pattern, colour and fit.

“I certainly standout in certain ways; the way I dress and I know I can be loud from time to time and maybe some of my opinions are different. I don’t mind if they call me a maverick,” says the 25-year-old who often looks like he would be more at home among skateboarders, surfers, snowboarders or festival goers than mainstream sportsmen.

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From long locks, to bleached styles, hair topiary and statement mohawks, he is not afraid to break from the mould. That applies to life off the park but also to the way he likes to play the game.

McKirdy and Hibs have struggled with recent form.

“I never really sit and think about the labels I get. I think it is all about different cultures. It depends where you’re from and where you go out because I can go out somewhere else and it is all normal but when I come to Scotland, it’s different.”

Donning what he considered a toned down look for a recent night out in the capital, he says he received plenty of strange looks but, despite ramping it up a good few notches a couple of nights later, for an evening out on home turf, the people in London barely registered his presence.

“There is a different sense of style and fashion, so I do stand out more here but I don't do it as a conscious thing, just to be different, it’s just what I like wearing.

“I don’t get too much stick in the dressing room, to be honest. I think they are just used to it now. I’ve not had a normal haircut since I've been here!”

McKirdy had an excellent season in the 2021/22 campaign with Swindon.

If how he fits in depends on perspective, it is a fine metaphor for life. Turning heads on life’s catwalk, McKirdy is still searching for the opportunity to stand out on the pitch.

Hibs should be the natural fit. They have had individualistic talents before, guys with a bit of edge, who maybe didn’t conform. From George Best to Derek Riordan, they were adored by a fan base that considers itself less establishment, more Bohemian; the cool kids, who set trends, rather than follow.

But McKirdy hasn’t yet shown that flair on the park. He has had to content himself with just 230 minutes since forcing through a deadline-day transfer from Swindon Town to the Leith side, and he admits that after the best season of his career, where he scored 24 goals in 44 games and picked up Player of the Year accolades and made it into the EFL League Two Team of the Year, it has been a tough three months.

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“It hasn’t been an ideal start for me or the team but it is still early doors. There is still two thirds of the season to go so there’s no need to be too upset … but, I need goals. I need to be playing football. Unless I’m doing that I will never be as happy as I could be

McKirdy pictured during his time at Port Vale.

“At the beginning we were winning games and whether you like it or not, gaffers don’t tend to change a winning team so that was easier to accept. I was also suspended at the beginning and then there was an injury. So I have to bide my time but I won’t ever be happy not playing.”

A graduate of Aston Villa’s academy, he had loan spells at Stevenage, Crewe Alexandra and Newport County while on their books. And it was while at the Railwaymen that then gaffer David Artell revealed that McKirdy had been so keen to get competitive game time that he had offered to pay his own way, if money proved a stumbling block.

“I always want to be playing. If you take a look at my career, you can tell it hasn't been that lucrative, earning tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands like other lads. I have not gone to clubs to earn money. I want to be playing and enjoying it at the level I am at. I am 25, nearly 26 now, and I got my first real taste of it last year when I was playing week in week out and I just want that to continue. I need to find a way to make sure that it is constant now for the rest of my career.”

Last month, Hibs boss Lee Johnson had to offer clarification after a social media interaction with Swindon Town was misconstrued. The initial post read: “Time to come back @HarryMcKirdy” and failing to register how it might read to Hibs fans, the Englishman replied: “Not wrong.”

“I didn't really think it was that much of a deal. If you look at my social media from before then you can tell that I have always been honest. It’s maybe not a traditional footballer’s [account] but if I was genuinely unhappy and didn’t want to be here then people would know about it because I would come out and say it but that wasn't the case. It was a bit of tongue in cheek but then I saw the reaction from certain fans! I thought that was a bit extreme. It was never that I didn't want to be here. I came here for a reason.

“Yeah, whatever has happened in your life, if it has happened for six or nine months then you get used to that and it becomes reality. I was used to playing every week, used to scoring most weeks and I was enjoying it and having fun. But when that is gone, that’s hard. It’s not nice but I’m not going to just chuck the towel in and go back there. I wanted something different. It takes time, though. I have been involved in only eight games. If I had played eight, nine or 10 games and played 90 m minutes each time and still been nowhere near it that’s when I’d start think that maybe the level is too high but that’s not been the case. I just need to get that run of games and see what happens then.”

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The World Cup is on in the background, the large TV jostling for position with the beautifully-decorated Christmas tree. It seems incongruous. And while it has McKirdy pining for a summer tournament where he can sit in a sun-soaked beer garden among like-minded people, cheering on Gareth Southgate’s men, rather than annexed among the Auld Enemy, in the dark and cold of winter, he has appreciated the World Cup hiatus.

“It has probably come at a good time for us because we weren’t in good form, I wasn't playing or scoring so it wasn’t like I was thinking ‘please don’t stop’. I don’t think the fans enjoyed the last four or five games either but it is all about us turning that around when we get back. It has felt really stop-start since I’ve been here. I am hoping to use this time as a pre-season.”

Growing up in London, as a Chelsea fan, he revered role models like Frank Lampard, John Terry, Joe Cole, and Didier Drogba and played against, and became mates with the likes of Ben Chilwell and “a few of the Chelsea lads”. He admits his career has not hit the same heights. But he says he can’t have any regrets.

“I have to be honest, I haven’t enjoyed it all and there have been times when it has been horrendous. In football your face has to fit and you have to suit a certain system and I have now got to the stage where I have picked up a bit of a reputation and that is hard to get rid of.

“As soon as you do one little thing then people hark back to the past and you get judged. Some people shy away from that and other people see me as a free hit. If a manager gets me playing, they think they look like a genius: ‘I got him playing when others couldn’t’. But if they don’t then they say: ‘It’s him, it’s not me. Look at his reputation’. As hard as I have tried to change that, it is probably just the way it’s going to be. I just need to not give them an excuse now.

“Yeah, it is tough to have regrets because I have so many good memories of playing football. I do play football as a job and there are a lot worse jobs out there. I have had some great times and met some great people. I maybe haven't played at the level that you grow up dreaming of as a young kid but I have made some of my best friends in football and enjoyed some of the best days ever.”

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As a Chelsea fan he admits berating poor performances even by his mates at Stamford Bridge, but concedes he finds it hard to fathom how punters think abuse will bring out the best in players. Someone who has shown mental resilience throughout his career as he was moved on from Villa, was deselected from the Port Vale squad and weathered other on and off-field storms, he is determined to win over the Hibs fans.

But if past managers, like Steven Pressley have noted that “he takes a bit of managing, but he's a good kid underneath that”, they have also worked with him on his mindset. He admits to being a confidence player and while he has struggled so far this season, less than a year ago he walked out against Manchester City with some swagger because he had notched four against Northampton the previous week and backed up that self-belief with a goal against Pep Guardiola’s men.

McKirdy, though, is a guy waging an internal war as he seeks to find the right balance between operating within the rules, while retaining his right to expression. “As a player, I’ve always been part of the academy system and it is about knowing what you are doing tactically but then also having that freedom to go out there and enjoy yourself, express yourself, try to entertain.”

That need to express himself cost him a three-match and a £1500 fine as he tossed a protein shake over the referees dressing room after he was sent off against Salford in August.

“I actually wanted the club to complain about the referees because the performance from them was a disgrace. I still think that what I did was not as bad as ruining a game of football. When you look at it that way, comparing throwing a protein shake that goes over a bit of clothes or ruining a game of football that people have come to see on a Saturday, in my head there is one that is much worse than the other but one gets highlighted and one doesn’t. That’s the way it is for a footballer. We are judged differently.”

Judged for what they write on social media, judged for what they wear, and for who they support. But all that is whimsy because if McKirdy was to report back for the remainder of the season, having unearthed the goalscoring form he showed at Swindon, and slotted home a winner against the likes of Rangers or Hearts, Hibs fans would judge him on that.

“Yeah, it’s all good when you are scoring and you’re winning. Then everyone is happy and everyone loves you. I think it’s the world we live in at the moment. It is a fickle place.”