Interview: Kevin Thomson on his part in Hibs' cup triumph

Veteran is stepping down a few levels and regrets not being in Hibs' cup final squad '“ but he still played his part in the win

Kevin Thomson at training this week with his new team-mates at Tranent Juniors. Picture: Neil Hanna
Kevin Thomson at training this week with his new team-mates at Tranent Juniors. Picture: Neil Hanna

The roar of the crowd is not forever. Just ask David Cameron, now becalmed on the backbenches. Just ask Kevin Thomson, the former £2 million player whose sudden drop in status aged only 31 must be considered almost as startling.

“It isn’t like Easter Road,” Thomson says, with reference to Foresters Park, where Tranent Juniors, his new club, are based. It certainly isn’t. Not that we meet at the home of the Belters, as they are perhaps not better known.

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Instead, it is the rather more corporate, cushioned surroundings of a Starbucks in central Edinburgh. It was here Thomson, as per a text from him earlier this week, confirmed he was able to set aside time to meet The Scotsman before a coffee appointment with “Scotty”. It is particularly appreciated since he is in the midst of a heart-wrenching pet-related trauma, more of which later.

For those not in the know, “Scotty” is Scotty Brown. The pair have remained fast friends since their time together at Hibs, a close bond, it is gladdening to note, that survived time spent on opposite sides of the Old Firm divide.

For those charged with chronicling the latest chapter in the adventures of Thomson’s career, it is useful for comparison purposes to know of this later meeting with Brown, whose business card includes this twin boast: skipper of Scotland and the current Scottish champions.

Meanwhile Thomson, only eight months older and whose career once seemed to run in parallel with Brown’s until injuries started to take their toll, is preparing for a season in the East Premier League.

While Brown’s conversation was no doubt peppered with reference to Celtic’s trip on board a plush charter jet to Kazakhstan for their Champions League qualifier against Astana next week, Thomson likely addressed the possibility of making his debut in the – ahem – maroon of Tranent in this afternoon’s friendly against Scottish Junior Cup holders Beith Juniors.

Thomson accepts the lowering of standard with good grace. “Obviously you meet lovely people through football and some not so nice people, but I have always been humble, whether it has been through success or failure,” he says. “I am the same with the boys at Tranent. A lot of them, or all of them, are nine to five every day and then come to training. Here I am, sitting here having a nice coffee. My life is completely different but I am still humbled by the fact they enjoy playing footie and I am enjoying being part of it.”

Thomson familiarised himself with his new base last weekend when attending Tranent’s 5-2 win over Preston Athletic (“they’ve a big squad,” he explained. “I wasn’t needed for that one.”) Anyway, he heard a text ping on his phone. It was timely, because he and Scott Bain, his one-time Dundee goalkeeper team-mate to whom he grew close during his spell at Dens Park, had just been talking about goalies.

Somewhere the currently out-of-contract Conrad Logan’s ears pricked up, perhaps alerted by some form of goalkeeper karma. Whatever the impetus, he felt the need to text Thomson – at 3:33 pm, his old team-mate recalls. Such precision that serves as a jolt to the interviewer since it suggests Thomson is a stickler for accuracy.

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“Hey Legend, how are you?” Logan, for whom this status could also apply after his Scottish Cup heroics with Hibs, asked.

“I sent him a pic of the surroundings and told him I was watching my new team. He replied: ‘happy days mate. At least you have got a team!’ ”

Thomson could have answered: at least you have got a Scottish Cup winner’s medal. Clearly, 21 May was a happy day, of course it was. But there is a part of Thomson that wishes it was different. Casting aside events that followed the final whistle, Hibs’ Scottish Cup win over Rangers seemed perfect in almost every way as far as their fans were concerned – the comeback from 2-1 down, the last-minute winner, the sunshine. But there was one little reported element of the afternoon that felt slightly unsatisfactory.

Thomson, the boyhood Hibee, was not included in the cup final squad by manager Alan Stubbs. His already slim chances of playing were scuppered by Dylan McGeouch’s declaration of fitness on the eve of the game. Thomson encouraged McGeouch to play, in doing so helping wreck a sublime crescendo to his own senior playing career.

Possibly unfairly, they don’t award medals for keeping your side in the tournament with a goalline clearance in the dying moments of a fifth-round tie against your fiercest rivals. “All my pals and the people who sing for Kevin Thomson know I had a big hand in that Scottish Cup win, but I never had a hand in the cup final itself,” Thomson laments. “I cleared one off the line in the 93rd minute at Tynecastle. If that went in we were out.”

“You have memories but you don’t have anything to show for it as such; that’s a bit of a dampener,” he adds. “I think the club could potentially buy them. I’d be willing to pay for one myself and stick it in my collection. We did ask George Craig [Hibs’ head of football operations], Dave Gray made the point it was not very fair for the boys who didn’t play. He was saying: ‘you still played a big part’. I maybe played a bigger part than some of the boys who sat on the bench.”

Thomson already has nine medals, including runners-up ones. But the medal in May would have been an extra-special winner’s one, earned by the club after 114 years of perseverance. “It’s just a shame I couldn’t make it ten with the Scottish Cup, it would have been a special one for me,” he says. “Ten is a nicer number than nine. But some people probably wouldn’t even think I have nine.”

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Although he would have considered playing just one game his third spell at the club as a bonus, there is some frustration at how things panned out. “If Hibs got beat and I was playing, it was my fault, and when Hibs won and I played great, I was expected to play great,” he says.

Perhaps this is a reference to one cup final in which Thomson did appear for Hibs last season; the League Cup final defeat by Ross County. Thomson was blamed for uncharacteristically surrendering possession before one of County’s two goals. If there’s a theme to our discussion on this lunchtime it is that Thomson believes he was often under-appreciated. He has a point.

“That’s the way it has been throughout my career,” he shrugs.

He watched the Scottish Cup final from the stand, suited and booted. Lacking John Terry’s chutzpah, he never considered changing into his kit for the trophy presentation. But if you look closely at the photograph of the players celebrating in the changing room afterwards, he’s there.

“You see the back of my head!” says Thomson. “When the photographer came in I wasn’t going to jump in front, it is not my style.”

But he is not there now, for reasons he is comfortable with. Had circumstances been different, had Stubbs remained in charge, he wonders… what if?

“I’d like to have thought because I’d played for next to nothing for five months there would have been a door opening for me in the academy,” he says. He did help with the Under 15s for a while, assisting Lee Makel, and adored the experience. Already armed with both A and B coaching licences, Thomson is certainly qualified.

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“I thoroughly enjoyed it; big thanks to the club for allowing me to do it,” he says. “It was something I would have loved to take a step into. It is like when you are a player, you need a door to open. Unfortunately there was not one there open for me. I hoped there would be. That’s one of the factors why I went back.”

He stresses Stubbs contacted him after he had a agreed a package to leave Dundee, worn down by a combination of injury and travel to and fro the city from Edinburgh, something he describes as particularly gruesome when the Forth Road bridge was shut.

“But I am a realist,” he adds, with reference to his latest departure from Hibs. “I know what football is like. Things change, managers move on. I asked the club if it was possible [to stay on and coach] as I was considering retiring. But, as it stood, it wasn’t. I had to reassess my options.

“When Alan left I knew there would be nothing for me in a playing sense, because Scotty had already spoken to Lenny [Neil Lennon] for me. Lenny had said there was potentially not a lot of money to play with and he needed strikers rather than midfielders.”

But even so, it’s possible to sense that Thomson has already achieved what he most dearly wanted to achieve; mend whatever rift had developed between him and the Hibs supporters, dating back to when he left for Rangers in 2007.

He was accused of being a money-grabber, of leaving Hibs in the lurch midway through a season in which they ended up winning the League Cup. This was a detail in which the Easter Road fans revelled after what they interpreted as betrayal.

But of course, it is possible to argue Thomson had the last laugh. Not that he treats it this way. At Rangers, and then Middlesbrough, he accumulated the wealth allowing him to make the recent decision to move away from professional football. But, more importantly, he won the league as well as the League Cup in his first full campaign at Ibrox. He played in a Uefa Cup final in the season after that.

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“I don’t think anyone could argue it was not the right move for me at the time,” he says now. But has the first difficult parting of ways with Hibs been forgiven? “I hope so,” he says.

“It is my club, it was my team growing up,” he says. “I was fortunate my dad took me to the Skol Cup final in ’91, I waited on London Road for the boys coming back, 25 years later I was involved in the best day in the club’s history.”

He is still tangled up in the club. His elder son, Jackson, rates Jason Cummings as his favourite player – “he wants the hair, everything,” smiles Thomson, who believes he will return again one day, as coach – or, perhaps, as manager. You wouldn’t bet against it.

As well as Brown, he still sees some of the old gang – or at least keeps up with them. Garry O’Connor’s son Josh trains at Tranent juniors, where Thomson is set to take part in coaching duties as well as play. Thomson also corresponds with Derek Riordan on What’s App.

“I did actually try and get him to Tranent but he wasn’t really interested,” he says. “I don’t want to pry into Deeks’ reasons but I did ask him what he would be doing next season. I am not sure if junior football interests him right now.”

On a whole different level to Thomson, any discussion about Riordan’s career has to broach the question of wasted talent. In Riordan’s case it was attitude that hampered his progress as opposed to Thomson’s constant battles with injury. Rather than wasted, Thomson’s talent was, ultimately, broken. The catalogue of ailments is wince inducing.

“Two ACL reconstructions, one on each knee,” he explains. “I have had my cruciates done and then I have had four broken legs.” In all, he reckons he lost about three and a half years of his prime to injury. But he struggled on – and, at times, it really was a case of struggling. A team-mate at Tranent recently asked how many games he had played. “More than you might think,” replied Thomson. And certainly more than listed on some internet sites.

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“I played something like 106, 107 games for Rangers but when you go on Wikipedia, it only shows league games – it is about 80 or something. I suppose it doesn’t bother you when you are playing, But when you come to the end, you want it to be right.”

Of course, Thomson it is not quite at “the end” yet thanks to Tranent. There is no need to prepare an obituary yet. Which brings us to the issue of Gem, one of the family’s two chocolate brown Labradors. By the time you read this, she will have sadly gone to the kennel in the sky. One of Thomson’s chores yesterday was to take the nine-year-old, stricken with cancer, to the vet to be put down. Both she and sister Keira date from when Thomson was a player at Rangers.

While it is clearly a great wrench, perhaps Thomson is better qualified than most to take a pragmatic view. After all, he reveals the startling news that one factor behind his premature retirement from the senior game is to be free to go stalking, on some land he leases near Oban.

“I have not told the manager [Gary Small] yet,” he smiles. “But I have three or four days on the stags in October when the rut is on. I will drive up and book a wee B & B and stalk in the morning and at night.”

While it might not be news to his critics, those such as Terry Butcher, Maurice Malpas and John Collins, Thomson really does consider himself to be a big shot.

“I used to do the beating for pheasants when I was younger growing up in Peebles,” he explains. “I used to have an air rifle and my mates would have wee .22 round-fire bullet guns. A few stayed on farms so we would go and shoot rabbits. Their dads were also into shooting and would need beaters, so I would go and do that when I was not playing footie.

“I used to tell myself I would love to be those guys in the Range Rovers instead of being soaked and dragging a flag through a bush.”

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So joining Tranent juniors doesn’t necessarily mean the end of Thomson’s big game hunter days after all. But in a sense, without being too crass following the loss of one of Thomson’s beloved Labradors, is his stepping down to the junior ranks not the footballer’s equivalent of going to the knacker’s yard? Perhaps.

Yet credit to Thomson for battling on, for not being too proud to put himself in a position in which he knows he will be a target for some mockery, or perhaps some “special treatment” from players with barely an ounce of his talent.

If such hard knocks don’t come this weekend against Beith, they might come on Tuesday night versus Whitehill Welfare. Or even next Saturday, against… a Hibs XI.