The answer is Martin Boyle, who was discombobulated by Dundee United’s 6-2 hammering of his Dundee team on New Year’s Day, 2015 and two days later didn’t really seem to have recovered equilibrium when suddenly and surprisingly finding himself in a Hibernian shirt for the all-Edinburgh clash at Tynecastle.
But, six years on, just look at him now. Fastest man alive (unconfirmed, but who from the SPFL are you putting up against him?). Airmiles record-holder (confirmed, he plays for Australia). Drooled-over Sportscene tiny dancer. And wanted in Saudi Arabia.
Now, the killers of journalist Jamal Khashoggi are wanted in Saudi Arabia but that’s another story, although maybe not entirely unconnected. This is a country desperate to improve its lamentable image in the eyes of the world regarding human rights. One way to attempt that is sportswashing by diverting tournaments or luring performers to the kingdom with the promise of seriously fattened bank balances, as the Al-Faisaly club have done in their pursuit of Boyle.
As yet his suitors haven’t met Hibs’ asking price but it’s some narrative the player is writing for himself, given that his best goal stats still come from his two spells as a Gable Endie with Montrose – and it’s a tale worth retelling as he contemplates the big decision which will shape the rest of his career.
“Pleasingly obscure” would pretty much sum up his first calendar year as a Hibee. Alan Stubbs was the manager who initially took him on loan from Dundee in a swap deal which sent Alex Harris up to Tayside. Harris had once looked like the future for Hibs, which only served to remind that butterflies flutter by and wingers often do similar.
This winger was a substitute in that capital derby in the Championship. I was working at the game and, looking startled, Boyle afterwards described the 48 hours between the games as “epic” and hoped he could bring “some busy-ness, some speed and some goals” to Hibs.
But he didn’t make many starts in 2015, the move becoming permanent that summer. His speed was apparent when he did play; he had it to burn. No longer rabbit in the headlines, he could outrun the mechanical ones at greyhound tracks. So when the part-time opposition tired Boyle would be unleashed. He was, though, a bit of a circus turn – the product of a cartoon mash-up between Speedy Gonzales and Road Runner, possibly involving Alvin and the Chipmunks as well and resulting in the nickname “Squirrel” – but one with a smile and a personality.
In the first half of 2016 and the run to two Hampden showpieces, the arrival of Anthony Stokes continued to deny him game-time. There was a sensational volleyed winner from the bench against Livingston – find it on YouTube; Liam Henderson is the first to sense danger and leap for cover – but he was only a 94th-minute replacement in the lost League Cup final and didn’t get on the pitch at all when the Scottish Cup hoodoo was smashed.
Enter, though, Neil Lennon and Boyle’s fortunes dramatically changed. Charged with securing promotion back to the top-flight, Lenny decided that to get the hell out of Dodge, two wingers would be needed. Boyle grabbed his opportunity and has barely stopped running since.
When he was halted by injury, it did for Paul Heckingbottom. Every time he’s been out injured – there have been two long-ish spells – the fans in Leith have wondered if he’d come back slightly less rocket-propelled but so far he’s been able to hitch up his shorts for extra streamlining and get racing again.
Boyle will, though, slow down eventually. And with pace being such a weapon for him, and with his 29th birthday approaching, he may be starting to think about how he’s probably not going to have as long in football as the virtually static holding midfielder – step forward, Lenny, or rather don’t – and that a move of this magnitude is desirable.
The Saudi city of Harmah, home to Al-Faisaly, is a long way from Links Park, Montrose where Boyle began and just as far from Easter Road, though it’s nearer to Oz for internationals. The human rights issue, however, is a live one: Amnesty International have criticised Spain’s football federation for taking the country’s Super Cup there – the final is today – and while golfers and boxers have found the appearance money too tempting to resist, Matt Gentry, agent to that well-known Hibby, Andy Murray, confirmed about the tennis great on Friday: “He’s turned down stuff in Saudi and I don’t think he would play there just because of what’s gone on.”
The money will be boggling. I think of how gobsmacked Boyle was six years ago under Tynecastle’s old main stand while trying to process his move from one Scottish club to another. Now the fans who’ve watched him grow into Hibs’ most valuable player are taking a moment to reflect on his stint in green and white, if indeed it’s drawing to a close.
Would they miss him, the funny wee guy always last out of the tunnel, who didn’t seem to like Hampden until that spectacular hat-trick, whose doing down of Rangers matches the feat of Ivan Sproule, who in the annals of Hibee wingerdom is definitely faster than Alan O’Brien and, er, Tony Higgins and, um, Derek Townsley but maybe not Arthur Duncan, who isn’t as good-looking as Peter Marinello and can’t tackle for toffee but who cares when he gets everyone out of their seats?
Just a bit, they would.