Callum Booth is reflecting on how his career is perceived to have stalled – or, indeed, gone backwards. He remains a Hibernian player, but is currently with Raith Rovers. Booth is planning to return to his parent club in possession of a cup winners’ medal following this weekend’s Ramsdens Cup final clash against Rangers, which is being held at Easter Road.
Some might contend that he is better where he is, as players continue to see their reputations harmed at Hibs. Because of their team’s struggles, Booth’s return is one that is being eagerly anticipated by the Hibs supporters. This was pointed out to him yesterday.
“That’s nice of you to say,” replied the 22 year-old. “Hopefully I will be back next season. Maybe [being out on loan] has done me good, maybe it was bad. Obviously you’re not going to be happy if you are not playing.”
Whether or not he was meant to be the “next big thing” is a moot point. He was certainly expected to be a Hibs player for the foreseeable future after making his debut in 2011 under Colin Calderwood. His subsequent performances convinced the then-manager to view the teenager as his first-choice left-back. But, when Calderwood severed ties with the club later that same year, Booth says he was met by a wall of silence – “there was nothing, it wasn’t the best” – from the replacement, Pat Fenlon.
It became very clear that the Irishman did not rate the full-back. Or at least he did not feel he could count on one so young while attempting to steer Hibs away from relegation. Still, it was a surprise when Booth was allowed to go out on loan, initially to Livingston and then Raith.
It was even more surprising when it emerged that Fenlon had not insisted on the insertion of a clause preventing the player being selected should Hibs be drawn against Raith in a cup competition, as happened earlier this season. By this time Fenlon had been sacked, which suddenly helped resuscitate Booth’s hopes of playing again for Hibs.
He hasn’t appeared for the club since being replaced at half-time in a 2-0 League Cup defeat to Queen of the South at the start of last season. Even this appearance was his first since the 3-2 home defeat to St Johnstone in January 2012, in which he scored. He was given no explanation as to why he became so quickly exiled from the team.
“Up until that point, my career had been good,” he said. “Everything had been on the up. I was playing for Scotland Under 21s and I hadn’t really had a knock-back. So to get a little bit of a knock-back under the previous manager, I was not going to sulk. It just meant I was going to go on loan for two seasons.
“When I go back, I will be the better for it,” he added. “There is definitely unfinished business for me at Hibs.”
Current manager Terry Butcher gave Booth a boost when he phoned him two months ago to say he was looking forward to seeing him in pre-season training. He has a year left on his contract. But first, he is concentrating on what can still be achieved with Raith.
Considering he is only there on loan, he has been impressively committed to Raith. He has moved house from Haddington to Dunfermline to make the commute easier. He describes himself as a “better person as well as a better player”. As he says, he hasn’t sulked and neither has he obsessed about what might have been at Hibs. “I am still a professional footballer,” he pointed out. “I am still happy to be playing football.”
He has played “every single minute I have been available to play” for Raith, which has helped his continued development as a player. The cup final has been a long time coming. When Raith secured their place in the final back in mid-October, they were still in the hunt for promotion. Now they are simply seeking to ensure they remain at a comfortable distance from the drop zone.
“Obviously we are going in as the underdogs – and rightly so,” Booth said, despite the opposition coming from a league below. “They have the bigger budget and are expected to win. But we have played cup matches as the underdog this season – away to Dundee and away to Hibs – and it might suit us. We can play with a bit of freedom.”