Kevin Thomson: Scott Brown is more than just a leader

'I loved playing against him' says Kevin Thomson, left ' challenging Scott Brown in the 2013 Scottish Cup final. Picture: SNS.
'I loved playing against him' says Kevin Thomson, left ' challenging Scott Brown in the 2013 Scottish Cup final. Picture: SNS.
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Ten years ago, almost to the day, I signed for Rangers from Hibernian. My best mate, Scott Brown, joined Celtic 
later the same year.

I’d love to still be playing of course, winning medals, trophies and 
Scotland caps like him. I’d certainly never be bitter towards Scott. That’s not the way I’m made.

But I can’t deny that I am envious as he passes the 400-games mark for Celtic. I’d like to think if I never had the body I had, never suffered the injuries I did, I could have done the same with Rangers.

But that won’t ever stop me 
saluting Scotty. The two of us were always close. A group of us all came through together at Hibs. It’s like we all started school the same day. It’s that kind of bond.

I won’t be happy if he doesn’t ask me to play in his testimonial – he better not forget about me! I am not sure Rangers fans would appreciate me wearing a hooped top but I’d love to play, if it meant it was for Scotty. That’s how much he means to me. Maybe it will be Hibs v Celtic, with some of the players he played with at the Hibees.

He was a centre-forward when he first broke into the team. When we played in the youth team together he played up front.

He actually used to score a lot of goals. He was tenacious. He must have been horrible to play against for a back four. He never gave anyone a second. We used to have ding dongs about who was going to be top scorer – and because I used to set up all his goals he used to beat me!

When he first broke into the Hibs team, perhaps more so under Tony Mowbray, he played wider on the right. He used to be more an attacking player as such, a final third kind of player, driving the team forward.

The fact top managers such as Gordon Strachan and Brendan Rodgers trust him so implicitly says everything. A lot of people have this perception of what he is, a skinhead, someone who wants to be the hard man. But off the pitch every single player loves him.

They love him in the changing room. He’s a joker, he is at the centre of everything. Any manager who inherits the squad at both his clubs will see him as a big factor in making the changing room happy. He is any manager’s dream – you want people like that in the changing room.

Because the squad has changed over the years with different managers, and it can be a difficult environment for new players coming in from different clubs, Scotty has performed a crucial function with Scotland. He brings everyone together.

That’s one reason why Gordon wants so desperately for him to continue his Scotland career; I can see both arguments. But as a Scotland fan, I hope he does.

But he is more than just a leader. He is a great player in his own right. I played with him and against him when I was younger. Obviously we parted when I went to Middlesbrough but I watched him on television.

I feel he has got better as he has got older. I noticed just how good on the ball he is when I was called back into the Scotland squad four years ago, when I was back at Hibs for a second spell.

I had a ten-day trip with him, for games against Belgium and Macedonia, and that was the first time I had trained with him for several years. His passing was crisp and everything he did with the ball felt like it had gone up a notch.

I loved playing against him. He hands me compliments – he always says I was the hardest player he played against up here. He was in a good Celtic team and I was in a good Rangers team. We never spoke leading up to the game. It just felt easier that way.

We used to have battles though, crashing into each other. He got sent off for allegedly head-butting Kyle Lafferty. We were going away with Scotland that week, we had a game against Czech Republic on the Tuesday night.

He travelled with Steven Whittaker and myself to Mar Hall, the team base. Two Rangers players and a Celtic player, straight after an Old Firm game – which we won! We had to bundle him into our car outside Ibrox. He actually scored the winner for Scotland in that game. Although he gets a kick in the teeth, he always bounces back.

But when considering Scotty, I suppose I look back with extra fondness to our time at Hibs. We shared a flat together, just off the Royal Mile. That was the time in your career when it was like playing with your pals. Moving on playing at Rangers, it was a job, a responsibility. It was a responsibility at Hibs too – don’t get me wrong.

I was a fan, so I was desperate to do my very best. I’d like to think we did well for the club. You always get the few who, because you signed for a rival team, will never, ever accept you. That’s part and parcel of footie.

But playing youth football together, living together, that gave us an extra bond. Later in my career, when you start playing with men, when you are a man yourself, you go to training, work hard and then go back to be with your family. 
But at Hibs the players were your family. That’s how it felt.