Danny Swanson really knows how to fan the flames but he does it with a mischievous grin on his face.
As the former Hearts winger looked forward to next season as a Hibernian player, he moved to quash some of the rumours he helped start and revealed that he only ever signed for the Gorgie club because neither Hibernian nor St Johnstone would take him at that time.
“Here’s something,” he said after playing his final game for St Johnstone and helping them to a 1-0 victory over his former employers. “I texted Alan Stubbs before I signed for Hearts. I had also phoned Tommy Wright before I signed for Hearts to try and get something sorted but it never happened. I was excited to sign for Hearts but I tried to get Hibs. Alan Stubbs said no. So I ended up going to Hearts and I played really well, not!”
Turning up at Tynecastle in September 2015, he tried to play down his Hibernian allegiances, relying heavily on his mother’s family Hearts loyalties and lamenting the fact that his maternal grandfather had not lived to see him pull on the maroon jersey. He has sheepishly admitted that it was a ploy to ingratiate himself and moved to set the record straight.
“I’m getting it out there now. I remember giving an interview when I was at Hearts...I had to try to get them onside so I was giving it out that I was a Hearts fan. For the record, I have never been a Hearts fan. Definitely not! My granny is a Hearts fan but the other stuff wasn’t true. People are still asking me if I’m a Hearts fan. No chance!”
The attacking midfielder, who is now 30, knows that he will get a hot reception when the sides meet up in the first derby of the new season but he is looking forward to his role as pantomime villain. It was his pass that released Chris Kane for the only goal of the game in St Johnstone’s midweek triumph and as he celebrated he could not resist a fist pump in the direction of the travelling support.
“You’ve got to! I have been slaughtered enough by them. It is all part of the game. You give it out, you take it,” he said. That reaction, allied to his previous dazzling displays against the Tynecastle side since parting company in February 2016, attracted a lot of boos and that chorus was repeated when he was substituted. But it has only amplified the excited anticipation he feels ahead of his first capital head-to-head.
“I have been to a lot of them and it’s not been great for Hibs, the ones I used to go to. It wasn’t nice. But I can’t wait for the derbies next season. They will be nervous times but I’m looking forward to them.”
The move is a gamble, with Hibernian returning to the Premiership after a three-season exile in the second tier and Swanson leaving a club and a manager he admits have given him a fresh lease of life.
Suspended for Saturday’s final league game, against Rangers, he took his final bow on Wednesday night, carrying his son on as a mascot as he bade what turned out to be an emotional farewell to the club. Twice he has headed to Perth to get his career back on track, when he was seeking first-team football and a return north while still contracted to Coventry. And he did enough in that loan spell to encourage Tommy Wright to welcome him back after things went awry at Hearts. The pair have their own mutual appreciation society, with the manager keen to keep hold of him, but respecting his decision to move to Leith, while Swanson has nothing but gratitude for the man who has brought the best out of him in recent years.
“It has been a big decision for me. I have really enjoyed my football here. It was only because it was Hibs. I did have other options and I was wanting to sign here. But once Hibs came for me I changed my mind, right away.”
“I lost my friend Shaun Woodburn on Hogmanay,” he said of the junior footballer who died following an incident outside Swanson’s father’s pub, in Leith. “It was a hard time. He was always saying ‘come on, sign for Hibs’. That had a big part to play in it as well. I’m just glad I have the chance to do it for him.
“I’m really looking forward to playing for Hibs but I can’t say anything negative about St Johnstone. I’ve loved it here. The gaffer, Callum [Davidson] and Eck [Alec Cleland] have been brilliant with me, the boys as well. You won’t find a better bunch.”
But aware that he may not have many more chances to make the switch to Easter Road he has allowed himself to be ruled by emotion. “I have a great relationship with the gaffer but ever since I was a wee boy I have wanted to play for Hibs. That’s never changed. I have turned them down a couple of times to try and play at the highest level in England but I always felt I was destined to end up there. Thankfully it has happened.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the bottle to tell the gaffer at first. I was really nervous. We’d had a lot of chats about me staying but it never really materialised. But in the end, to be fair to St Johnstone, they offered me a really good deal. Money-wise it was above and beyond what I expected.
“At the time I wouldn’t say the gaffer was angry, he was a bit disappointed I didn’t sign here but I had told him about other clubs’ interest and who it was and said I had turned them down to stay [at St Johnstone]. I told him if it wasn’t Hibs I’d still be here. But the gaffer has never changed and that is something I really respect him for. He has resurrected my career. He has let me go and play and enjoy myself.
“I have been here twice now but the gaffer has said he can’t save me again. So I need this to work out! It was a big thing for me to leave on good terms and it couldn’t have worked out any better. It was emotional and I was a bit sad in the changing room with the boys. We’ve another game left but I am suspended so I’m looking forward to the summer and getting back to play for Hibs.”
And, no doubt, renewing acquaintances with the Hearts supporters.