Lennard Sowah learned about club rivalries at a young age but as a youth player he also discovered that sometimes the head has to rule the heart.
Which is why, although he grew up a Hamburg fan, and later signed for his boyhood heroes, he first donned the colours of city rivals St Pauli and helped them to a resounding victory over the team he supported. “It was a little bit tough because I am actually a Hamburg fan,” said the German-born Hearts full-back. “At the time when I went to St Pauli, they were better than Hamburg. So it was definitely a hard decision. I think I was around 11 years old when I went to St Pauli so I was like ‘I don’t want to play for them’, but they were better and I had the offer from them and I didn’t have an offer from Hamburg. I was playing for a small club in Hamburg at non-league level. I wanted to play at a higher level so I went.
“Some of my friends support Hamburg, some of them St Pauli. I have loads of friends who play for both teams as well so it wasn’t really a big issue for them that I played for that team [when I supported another] and some other players in the team were actually Hamburg fans, but I didn’t really say anything.”
While he accepted it was the best decision from a career development point of view, such is the nature of football rivalries and the emotional reactions stirred up by derby conflicts at all ages, all around the globe, he admits that the football fan within still found certain situations more difficult to contend with than others.
“It was strange,” said Sowah, pictured. “I remember one game I was about 13, it was a youth cup game in Hamburg and we beat them 9-0 with St Pauli. That was weird. It was mostly just our friends and family watching. But, of course, you feel it [the rivalry]. Some players might be like ‘we have to beat them because we are St Pauli’.”
Sunday will see him square up to Hibs in his first capital derby. Having experienced the rivalry between Hamilton and Motherwell, losing to the Fir Park side in his final game for Martin Canning’s team, he has an impression of what the neighbourly tussles mean to Scottish football fans but expects an even more intense atmosphere at Tynecastle as the Edinburgh sides embark on a re-run of last season’s Scottish Cup fifth round tie.
In that final match for Hamilton he was gutted to see his side concede a last-minute equaliser so he knows how Hearts felt when the Leith side stunned their hosts with a 90th-minute equaliser to force a replay at Easter Road, where they got the win.
It ladles even more pressure on Hearts to deliver a victory this time around. “It’s going to be a tough game and I hope we win,” said Sowah. “Both of us want to win, so they’re going to give their best and we’re going to give our best.”