Niklas Gunnarsson has been enjoying soaking up the sights of Scotland’s capital, but while the defender, who joined Hibs on loan during the January window, loves the architecture and the history, he claims that one of the highlights was seeing the jubilant Easter Road crowd after the recent Scottish Cup win over city rivals Hearts.
“Both the derbies were very good to play in. Tynecastle’s a very compact stadium so when we were warming up we got plenty of abuse, but that was just funny,” he said. “When people speak too quickly in a Scottish accent it’s hard for me to understand! So I just laughed, even though I don’t think they were trying to be nice to me. But after the game at Easter Road it was amazing, with all the fans singing Sunshine on Leith. That was a great feeling. I don’t think I’ve experienced anything like that . I got goosebumps watching them sing it.”
On loan from Norwegian side Valerenga until the end of the season, he does not know what it is like to see his temporary employers defeated. Since arriving at the club at the start of January, he has watched them advance to the final of the League Cup and played his part in helping them progress to the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup. But he believes they can also keep the pressure on Rangers in the chase for the Championship title and says the crowd and impassioned singalong after the derby offered a glimpse of the rewards a return to the top flight could bring.
“It definitely gave me a look at what the club could be,” he added. “If we could get full houses for every home game it would be unbelievable. I know Celtic and Rangers used to get full houses when it was going well, and that would be good for Scottish football in general.”
The 24-year-old, who can play anywhere along the back line, has made four appearances for the first team and is vying for even more game time as the treble quest approaches its denouement. Tonight Hibs have the chance to make their game in hand on the leaders, Rangers, count for something as they welcome Morton to Leith. Three points would close the gap to just five and leave the Ibrox side little margin for error.
“It’s a very important game, like all of them,” said Gunnarsson. “There are 11 games left for us in the league. We basically have to win every one. We are focused on the Morton game as much as the Hearts game. It’s massive.”
Gunnarsson had one of his three starts thus far when the team travelled to Greenock to face tonight’s foes. Like the only other head to head this term, it finished 1-0, so the son of Ronny Gunnarsson, a former player and manager who is now his agent, knows the points will have to be earned. “Morton work very hard, they made it difficult for us last time,” he said. “We have to win the first, second and third ball every time. If we can do that hopefully our quality will then make the difference.”
The Norwegian, who dabbled in martial arts before deciding that football was his preferred option, has a fighting spirit. He’s also a smart cookie, conversing easily in a second language. But it is his performances on the pitch that will influence whether Hibs fight to make his move more permanent in the summer. Gunnarsson, though, seems to have a healthy appetite for staying in Edinburgh. “If I get a day off I like to walk around Princes Street or George Street, maybe head up to the castle,” he said. “I’ve walked around Arthur’s Seat but it’s too cold to climb it. I love the architecture and it’s a beautiful city. I’ve been recognised a few times, which is funny. I met one fan walking into Holland & Barrett .
“Maybe they aren’t used to seeing players walk into that shop! Maybe I’m too Scandinavian. But I’m interested in the nutritional side of things. I like my superfoods, like goji berries, proteins, carbs and fats. I just bought a new cook book and I like to prepare a new meal every day. My father is a very good chef, and I’ve always been interested, ever since I was young. I’ve not tried haggis yet – I’m not sure about that. I had fish and chips once, which was unbelievable.”
Some experiences need to be savoured to be believed.