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Spiers on Saturday: meeting Kevin Thomson, ready for a new start at Dundee

AT 29, Kevin Thomson believes he has years of top football left in him.

Kevin Thomson is confident that he can be successful following his move to Dundee as he already feels appreciated by manager Paul Hartley. Picture: SNS
Kevin Thomson is confident that he can be successful following his move to Dundee as he already feels appreciated by manager Paul Hartley. Picture: SNS

The midfielder has left Hibernian after an abject season at the club to join SPFL Premiership newcomers Dundee and is enthused already by the attitude of Paul Hartley, his new manager.

Evidently, after everything Thomson has been through, being appreciated is something he covets. "It's what every player wants: to be valued and appreciated by your manager," he says. "I?¯felt it again from the first moment I?¯went to see Paul Hartley. He appreciates me, he's already made me the Dundee captain, and I?¯think he's going to get the best out of me."

Just by talking to Thomson about the challenge ahead at Dens Park, the tone is set for our conversation. The Scotland player endured a wretched time under the doomed Terry Butcher at Hibs, having at first been dropped by the Englishman and then been told in January he could leave Easter Road, only to be hurriedly brought back into the fold as Butcher ran out of time and games to avert disaster.

In recent weeks Thomson has been chased by many to "spill the beans" on his recent Hibs woes, but elected to keep his own counsel. Yesterday, choosing his words carefully, he finally relented.

"I'm not interested in any war of words with Terry Butcher," he said. "I've got nothing bad to say about him - every manager must have his own ideas. But, that said, I?¯believe I was good enough to be in Terry's team far more than I?¯was.

"I?¯think most managers would have looked at that Hibs situation and said, 'Kevin Thomson should be in that team.' I?¯just felt I?¯could really have helped the club. I?¯think I?¯was one of the first names on Pat Fenlon's teamsheet but the new manager [Butcher] came in and had very different ideas.

"I?¯knew something was up when, having at first been told by Terry that I?¯was a big part of things at Hibs, in his first week at training we started practising a shape which was alien to us, and I?¯obviously wasn't a part of it. I?¯then got dropped in Terry's first game in charge against St Mirren and made only a brief sub's appearance over the next three or four games.

"It hurt me quite a bit but I?¯like to think I?¯behaved impeccably. I?¯came in, I?¯trained, I?¯got my head down and got on with it. The problem was, players like me were then in and out of the Hibs team as the season wore on, which is bad for players' morale."

Thomson says he looked on in dismay as the team he had supported since childhood began its disastrous descent towards relegation, ending in the dire capitulation to Hamilton Academical which sealed Hibs' fate.

"It became a very difficult situation," he said. "Quite often, come the Friday, you still wouldn't know if you were in the team for the next day. It has been said often enough in football that a player finds an extra yard for a manager if the player feels wanted and there might be something in that.

"There were a number of us at Hibs - like me, Rowan Vine, Tim Clancy, Tom Taiwo - who were originally told we were surplus to requirements, but who down the line were suddenly brought back in. Do players give a million per cent in that situation? For some, maybe not. So it wasn't a good place.

"It hurt me a lot the way it all unfolded. I?¯love Hibs, I've always been a Hibs supporter and I?¯genuinely played for the jersey. But, by the end, the club just got into a rut and relegation loomed. The team was chopped and changed so much, we just couldn't get out of the situation. I?¯really wish Hibs all the best. I?¯want that football club to be a success again."

All of this was only the latest in a line of wearying setbacks for Thomson. Described by Walter Smith as "a really fine midfielder" when Smith brought him to Rangers for £2m in January 2007, Thomson would suffer setback upon setback, including four leg-breaks in his career to date.

After a grim two years at Middlesbrough, and now this past season with Hibs, it is really little wonder he craves a fresh start with Dundee. "It's a new start for me and it's exciting. I?¯know Paul Hartley takes a lot of his coaching methods from having played under Gordon Strachan, and we both feel the same about that, too.

"I've played under many excellent mangers - Tony Mowbray, Gordon Strachan and Walter Smith, who was terrific - but I'd probably put Gordon top of the list. I?¯loved training under him at Middlesbrough and, when I?¯look at the success Paul has had already as a manager, I?¯think it will be similar at Dundee."

At his stage of life and career, Thomson happily admits that something more sacred was also a factor in his decision-making this summer. "I?¯had other playing options after Hibs, down south and even abroad, but I?¯didn't want to uproot my family again from Edinburgh. We've got two wee boys and my family means everything.

"If you move, such as I?¯did at Middlesbrough, and it doesn't work out, then it scars you a wee bit. So unless I?¯was being offered a pot of gold somewhere, I?¯decided I'd happily sacrifice money if it meant my family was secure and happy. They are my life now."

At 29, Thomson is still relatively young. He should - all being well - have five more years of playing at the top level. But, after past misfortunes, he has come to dread the inevitable fitness question. Can he go the distance after all his physical mishaps?

"I've had a terrible time with injuries in the past, I?¯can't escape that," said the midfielder, who has three Scotland caps. "But injuries have never beaten me. Maybe I?¯won't be fully appreciated until I?¯retire but I'll just have to put up with that. I've played for Hibs, for Rangers, for Middlesbrough and for Scotland. So I've got some things right. I?¯feel I've got plenty of my career left to go."

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