BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Hearts star Don Cowie insists he will not be fazed by his baptism of fire against Hibs – after being afforded a police escort ahead of the Welsh derby.
The 32-year-old was on the books at Cardiff City during the 2013/14 campaign, when they faced Swansea City in the English Premier League for the first time in their history.
Such was the feeling of hostility between the clubs, that the police implemented ‘bubble trips’ for the two fixtures between the fierce rivals.
That meant any away supporter wishing to attend the fixture – as well as the players and staff – had to be escorted along the M4 in a surreal convey of around 50 coaches.
Cowie decided that his wife and children should not travel to the Liberty Stadium for the derby in February 2014, however they will be cheering him on in Gorgie this afternoon.
As a consequence, Cowie, who has also experienced the “mellow” Highland Derby as a player for Ross County and Inverness, is circumspect regarding the electric atmosphere expected this afternoon.
A deadline day signing for Hearts, Cowie said: “It will be a massive game. I remember the rivalry and how much it means to everyone from watching during my time in Scotland.
“Both teams are going through exciting times as well. Hibs are in the League Cup final and, with the way we’re going in the league, it’s got the makings of an exciting tie.
“But I played when Cardiff and Swansea met in the Premier League, which was pretty intense, so I’m sure it’ll stand me in good stead.
“Having come from the Highlands, where Inverness and Ross County is a fairly mellow derby, then you get to a Wales one…it was pretty full on!
“When my family wanted to go the away game and they were told they weren’t allowed to make their own way there, that was the point I realised it was a bit different.
“That said it all. They would have had to get on a bus at Cardiff and everyone had to be escorted all the way to Swansea. Every bus was. It was a conveyor Swansea fans of them going along the M4 basically!
“When I heard that, that’s when I told them not to bother. I’ve got young kids so they were told it was best to watch it on TV.”
Cowie, who joined Cardiff after two impressive years with Watford, left the Welsh club under a cloud after they were relegated from the English top flight in 2014.
Having joined a club that has some experience of life under an eccentric owner, he looks back ruefully at the reign of Vincent Tan and their drop to the Championship under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
He continued: “It was a difficult time. On the field it was going really well, we were in the Premier League, clear of the relegation zone, holding our own – but what happened off the field definitely had an effect.
“It resulted in Malky Mackay leaving and it didn’t turn out the way we wanted once Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over.
“It was frustrating. The fans are very passionate, it’s a one-club city, you couldn’t go out without anyone stopping you – they were thriving at the time, so it was a real blow.
“I don’t really know the ins and outs of it all, to be honest, but it turned out pretty messy.
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing but at the time we were holding our own, we hadn’t been in the bottom three since the first week of the season. It was unfortunate the way it all unfolded and they’re starting to pay the price now because they’re struggling.”
Now back in Scotland, Hibs are far from an unknown quantity to Cowie.
Indeed, he got a good look at the Hibees during their formative phase this term, having shared a Spanish training camp at La Manga with the capital club in the summer.
The sides even squared off in a friendly, so he is acutely aware of their danger-men, including former Wigan teammate Fraser Fyvie.
Cowie continued: “We were very impressed with them. You could see the style of football the manager was trying to play and he’s obviously added some quality since them as well.
“He lost Scott Allan from then but to be able to add [John] McGinn, [Anthony] Stokes and players like that, they’ve strengthened.
“I played with Fraser Fyvie at Wigan too. He went there with a big reputation from Aberdeen but it didn’t work out for him.
“I was there for a few months with him he was good in training, a great attitude but he never got the chance and he felt he had to leave to get his career back on track and it’s good to see him doing it.”