BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Nice by name, not nice by nature. That would be a fair assessment of Malaury Martin’s experience in the Cote d’Azur derby.
While the south of France may be an idyllic playground of the rich and famous, it becomes rather more raw and visceral when its football clubs collide.
The rancour is driven by the supporters of Nice – loud, boisterous and not enamoured by their cash-laden neighbours in Monte Carlo – and ensures that fixture against Monaco is always one of the most eagerly-anticipated on the Ligue 1 calendar.
“Monaco and Nice are 20 minutes apart. I was born in Nice and played for Monaco – and I promise you, it’s a big derby,” smiled the Hearts midfielder. “People they talk about this game for the month before it happens. They are passionate.
“The Nice fans are crazy and, for them, the derby is the most important game of the season.
“My friends and family are all Nice fans, most of my friends were born there, some of them have played for the club bas well. So I’m a little bit of the traitor to them. When I was a kid I also played for Nice so I’m a big traitor to them!
“But I have no regrets. Monaco was always the dream for me – and I realised my dream, which was important to me. At that time, Nice weren’t the team they are now. They were a smaller club, in the Second Division, no really famous players, but now they are so much stronger.
“Whereas Monaco were right there for me with David Trezeguet, Fabian Barthez, Thierry Henry – John Collins as well. We were in the Champions League final, winning titles. My team was Monaco.”
As a consequence, Martin could be forgiven for panicking when he found himself in the stand among the Nice fans for one derby after failing to make the match-day squad.
“When we arrived I was with the group, but the coach decided to put me in the tribune,” recalled Martin. “At that time it was not a big stadium. It was a small stadium and I was in the middle of that.
“At wasn’t to bad because we won, but I was laughing a little bit into my jacket – and trying to cover up my badge!”
Suffice to say, then, that Martin will not require any tutorials regarding the passion of derby day in Edinburgh, or what it means to the supporters as the capital collides for a place in the last eight of the Scottish Cup.
“I understand because the first day I was here, everybody told me ‘just win the derby’,” he continued. “This is just a step along the way because the objective is to get to the final, but of course now it’s Hibs and it is huge for the city.”
He added with a smile: “In my hotel, there are some Hibs fans and some Hearts fans and all the anticipation started two weeks ago. I know one guy who hasn’t spoken to me this week because he’s a Hibs fan!”