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Sat, Oct
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THE hair is different, but the patter same as always.


"Hey man, how you doin’?" goes the friendly salute from Russell Latapy, who is sporting dreadlocks these days as opposed to the more aero- dynamic look he exhibited whilst a Hibs icon.

Being the Little Magician, as he is revered back in Trinidad, always carried a high price in terms of media coverage and not all of it was welcome during his time as tormentor in chief at Easter Road, so it is comforting to find him so accommodating.

Ultimately his high profile cost him his job with Hibs, witness that picture of Latapy’s bleary eyes staring from the driver’s seat of his blue Volkswagen Beetle during an ill-advised night out as Dwight Yorke cavorted in the back.

Latapy now works out of the Falkirk Stadium of course, and although arguably as famous in Edinburgh for his antics when not in a green shirt as he was for skinning opponents in one, he is happy to give an interview to lend his name to the extensive list of lauders gathered by Hibs under Tony Mowbray.

Dreadlocks apart, the diminutive midfielder looks the type who would appreciate a bit of rap music and he senses Hibs are ready to, as Eminem might say, seize the moment in Saturday’s Scottish Cup semi-final against another of his former clubs, Dundee United.

"It would be great for the club to reach the final," says Latapy. "I’ve continued to be a fan of most of the clubs I’ve represented and I’m certainly a Hibs fan, so if they can get to the final I’ll be wanting them to win. It would be an amazing experience for some of the young kids. They have bright futures ahead of them but getting to a cup final really gives a sense of occasion. I’d say Hibs have a few future Scotland internationals on their books just now, so if they can keep this group together I’m sure they’ll soon be winning things and be into the winning habit."

That stereotypical Caribbean mellowed approach to life prohibits Latapy from retaining any bitterness he may have felt upon being shoved through the Easter Road exit door with his bags hurled out at his back. In fact the only thing that will keep him off the Hampden slopes this Saturday is the small matter of a title-winning opportunity for Falkirk at home to Ross County in the First Division.

However, you sense that at some point during the afternoon the 37-year-old will momentarily shrug off the air of thick tension that envelopes such occasions and allow his thoughts to leave Westfield and ponder the fortunes of Mowbray’s side in Glasgow.

Latapy continues: "For me, Tony Mowbray is doing a fantastic job. The first team and the reserves play exactly the same way, with a real sense of togetherness. They seem to be enjoying themselves, which is always important for bringing good results.

"I must admit I am very impressed with Kevin Thomson. I saw him play for the reserves against Rangers last week and he did really well. It’s good for the city and Scottish football altogether to have the Edinburgh teams competing. You have the Old Firm in Glasgow who normally win most of the trophies but it’s good to have Hibs and Hearts pushing them.

"Plus both the Edinburgh clubs are giving young players an opportunity, which is good to see for any football fan."

The attacking attitude on display at Easter Road this season is not without precedent, and so much of that is down to Latapy’s influence. His arrival in Leith in October 1998 was supplemented by that of Franck Sauzee five months later, although even then-manager Alex McLeish could not have anticipated the impact the pair would make.

Last time the club made a Scottish Cup semi-final - four years ago - they were also playing scintillating football and challenging for third place.

However Latapy unwittingly left the field at Hampden that day after inspiring a 3-0 win over Livingston to secure a place in the final, which was lost to Celtic, with just two games remaining before his Hibs career would come crashing down around him due to his off-the-field shenanigans.

"While I was at Hibs I had a fantastic time, played with some great players and we did pretty well," he says. "I’ve seen the reserves and the first team play this season and they have a great squad. I think it’s a real team effort for Hibs at the moment. It would be unfair to single out anyone in particular because when I was at Easter Road it was myself and Franck getting a lot of praise and there were others doing a great job alongside us.

"I think we worked hard for each other and the current squad certainly do that. Maybe it’s the manager and the way he is motivating his players. Whatever it is, I hope it continues because I am a fan of the club and I want them to do well."

Success is all relative though, and in the twilight of the twilight of his career Latapy finds himself within touching distance of it again as a player-coach at Falkirk.

Victory over Ross County this weekend will virtually guarantee John Hughes’ side the title and promotion to the SPL due to their vastly superior goal difference compared with second-placed Clyde. Latapy will play and, breaking from a manner that would not be out of place on a television advert for Lilt, he almost gets excited at the prospect. "It would mean everything to me to take Falkirk into the Premierleague and a lot of credit goes to the manager.

"My body will determine how long I’m able to keep playing. I still enjoy playing, I love it. I love getting up and going in for training every day, so as long as I can handle it physically I’ll play. In saying that I don’t want to get to the stage where I’m not doing the team or myself any justice. If it got to that point I would just chuck it, but I’m having fun at this present time."