East Fife striker Steven Hislop has tipped his former club Livingston to walk away with the Second Division title however, he will be going all out to ensure that they do not pick up any points from their visit to Bayview tomorrow.
Hislop said: “Livingston are going to win the League and they have a good squad full of youth and experience. I read that Gary Bollan does not feel they are getting the credit they deserve but I have to say that the League table does not lie and I sure he will be happy with that.
“They have not had easy games against us in the League so far, as we have drawn with them and then lost 4-2 at our place with a 4-3 defeat at theirs, in a game where we were winning. It is too late for anyone to stop them winning the League but we will be going all out for the three points to put a wee dent in their season.”
Livingston is one of the eight destinations on Hislop’s footballing journey that began almost 11 years ago at East Stirlingshire and has seen him move north to Ross County, slightly south to Inverness Caledonian Thistle before a huge move down south to Gillingham, back up to West Lothian, across to Fife, up to Angus and then back across to Fife.
Hislop said: “I loved my time at East Stirling and remain grateful to them for taking a chance with me when I was 22. I had been at Celtic in an Under-12 age group but they did not take me on and I ended playing with a side called Easthouses until the ’Shire came in for me.
“I leaned a lot under the Manager there George Fairley and by playing with and against senior professionals. Hopefully, I repaid them with a good number of goals in that first season.”
Hislop’s form saw him win a move to First Division Ross County and a crack at full-time football, as he explained: “I got the chance to move up to Dingwall and I was delighted. I was disappointed to hear about Neale Cooper Peterhead this week as it was Neale that had the confidence in me to offer me full-time football. For the first year under him it was great and I was really enjoying it but Neale left in the autumn of 2002 and Alex Smith came in.
“Things did not really happen for me under Alex and I moved on to Inverness Caledonian Thistle. I was a big Hearts fan as a boy so to have John Robertson as their Manager that signed me was fantastic. I was his first signing as Manager and we enjoyed a fair bit of success together.”
Hislop grabbed important goals for Caley Thistle as he explained: “I scored in the Challenge Cup Final in October 2003 to make it 2-0 for Inverness over Airdrie United at McDiarmid Park. In the second last game of the same season, I scored in a crucial 2-1 win over our promotion rivals Clyde at Broadwood in a win that put us one point ahead.”
“The following week, we were at home to St. Johnstone whilst Clyde were away to Brechin. At half-time, we were drawing 1-1 whilst Clyde were cruising which meant that they would have won the Championship but in a tremendous second half performance, we scored twice to win 3-1 meaning that we were promoted to the SPL.”
Robertson was to leave Caley Thistle shortly into their time in the SPL with Hislop saying: “Craig Brewster came in and I did not play that often for Inverness that season.”
Former boss Cooper had already tried to lure Hislop to Hartlepool but the striker had turned down his advances as he fancied a crack at SPL football. However, when Cooper came in a second time, he agreed to join him, not at Hartlepool but at Gillingham.
It was a move that never worked out for either party as Hislop explained: “I was pretty homesick and then Neale got the sack just a few months after guys like me, Tony Bullock and Paul Shields had arrived. We were never made to feel that welcome down there and I was glad when Livingston brought me up the road in January 2006.”
That joy soon turned to confusion for Hislop as he explained: “Paul Lambert brought me back up the road and I was grateful to him for doing so. Not long after I came up, he was relieved of his duties and that was just the start of an eventful time there.
“Paul’s leaving is just the nature of the beast in football but Livingston was a difficult club to understand at that time. There were lots of foreign players coming and going and we also suffered a major disappointment in being relegated.
“It all got a bit uncomfortable and things were said about me by people at the club that was just not true. I am still waiting for my apology but I do not think it is coming though. The fans have usually been good to me when I have gone back and I get a decent reception from them.”
Hislop jokes: “Well it is much better than I get at my other previous clubs!”
Raith Rovers provided a new home for the striker in January 2007 and his two and a half year spell at Kirkcaldy was to end in glory as John McGlynn’s men won the Second Division title in glorious sunshine at Hampden against Queen’s Park in May 2009.
It was a special moment for Hislop who said: “I had missed a large chunk of the season through injury and came back in just in time for the run-in. I knocked the ball down to Graham Weir to score the goal that won the League and that was quite fitting as he had a great season.
“That triumph gave me a third winners’ medal and I am very proud of all three of them”
A new deal with Raith could not be agreed so Hislop made life changing decisions as he moved to Arbroath on a part-time basis and opened up his first business, an opticians based on Warrender Park Road in Edinburgh, called the ‘Opticians in Marchmont’.
The move to Angus was arranged by John McGlashan but he left shortly afterwards prompting Hislop to say: “It must be me as I have worked under a fair few different Managers.”
Jim Weir came in at Arbroath with the Gayfield men losing their Second Division place to local rivals Forfar Athletic in the end of season Play-Offs with Hislop saying: “Jim was probably only two or three games away from saving us as he had Arbroath playing well towards the end of the season. We fell into the Play-Offs and I missed out in the Semi-Finals against Queen’s Park but played as a substitute in the first leg against Forfar. That was a bit silly as I was nowhere near fit enough.”
Hislop was able to stay in the Second Division as East Fife arranged for him to join them with yet another striker becoming his boss in Stevie Crawford with the now 32-year-old saying: “Between Steven, John Robertson and Craig Brewster, I have picked up a fair few tips along the way. They were all good strikers and you cannot fail to learn from them.”
A bit like McGlashan, Lambert and Cooper, Crawford moved on from his post in November to have Hislop saying: “It has been a bit of a roller-coaster of a season and one where we could have been in a lay-off place now if we had been a bit more consistent. We are coming good again but the biggest danger is that we could just run out of games.
“In saying that, we are not even safe from relegation yet and that shows you how up and down the Second Division can be.”
On a personal level, Hislop continues to play through a lot of pain for the East Fife cause saying: “I am troubled by a hamstring injury and at the moment, it is a case of gritting my teeth and trying to get through until the end of the season for a rest.”
Despite his commitment to the cause, Hislop has come in for criticism of his goal tally however, it is water off a duck’s back to him as he explains: “The mentality of younger players is different nowadays to when I was starting out. When I was younger, you took criticism and moved on from it in a responsible way whereas now, players tend to take it really personally.
“I have scored five times which is not a great tally when you consider we are one of the highest scoring teams in the League but Bobby Linn and Craig Johnstone are scoring for fun. It is a team game so it does not matter who scores.
“I have scored enough times throughout my career and I am just a big target man that gets flattened nowadays anyway!”