Hibernian – The Broken Harp

IN THE OLD IRISH TRADITION of Hibernian, a wreath of flowers in the shape of a broken harp would be presented at a funeral as a mark of respect. Yesterday’s events when, to quote the old ironic phrase, Hibs, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, was not a funeral but was nevertheless a sad and emotional culmination of several years of struggle for the club.

It’s difficult to write these word without showing anger at the catastrophic mismanagement of the team and the clharpub as a whole but in the twilight of this ignominious period in Hibernian history that anger is reverting to the familiar frustration by myself and, dare I say, a majority of the support.

After angry scenes of protest outside Easter Road last evening we awoke to news that there are staff meetings scheduled at the training centre at East Mains today. Already the media informs us that no less than fourteen players are invited or ordered to end their association with Hibs. There are many fans that wished for this after one abject display after another over a series of months and who can blame them? For me though, the problem is that the man with a great shared responsibility for the club’s demise is the individual serving the ‘don’t come Monday’ messages in Manager, Terry Butcher. It’s an indication, however accurate or otherwise that he is being relied on to rebuild the Hibs – a gargantuan order that I don’t think he is fit be tasked with.

Since arriving at Easter Road I cannot think of one single positive that Butcher or his cohorts Malpas and Marsella have brought to the team. There is simply nothing. They have however brought disarray, discord, indecision and a brand of football that I can only describe as ‘prehistoric’. A (the) main tactic appears to be to dumping the ball into the opposite team’s corners in an attempt to create ‘pressure’. Former Hibs and Hearts midfielder, Mikey Stewart correctly identified this mediocre thinking on Sportscene last evening and added the sentiment that it’s the type of football that ‘deserves nothing’. I am much in agreement with Stewart.

The game itself against Hamilton featured a litany of managerial errors that cost Hibs dearly. cost the team it’s SPFL status in fact, and I remain amazed that this fact isn’t recognised by Rod Petrie and his fellow board members. Those questionable decisions included not selecting the old head and steady experience of Kevin Thomson for such a fraught affair – a man who might well have brought the ball down a little and protected his teammates. Butcher also mystifyingly returned Danny Haynes to the team from nowhere to replace out of confidence youngster, Alex Harris – a strange move indeed and surely either Cairney, who can play a similar position or the aforementioned Thomson would have been superior choices. Within minutes Haynes was being helped from the pitch injured so what did Butcher do? Yes, pitch Harris back into a white-hot relegation battle. For a man who proposes to understand a little psychology and use it with his players I found this, again, mystifying. Embarrassingly, he had to substitute his substitute later in the game. One hopes that Alex hasn’t been set back too far by his treatment by Butcher in general this season. How to ruin a young player’s development.

In the first leg, another youngster, Jason Cummings, happily broke his duck for the first team with a fine brace of goals. What did Butcher then do for this game? Play him further back in front of his own left-back in order that he could keep his treasured 5-4-1 formation, therefore rendering the keen young forward impotent as an offensive threat. Later in the game with Hibs having formerly clearly played for a draw and now desperately playing for a 0-1 defeat, the manager pulled the experienced and intelligent play of Heffernan from the action to be replaced by his favoured defensive midfielder Tudur Jones, leaving Hibs vulnerable with little goal threat should extra time have been necessary, which it proved to be.

Full marks should be given to Hamilton who played good, attractive, neat football at all times and passed it around and through their Hibs counterparts. It looked a sophisticated style when compared to Hibs’ leaden lumping of the ball forward, rendering possession to the opposition time after time.

After an excruciating two periods of extra time we finally came down to the almost inevitable penalty shoot-out and here again, Butcher showed his incredible lack of know-how for a man of his experience in the game. The club’s regular and arguably best penalty taker, Craig was not chosen to take the first penalty with Thomson gamely stepping up to take responsibility for getting the team on its way. The inevitable happened, with Thomson not being a regular penalty taker. Sadly, it came down to young Cummings again to take the do or die fifth spot kick and I felt this was a huge strain on an 18-year-old youngster – unforgivable really. He missed his kick, hid his face in floods of tears and Hibs were relegated. What a way to hang the young man out to dry.

So, the future and who knows, this piece may be out of date very quickly but it appears that at the time of writing the Butcher-Petrie axis remains with us. I have the strong feeling that the former Rangers man employs a somewhat ‘bullying’ style of management and this concerns me if so. There will always be players that can cope with that but others that cannot. That’s the way it is. I recall dear old Brian Clough at Forest terrifying some of his players at times – even to the point of the like of England international, Viv Anderson hiding under a desk when he heard Clough approaching but the big difference was that those same players had respect for their manager. I don’t think that exists with Butcher and the Hibs players. They appear to hate him and he them. The same feelings appear to surround coach, Malpas who has specialised in having run-ins with fans in the seats around the dug-out. Classy indeed.

I’ve said enough regarding this sad and disturbing part of Hibs history but of course there is one man culpable more than any other who I’ve barely mentioned – Rod Petrie. I have plenty to say about him for another time as it seems we are stuck with him still – even though he has brought in the interesting character of Leeann Dempster in order to deflect flak from himself. From the club’s owner, to him and his board, the management staff and the players, all have critically underperformed. In fact the only people who haven’t are the fans. I salute them – especially the ones who can find it in themselves to continue supporting this club after one abject humiliation heaped upon another.

God bless the Hibs.


Hibs: Where now?

WELL, THE AFTERMATH of a tragic Scottish Cup Final display smolders on with many disaffected fans and anger raging in many supporters about the way things transpired in the national stadium – a one-sided capitulation so rarely seen.

I’ll begin if I may by commenting on the Final tie – my take on events. The first thing I need to say is that after the build-up to the game which included some fine support by the Hibees’ faithful, many players in green and white completely froze on the day. This was always going to be the main problem – keeping the players focused on doing their job and performing to the best of their abilities in the game. Sadly, the occasion appeared to negatively affect too many players who just couldn’t handle the enormity of the situation and therefore provided little on the day, giving a very poor account of themselves.


Controversy at the final whistle

It needs also to be recorded – and those who know me would confirm that I’m very rarely critical of referees and officials in general – that the ‘small world’ of Scottish football and appointment of Craig Thomson as the man in the middle severely disadvantaged Hibs. Mr Thomson as we know has professed ‘tendencies’ toward our opposition on the day.

Let’s be kind – and this is hard – and say there was no outright bias by Thomson during those ninety minutes, it must still be said though that for some reason at least two pivotal decisions by the man in black were completely inexplicable – let alone forgivable from a Hibs perspective. With the game still in its relative infancy, the opposition midfielder, Black, a combative but narky, snarling little player felled Hibs’ Griffiths with a cowardly challenge from behind featuring an elbow to the man in green’s head which completely felled the player. Thomson duly took Black to one side for what was easily arguable as a red card and after a long lecture did…absolutely nothing – effectively offering Black the opportunity to run around with impunity like a rabid dog for the rest of the game.

After trailing by a couple of goals early in the game and looking a little dead in the water, Hibs staged something of a comeback with a goal which took them into the break with all to play for – ‘next goal’s the winner’ as they say. History records that within seconds of the restart the game was over as Thomson called a penalty against Hibs from a challenge by Kujabi on Suso several feet outside the area. The forward managed to spectacularly dive those final few feet into a sprawling heap in the penalty area and Thomson needed little more to blow for a spot kick and order the Hibs full back off the field.


The game barely into the second half – Hibs 3-1 down and reduced to ten men – there was little way back as the game descended into a training session look-alike of a non-event.

Enough, what of the future then?

Perusing the Hibs forums I see amongst the anger and despair that some people are optimistic regarding the coming season. This I find remarkable considering the season the club has just had, following several other poor seasons of late. I personally like to keep a half-full glass wherever possible concerning Hibs but I’m afraid I cannot share that optimism and see little reason for it apart from blind faith, wishing and hoping.

The club requires a complete overhaul at playing level and a large influx of new players with a hunger to do well, look after themselves like athletes and help the club move away from an apparent very poor culture behind the scenes. One factor that may help in this gargantuan if not impossible task is that manager Fenlon should have a few more resources available, pulled in from Hibs’ cup run and extra renewal of season tickets as a direct consequence of it. I still don’t feel this will be enough however.

I have yet to be convinced about Pat Fenlon. In some ways, for example his strong work ethic, single-mindedness and honesty he is laudable. In other respects such as tactics, team selections and substitutions he has been found wanting and made many mistakes. He has also been almost totally unable to inspire and galvanise the players at his disposal and I have a fear that his players do not necessarily hold him in the greatest respect. This, in fairness, must partly be laid at the players’ door. I feel the task at Hibs is somewhat beyond him but I want to record that I honestly and truthfully hope that he proves me wrong. He needs a further chance to show what he can do.

A disgruntled Pat Fenlon addresses the media at East Mains yesterday

Pensive – Pat Fenlon

I saw the last Hibs managerial opening as a time when the club could state it’s intent and ambition. What was sorely needed was a ‘big’ confident personality to walk into the club and spread a little daylight and fresh air into what had become a fetid atmosphere. Delivered to the club instead by the club’s fathers was a man who was largely unknown – albeit a success in his own football world in Ireland – but yet again the ‘wrong’ type of manager for Hibs in my humble opinion.

This brings me onto the thorny subject of the ownership of the club and the men placed in charge. It has been customary for more than two decades to place Sir Tom Farmer on a pedestal for ‘saving’ Hibs in those dark days when our club almost vanished forever. This was over twenty years ago however – how much longer are Hibs fans supposed to feel grateful for merely surviving? I’m of the lobby that believes Sir Tom has done his own business prospects little harm – quite the contrary –  whilst holding the stewardship of Hibernian Football Club, not that I see a problem with that. I don’t necessarily go with the notion that the club is all that ‘available’ for sale. A man of Sir Tom Farmer’s huge business acumen could sell this club if he had a wish to, I believe. Mr Farmer is known as a benevolent man in some circles, my heartfelt request to him would be to at long last invest some of his vast wealth into Hibs. I’m a realist however and don’t see that happening.

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CEO Petrie and Sir Tom Farmer

This finally brings me on to the subject of Sir Tom Farmer’s trusty lieutenant, CEO Rod Petrie. I have never seen eye-to-eye with Mr. Petrie’s ‘vision’ for Hibs. It’s a fairly miserable bean counter’s attitude which has seen the fans long-suffering. We all understand the need for financial prudence – especially in these tough times – but this penny-pinching policy appears hardly ever to be relaxed. Others will argue that point and that’s fair enough as it’s all about opinions but I still feel that Hibs are often beaten back in their pursuit of good players by a flat refusal to push the boat out just a little, whatever the financial dictates of the era are. Time and again Hibs are too cautious and it has resulted in a blandness about the club which does not reflect a colourful, imaginative and oft romantic support This is one of the many reasons I have little optimism for Hibs in the near future. Sights are set too low and sadly, it has to be said, some fans’ expectations have fallen into line with that over the years. Hibs are truly a club that underperforms consistently and attitudes amongst all need to be seriously challenged.

Until that time, I’ll keep supporting Hibs as I’ve always done – hoping for the best – fearing the worst.

‘Glory Glory to the HIbee’ – at long last please?

Hibernian appoint Colin Calderwood

It’s taken a little time in happening, as we knew it would, but Hibernian have finally settled on a new man at the helm to replace former boss, John Hughes. The usual cloak and dagger juncture that we anticipate from Easter Road in these circumstances has been a feature of the operation with few fans or media correctly guessing at Calderwood, at least until the very last day or so.

These times are always interesting of course and we are told that as many as 105 individuals have applied for a job which some see as something of a poisoned chalice of late. It is unfortunate to see that Easter Road has, like many other clubs, become something of a graveyard for managers in the past few seasons. Since the relatively successful and hugely entertaining tenure of Tony Mowbray, Chairman Rod Petrie has presided over the rapid passing of former Hibs stalwarts John Collins who walked out, Mixu Patalainen and John Hughes. Searching questions have been asked of Petrie, his board and their selection process which has allowed this state of affairs to occur. I for one am still questioning that process and the confines with which the men in charge at The Holy Ground impose upon it.

For many months Hibs have been a shambles on the pitch, in stark contrast to the fantastic advances in the infrastructure of the club. Of the latter, the superb new East Stand and outstanding training centre development at East Mains indicate striking progress for the club and I would be one of the first to agree how important these projects were for Hibernian FC’s future and to give credit.

Hibs are not a rich club by any means but financial prudence has allowed these developments to happen. It will be said in fairness that the bank balance in Leith is far healthier than probably most professional clubs in the UK. For a club with the modest attendance figures of the men from the Capital that is certainly a great achievement, but at what price?

There has to be balance and I feel that the club have not achieved this. For several years the fans have had to stand and watch many, many excellent players being sold off. This in isolation is not the fault of the board as modern footballers have a lot more say about where they ply their trade and Hibs cannot necessarily afford to pay them the salary they can demand elsewhere due to the fiscal framework at Easter Road. A more relevant criticism for me is that none or very little of the funds raised from selling excellent player after excellent player appear to be redirected back towards acquiring new quality replacements to the squad.

The same thinking appears to be prevalent when choosing and dealing with new managers. Let’s make no mistake, this position is absolutely pivotal to any football club, it’s the most important individual the club has and I don’t feel that Hibs appear to recognise this judging by their various managerial appointments. There is no significant investment in an individual that could potentially drag the club out of the reach of the rest of the also-rans of Scottish football. It would take bravery, boldness and imaginative thinking for that to happen and the sad thing is that the very innovatory influences the club has been famed for through its 135-year history no longer exist. Rod Petrie is an inveterate accountant and whilst his three-column approach to running a football club is admirable in some ways, his occupancy at Easter Road is not characterised by imagination or calculated risk-taking. His leadership is that of an artisan, not an artist, a Roundhead, not a Cavalier. Make your own mind up which is the better ‘fit’ in Leith.

Two managers ago, I felt Hibernian fell lucky in appointing John Collins, the former classy and dedicated Scotland midfielder. Collins splits opinion amongst fans radically with the chief criticism being of his mediocre signings. My answer to that is that again, millions of pounds worth of talent was sold from under him. Fair enough, it had to be, but it’s apparent that peanuts were given back to him to replace those players and guess what? The inevitable happened in spite of Collins insistence on discipline, dedication and trying to play the game the way it should be played. His forward thinking ideas were diamonds in a rough sea of mediocrity. The well-documented player revolt against his methods was seen to be most feebly backed by the board and Collins, realising he was kicking against the sticks at Easter Road gave in to the small-minded and penny-pinching thinking at the club and unexpectedly walked. A sad day in my view and a real opportunity lost.


Former Hibs boss, John Collins and Chairman, Rod Petrie

I digress but these events lead us to here via the generally poor eras under Paatelainen and Hughes. No doubt, two more ‘bargain basement’ signings but nevertheless easy to appease the fans with due to their past Hibs associations. On October 19, Season 2010/11, former Northampton and Nottingham Forest manager and Newcastle number two, Colin Calderwood has appeared abruptly over the horizon and into a 5.15pm press conference in which Petrie is, as usual, routinely and proudly introducing his new man, extolling his virtues and generally looking very pleased with himself. I’m not happy though, not in the least. Continue reading “Hibernian appoint Colin Calderwood”