LET no-one say that Alan Stubbs was guilty of playing to the gallery when he conducted his first press conference as the manager of Hibernian yesterday.

The new man praising a club's supporters is obligatory. It is a ritual as automatic and empty as lifting a scarf above the head for the photographers. Stubbs talking about his affection for Hibs fans might have seemed wearisome and predictable on day one. Instead it was poignant and heartwarming, because in fact he praised them months ago.

Hibs have often appointed former players and men who grew up as supporters. Stubbs falls into neither category. But when his autobiography was published last year, "How Football Saved My Life" contained respect and affection for the regulars at Easter Road. It had to, because of the wonderful standing ovation he received from them while making his first playing appearance after a second period of treatment for cancer back in May, 2001.

Loading article content

He was playing for Martin O'Neill's Celtic at the time and the impression the Hibs support made on him was so deep that he included it in his life story more than a decade later. "Sitting here now, I'm glad that this has come out three or four months ago," he said. "The fact I've done my book and stated that means I can sit here and people will believe what I said. It was an emotional time coming back to play at Easter Road that day [he scored in a 5-2 win]. It was a huge step for me to overcome.

"To come on and get a reception is one that will live with me to the very end. I'm a big believer in fate. This is a chance for me to repay that reception I got and hopefully those fans will also give a reception to the team when they see the type of football my side plays. I want them to be proud of the team, that's the most important thing."

At a table in the Easter Road media room yesterday Stubbs sat beside Leann Dempster, the new manager beside the new chief executive. There wasn't a moustache in sight. When a question was put to Stubbs about Rod Petrie, the beleaguered and beleaguering chairman did not last long as a topic of conversation.

Hibs remain embroiled in a "Petrie Out" campaign and the new manager, of course, remains unpolluted by association with what many see as a toxic club figurehead. "Leeann has come in and taken a huge amount of the day-to-day control of the club," said Stubbs, as if determined to encourage the sense of a new start around the club.

"It is fair to say that if she had not been given control, she would not be sitting in this chair. My focus is the team and it would be wrong to speak about that [Petrie]. In these circumstances there are always going to be things that people are not happy with but we need to look forward rather than looking back. We have got to ready for July 5 and the first game - having a team on the pitch that will get the fans excited.

"I won't say 'we'll play lovely football but get beat', because I am here to win. Everyone knows me as a player: I was winner and I won't change as a manager. I do want to play a good brand of football that will make the fans happy, but I want to blend that with winning."

Stubbs did not have to leave Everton. After six years there he had a comfortable, well-paying and relatively stress-free job. He helped develop England's Ross Barkley and the Republic of Ireland's Seamus Coleman. What brought him to Hibs, and the first managerial job of his career, was football's irresistible siren call: the chance to be a manager in his own right.

"I always knew I would step into management, it was just a case of when," he said. "It's okay talking about the turnover of managers here but it's a fantastic opportunity to get things right and when we get it right the potential is huge."

Hibs have 15 registered first-team players, none of which are goalkeepers. Daunting? Not to Stubbs. "I see it in a positive way. When you come into a club you normally have to get rid of 10-12 players. I'm not in the position. Another one or two may leave but there will be a lot more coming in and they will be my appointments.

"It's a good thing. I don't have to have players here on contracts that I can't get out. Most of them have all gone. As we speak, if I said I hadn't had a call from 100 agents I'd be lying. In a way that's good but I have to make sure the players [being offered] are good enough. I want to build a squad that's worthy of representing Hibs."

It would be "foolish" not to consider signing young players from English football, he said, because he knows that scene so well. But the net will be cast wider. "I've already been linked with players from Everton but I haven't spoken to Roberto [Martinez, the manager]. He's left a message on my phone but we haven't spoken. I've been very lucky because I have had some fantastic managers and been able to learn off all of them. But I won't be labelled the new David Moyes or Roberto Martinez or Martin O'Neill. You have to see the Alan Stubbs style of management.

"I have had a call from Kenny Dalglish already saying 'if you need me you only have to pick up the phone'. So I have good relationships with a lot of good managers. I won't ever be shy about picking up the phone. I was learning until 37 when I was playing football and this is the start of another journey for me."