• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Headaches persist in hangover at Easter Road

HIBERNIAN FC was closed yesterday.

Hibs had the players to do better. Picture: SNS
Hibs had the players to do better. Picture: SNS

It said so on the official website. This deference to a bank holiday did not, however, extend to halting the recriminations, apologies and a cull of players that was dramatic, even brutal.

Fourteen players were released, three loan players were sent back to their parent clubs and others were told to find new employers as a matter of urgency.

As Hamilton Academical collectively nursed sore heads in the wake of victory in the SPFL Premiership play-off, there was a hangover at Hibs that was marked by remorse and regret.

The supporters did not hesitate to vent their anger at the club's relegation to the Championship with their targets being principally Rod Petrie, chairman, and Terry Butcher, the manager, who presided over a slump so dramatic it should have given participants a bout of the bends.

Both, in an apology posted on the club's website, did not seek to duck the issue. Butcher said sorry for "letting the supporters down" and Petrie apologised for a "dismal season".

They remain in the dock, however, for a substantial section of the support. Butcher did not have a full season but will be condemned for leading a side to two victories in 21 games. Most pertinently, a glance at Hibs' pool suggests that in Sam Stanton, Alex Harris, Liam Craig, Scott Robertson and Kevin Thomson, the club had enough to devise a cogent, fluid playing style.

It did not and deficiencies in attack and in defence ensured that Hibs were toothless and vulnerable. These deficits in the football jungle are normally fatal. The Easter Road side were devoured by fellow strugglers in the Premiership and chewed up by Hamilton.

The exodus yesterday was not only a product of relegation but of Butcher's assessment of the players and their worth. This was part of the problem during the season even as it is being seen as part of the financial solution at the end of the campaign.

There were dark mutterings emanating from Hibs' players throughout the campaign over Butcher's methods and his forthright opinions. These may just have been the mumblings of the disaffected but Butcher may reflect that he could have done more to keep players on board.

The departing comments yesterday from Thomson and James McPake suggest Butcher should not ask them for a reference if he is applying for another job.

McPake stated bluntly that he had been fit for 10 weeks but had been sidelined, adding: "The blame lies with the players as we got the club relegated but you can't entirely just look at the players."

What could he have meant?

Thomson was blunt. "Unfortunately the manager has a different opinion from a lot of other people and I have to respect that," he said. "I will now be looking for a new job. It's not a surprise to be leaving. That's only natural with the way he's been with me over the last six or seven months since he came in."

So the clear-out was made, leaving Butcher to discuss the future with Leeann Dempster, the chief executive, and Petrie.

Dempster does not join Hibs officially until the end of this week but she has already been presented with what modern HR types describe as a "challenge".

With Hearts and Rangers in the Championship, Hibs' relegation is not catastrophic in business terms, though it will have an impact. In playing terms, the club must recruit quickly and effectively with little room for manoeuvre over wages.

This is where Petrie stands indicted by a substantial section of the fans. He is seen as rigid on budgets and unambitious. One sentence in the club statement riled many fans.

It said: "The board and supporters agree that all of the work that has gone into creating an infrastructure unrivalled outside Glasgow needs to be matched by consistent sporting success."

This was met with howls that Petrie should have given both Pat Fenlon, the manager at the start of the season, and Butcher, his successor, more money. But the problems go far past budgets.

Ross County, for example, survived on a wage bill far below that at Easter Road. The problems, too, have dogged successive managers since John Collins, who won the League Cup for the club, departed in 2007. Petrie has appointed seven managers in 10 years.

The chairman has found money for an excellent training facility at Ormiston and the development and maintenance of a fine stadium at Easter Road.

The last published figures for the club to the year ended July 31, 2012, showed the club posted a profit of £100,000 on a turnover of £8m. This included the reduction of staff costs from £4.1m to £3.9m. It also, though, included a seventh-place finish in the Premier League and an appearance in the Scottish Cup final. Net debt was posted as £5.5m.

Hearts and Rangers are playing in the Championship as a result of financial mismanagement. Hibs are there because of deficiencies on the football pitch.

This will not spare Petrie the condemnation of fans. The business of football is not solely conducted on balance sheets and he knows this. Relegation is a grievous blow. There will be no bunting displayed down Easter Road with Petrie's announcement that he does not intend to leave his post.

"Some supporters have suggested I should resign as chairman," he said. "I take responsibility for the position the club finds itself in. However, it would be wrong for me to abdicate that responsibility at this time and walk away and it would be wrong for the club."

This sentiment was expressed just eight months after Petrie told the club's annual meeting: "There is much to look forward to."

The club now faces a summer of discontent and a season of uncertainty. A return to the top flight is not straightforward and Hibs have a recent history of failure.

This is the third successive season when the club has ended the season on a dismal low. Two defeats in Scottish Cup finals have now been followed by relegation.

The road to May 2015 will demand much of players, management and board if the perennial tears of despair are to be replaced by a bright-eyed optimism.

Contextual targeting label: 
Football

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

236185