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Shell-shocked commander in chief has a battle on his hands with Hibs

I T did not take Terry Butcher long to get the Hibernian look.

Terry Butcher has been afflicted by  the malaise that has tended to haunt managers of Hibernian. Picture: SNS
Terry Butcher has been afflicted by the malaise that has tended to haunt managers of Hibernian. Picture: SNS

It was all jokes and stories and joshing from "big Tel" when he breezed in from the north in November. The man's effervescence illuminated Easter Road like floodlights being switched on in a cemetery. That is what the place needed and we have not seen the last of that loud character, but Butcher now cuts a darker, more troubled figure. He has been cloaked by the Hibs malaise, which drains the joy and optimism from a man and replaces them with worry and stress.

The results in their past eight games - draw, loss, loss, loss, loss, win, draw, loss - have been typically Hibs, but atypical of Butcher. The most recent of those was a collapse at home to Dundee United on Friday, when United were so comfortable they won 3-1 despite botching a couple of penalties. Afterwards Butcher talked of his team's "unacceptable" performance and apologised to their supporters. It had been "men against boys", he said. A few beleaguered Hibs fans might have been tempted to shout "House!" having completed their line on Easter Road bingo. They have been hearing Hibs managers come out with that sort of stuff for years.

Butcher's opening results have been pretty much the same as Pat Fenlon's closing ones. There has been no early bounce from the decision to change the manager, but both were working with a limited, generally unimpressive set of players (a squad largely assembled by Fenlon). Patience is not sexy but there is no alternative for Hibs supporters for the foreseeable future. Butcher was an excellent manager at Inverness Caledonian Thistle but it was not all plain sailing in the Highlands. He inherited a struggling team in 2009 (Craig Brewster had been sacked) and could not prevent them being relegated four months later. There are some similarities - if Hibs win their next game Butcher's first 17 results will be identical to his first 17 at Inverness - but relegation is far less likely. Hibs would be sucked towards the play-off position if their dreadful form continues but surely they will be spared as it is unlikely Kilmarnock, St Mirren, Partick Thistle and Ross County will all close the five or six-point deficits which anchor them around 11th, above the doomed Hearts.

Hibs launched their season ticket campaign last week with a price freeze and other initiatives to drum up interest. The publicity groaned under the weight of silly military allusions - "Terry Butcher's Green and White Army", Butcher as "commander in chief" with a "battle plan" - but there was no mention of the possibility of mass desertion. For the past two campaigns the supporters' interest was maintained to the final day of the season by runs to the Scottish Cup final. Next season Hearts' absence means there will be no league fixture for which it will be difficult to secure a ticket, removing the need to guarantee any for the derbies by having season tickets. Hibs have an impressive 9000 season ticket holders and were aiming for 10,000 next season. You cannot fault them for ambition.

But yet again supporters are asking themselves what keeps them coming back beyond blind faith. Sam Stanton has been a terrific addition to the scene but there must be a major improvement in the quality around him if the next campaign is to be any better. A summer of rebuilding can be financed only by supporters committing to the club again, hence the early publicity drive. New players are essential as the current batch have been inadequate under two managers.

Butcher made excellent signings at Inverness and must do so again to lighten Hibs' mood. And his own.

And Another Thing …

Fergus McCann and Dave King are in the news. There are similarities between them. Both made their money overseas. McCann was prepared to pump most of his personal wealth into Celtic on the basis that the ownership would eventually be open to ordinary supporters. King is prepared to put some of his into Rangers on a comparable basis (or so he keeps saying; he has yet to get to the McCann point of signing the cheques). Neither McCann then, nor King now, wanted to see their money end up in the hands of an unpopular incumbent board.

But while King may become a Rangers figurehead like McCann was for Celtic, their circumstances are very different and he cannot do things the same way. McCann inherited a decrepit stadium unfit for purpose, a negligible season ticket base and a pathetic business model. The transformation of all three was so spectacular that McCann was able to leave - as promised - having made vast personal profit.

Rangers have no comparable potential for growth (season ticket sales are already huge and all commercial avenues have been exploited). While many fans wish to own the club it remains to be seen what appetite there would be to have to raise serious money via yet another share issue. It was a novel idea when McCann delivered a spectacularly successful one for Celtic.

King has said he is prepared to be the "lead investor" at Rangers. Perhaps he will carry the support and one day be as substantial a figure for them as McCann was at Parkhead, but that is a long, long way off. And unlike McCann he will either have popularity or profit, but not both.

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