Five Years from -
by Stuart Crowther
| During the period when the board of Hibernian were under intense pressure to
agree a sale of the club to Brian Kennedy, one of the 'devices' they used (quite
successfully, as it happened)
was to roll out the an oft-repeated phrase - "We have no wish to do or say anything
that may damage the efforts of the manager and the team to return the club to the Premier
Division." Fine words, and words that did immeasurable damage to the campaign being
waged by the Hands on Hibs pressure group.
Well, the time has come. Those who
run our club, it must be said, are off to a flyer. A year ago, their protestations, delays
and yes it seemed to many, downright lies, were on the back of a club they had failed, one
that had been relegated. Twelve months on, the board of Hibernian can feel confident, and
rightly so. They have gone a long way to turning the corner - when they started out, the
exits were all blind, now the board have helped manoeuvre the sinking ship back to the
surface, and the road ahead is rather more clearly defined.
At least the immediate future is
more clearly defined - for sure, thanks in no small measure to the efforts of Messrs.
Petrie and O'Malley, Hibernian are back where they belong in the Premier League. However
the long road, the one we should all be looking at in these days of uncertain quality in
our national game and apparent constant change at the whim of the Premier League chairmen,
is the road we should now be taking a look at.
During those dark days in 1998, the
board announced a five-year plan that had, we were told, been prepared. This plan would
assure the future of Hibernian, but would not, could not, be revealed until such a time as
Hibernian are returned to the Premier League. Year 1 was to be that year when we make our
return. Like many I now look forward to hearing what the five year plan is. The very valid
questions that were put to the owner and board a year ago remain today, and no amount of
financial redistribution will change that. Solid plans need to be put in place, including
those that address the debt still owed by the holding company.
It is not enough to say that
Hibernian F.C. are independent of the holding company, and thus is free of that debt. This
is transparently not the case. The holding company owns the football club, if the holding
company should meet any unforeseen collapse, then it would surely take the football club
down with it? Doubtless, how this is to be avoided will be made clear in the Five Year
plan, when it arrives.
To be fair, unlike 12 months ago
most Hibs fans now share a new confidence in the current board. Certainly, that confidence
is tinged with no small amount of suspicion, but it is a great leap forward from the
position this time last year. There is a great deal more confidence around Easter Road
these days - and this confidence is not only on the back of the successful return to the
Premier League. A year ago, Brian Monteith, chairman of the Hibernian Shareholders'
Association and a leading spokesman for the Hands on Hibs group, told the Edinburgh
Evening News: "We are supporting the current board as they make plans for getting us
promoted. But the promises we have had can only be delivered if the board and owner work
together, and we hope that Sir Tom fully supports the board in every way they need. And if
McLeish needs money then it cannot just be raised by selling players that have taken us
into the First Division. Money will probably have to be made up front and in
Following the arrival
of players such as Latapy, Skinner, Sauzee and Marinkov, who can deny that the board,
backed quietly, it would seem, by the owner, have not done just that? Of course, a club in
crisis sells newspapers, and so such as Mr Monteith may not be asked to provide a few
words of public thanks to the board and Sir Tom Farmer for fully meeting his demands. So
the reconciliation must start quietly, away from the full gaze of the media. And
reconciliation must take place, make no mistake, the wounds inflicted during the Summer of
1998 were deep, and unless they are treated may yet derail the Hibernian revival.
Rather than dwell on the sometimes
harsh (and often out of context) words reported at the time between board member and HoH
committee members, we might perhaps dwell on the following public statement from the same
source: "No matter how much blame can be attached to people still around the club who
contributed to our relegation, we are saying we hope they have learned their lesson
because we were promised a year ago that we would not be fighting relegation again and yet
here we are, facing a season in the First Division." Indeed, given the events of the
last 9 months, and the stylish manner of the clubs return to the top flight, lessons have
without doubt been learned by the board.
The question now is, have Hibs fans,
including the many thousands who remain members of HoH, also learned, and are they now
prepared to work once again with the board for the better good of the club? A small amount
of mistrust between both sides would do no harm, indeed it would keep everyone on their
toes. Surely though the time has come for the board to recognise that HoH are now a force
within the Hibernian family that cannot be ignored. And at the same time, HoH must
recognise that the board of Hibernian, and the owner of the club, have done no less than
what was asked of them twelve months ago?
At the end of the day all conflicts
do come to an end. The best end, without doubt, is where both sides can claim victory.
Clearly, this is the case at Hibernian - Hands on Hibs only ever asked for more investment
in the club, a solid foundation, with the manager receiving all possible financial
support, and this has been delivered. The board asked for time to achieve just that, to
prove that they were capable of steering the club quickly and securely back to the Premier
League, and this they have done. The winners, in the end, are Hibernian F.C., on and off
The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily coincide with those of the
editor or of the London Hibs Supporters Club
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