THE day he was introduced as the new Hibs manager, Terry Butcher sauntered into the media huddle, a gregarious character, beaming with enthusiasm.
“I can exclusively reveal that as I was down doing the radio, a rainbow came out over the stand,” he announced. “It’s a sign! Hopefully there’s a pot of gold at both ends!”
A couple of nights later as he mixed with fans and legends at the launch of a book about the late Erich Schaedler, a former player and fans’ favourite who made the most of his limited talent through unrelenting graft, the new gaffer will have been acutely aware that it’s silver, not gold, that occupies the minds of the people associated with the Easter Road club.
Articulating their desperation, they focused on the need for a team of players who, like Schaedler, would give their all for the cause and tackle every challenge head on. The new manager simply nodded in assent: they were preaching to the converted.
He had already tapped into the fans’ frustration when he’d addressed the fact that despite fiscal prudence, despite the swanky ground and the training facility, the on-field results and performances were still falling below expectations. But he laughed at the notion that perks like the East Mains training ground were spoiling the players.
“They won’t be comfortable when we are there. I tell you that!” he said. “They’ll work their arses off. It’s a facility that will improve the players, the team, and improve their understanding. It’s a great place to work. But it is a work place. We are still five points away from the top six, but there’s still a lot of time left and games to be played. Starting next week against St Mirren, that’s when their season starts again.”
In common with his assistant Maurice Malpas, Butcher’s mantra has always been hard work. The strength is in the sum of the parts, allied to a solid work ethic. It is the basis of their managerial success as a duo and the foundation of any success their teams have had at Motherwell, where they defied administration, and then Inverness Caledonian Thistle, where they took one of the smallest budgets in the top flight to punch well above their weight.
Learning from men such as Bobby Robson and Jim McLean, those ideals were always going to feature prominently, says Butcher.
“I have said that to the players already. I told them that if they don’t like that then don’t come with us. I said ‘you will work harder than you have worked before and you will be fitter. I want my team to be the fittest, strongest and sharpest and hardest working team in the league.’ The ability they have will come forward, but our work rate is high and we expect the players to be the same.”
In luring Butcher to Easter Road, the Hibs board also had to ensure Malpas was part of the package. Along with coach and scout Steve Marsella, the former Dundee United man is a crucial part of Butcher’s managerial achievements.
“It’s means the world to me to have him [Malpas] because he could have stayed and been manager of Inverness. When I left Motherwell in 2006 to go to Sydney, I couldn’t take him with me and I missed him and then I went to Brentford and he was still at Swindon, so he wasn’t with me and the success we’ve had was at Motherwell and Caley Thistle when we’ve been together. It works very well for us. We have an understanding of each other. We don’t even need to say anything sometimes, we just look at each other and we know what each other’s thinking.”
The respect is huge. “It is a partnership, absolutely. Totally. It’s not a case of me being the gaffer and him being further down the chain, we sit in the office together and I insist that we sit, not actually in the same chair, but at desks opposite each other.
“I just say to him that I want this and this done and he then has carte blanche to do it the way he wants. I will step in now and again and make a point but I like to look on at what players do. I can coach, no problem with that, but he’s better than me, he’s the best coach in Scotland, I think.”
Convivial and cheerful off the pitch, Butcher describes his pal as a bit of a Victor Meldrew, but says that when the sparks start flying they have to take turns at playing good cop, bad cop.
“When he gets crabbit it’s usually on the training field, that’s usually if the players are not doing something and I just laugh at it. I love when he’s like that because then I’m the opposite. It’s the same, generally, if I’m ranting and raving, then he’s the opposite and because of that, sometimes it’s a race to get into the dressing room to berate the players. You can’t both rant and rave because the players just switch off. But we don’t rant so much now. It’s more asking the players what they thought and if they haven’t played well then why not? Although there are certainly times when I can still let fly. That’s who I am.”
The warning for any Hibs player keen to push their luck is still evident at Easter Road.
“There is a mark down here where I ripped a door off its hinges [in May 2003 after watching his Motherwell side lose]. I probably will be paying for it from my first months’ wages! The door is still there, but on another section now. It was the dressing room door and I just booted it and it flew open and then came back and I thought ‘Oh no, you’re asking for it again’ and bosh, I hit it again and it fell off its hinges. But they have repaired it and put it on a cupboard. It’s part of the tour now and you can still see the edges where the hinge was ripped off.”
On other occasions, he confesses the phone has taken a battering, while he has, quite literally, left his mark at the Caledonian Stadium back in Inverness. There’s the indentations from his ring on his desk after he smashed that, the drawer that wobbles due to so much slamming and yet another door that hangs precariously, the mark of his fist imprinted on it.
“When I’m like that Maurice just walks away. He knows better than getting involved. He just thinks ‘here he goes again’. He knows I have to vent.”
If the impression Butcher makes on the playing side of things at Hibs is as lasting as the marks on the door it’s unlikely that tale will be the only one he features in on future tours. In time he would like one of the stops to be the trophy cabinets, and less than a week into the job, he is in no doubt that the fans and former players are hoping for that too.