AS two of his former clubs cross swords, former Scotland golkeeper Alan Rough is steadfast in his refusal to nail his colours either to the mast of Hibs or Partick Thistle this afternoon.
Not that it would matter anyway. His predictive powers have already proved substandard, as evidenced by the man who will take his place in the home dugout this afternoon for the first time. “I could never have dreamed Terry Butcher would become Hibs manager one day, not after his first trip to Easter Road,” said Rough, recalling the infamous encounter with Rangers in 1986, during which he kept goal for the hosts.
That fixture – Butcher’s first in a career in Scotland which has now brought him to Leith – has gone down in folklore. Passionate, committed and, ultimately, chaotic. Graeme Souness was sent off on his debut as player/manager, while a 21-man brawl is the abiding memory of that frenzied afternoon.
Even Rough struggles to remember much except the various ill-tempered clashes – “I think we ended up winning [Hibs won 2-1],” he ponders out loud – but vividly recalls the image of two giants of British football; both shellshocked by their experience at Easter Road.
“I remember walking up to the wee players’ lounge we had at Hibs where both sets of players would go up and have a drink,” he continued. “Up there, we saw Terry Butcher and Graeme Souness standing at the bar, in disbelief at what had just happened.
“It was complete mayhem. With it being Graeme’s first match, everyone was so hyped for the match and keen to show what they could do against these great English players like Terry Butcher and Chris Woods. I don’t think either of them had expected the style of football to be so ferocious up here. Graeme had been away from Scotland for a while and it was a wake-up call for him and the players he brought to Rangers. I don’t think they realised the enormity of what that game would be. Maybe they thought they were coming up here for an easy life.”
Fast-forward 27 years, and Butcher is back, albeit it remains to be see. In another twist of irony for Rough, Hibs will face another club for whom he holds a strong affection, Partick Thistle. The contractual obligations of life as a radio summariser means he will not be in attendance – a fact that gives him a visible pang of regret – but Rough believes Easter Road will immediately be a more pleasant place to be under the affable Englishman.
“I’ve noticed, from covering games at Easter Road this season, that the crowds have been dwindling, but I’m sure we’ll see a big change,” Rough continued. “The biggest priority is to win games, that will keep the fans on board, but his personality will be a big factor too.
“For too long there has been no proper connection between the club and the fans and Terry is the perfect man to change that.”
Having played 624 games and lifted the 1971 League Cup with Partick Thistle, Rough stops short of wishing Butcher a winning start on his home debut. “A 1-1 draw would do me just fine,” he smiles.