INTRODUCED to the crowd as the King of Easter Road, on a day of heightened emotions only Pat Stanton could get away with saying that Hibs needed to learn lessons from their derby rivals Hearts.
Addressing the masses gathered to campaign for the removal of Rod Petrie from the board, the fans’ favourite said that the troubling fact was that the Gorgie club had shown more passion and guts than them over the course of the season.
Bemoaning the quality of players who took the Leith club into the play-off spot and ultimately down into the Championship, he said they “probably go to sleep with the light on because they are frightened”.
Afterwards he said that the way the supporters of their rivals had rallied to secure the club was also an example, with the move towards greater fan involvement something that should be emulated.
“Hearts players were going into games last season not knowing what the future held, but they still gave 110 per cent. The minute things started to go wrong here there was no commitment and nobody there to say, ‘Come on, we need to turn this round’. You come along on a Saturday to see these guys playing, you come along the next Saturday and they’re still playing the same way and you come to the conclusion they’re not good enough. There’s a general malaise. There are one or two players who have left here and done well elsewhere. But some of the players that have been brought in, you have to ask yourself who’s bringing them here?”
One of those who feel that the buck has to stop with chairman Rod Petrie, he says that simply taking more of a back seat and relinquishing his chief executive role to Leeann Dempster is not enough. He wants him to walk away.
Given his willingness to simply lie low and ride out previous storms, the likelihood of that happening is not good. It means that Stanton has jeopardised his ambassadorial role within the club but he says that he could no longer keep quiet.
“I was coming to Easter Road long before I played here and I’ll be coming for a long time yet. I’ll still be there sitting in the stands pulling my hair out! We’re not here to undermine the club, we want them to do well. All these guys mean well for the club.”
Stanton said he had never met the new chief executive but urged her to be open to dialogue with the fans and said picking the brains of people who have played for the club and supported it all their days would be a positive step forward.
“She is not long here and it’s unfortunate that she has walked in to all these problems but there are plenty people around who, if she asked, would be willing to help her.
“You can’t have the supporters running the place, we know that, but they have to engage with them, particularly at this stage, with what’s going on.
“If they just got people on board then most would be happy to do what they have to do for the good of the club. These lads are not doing this to upset Leann or make her first few weeks uncomfortable.
“They just want Hibs to do well and if she asks one or two of them for a wee bit of advice here and there, she might find they’re not as hostile as she thinks they are.”
But he cautioned Dempster and all the other board members against referring to the club as a corporate entity or the fans as customers, arguing that football clubs and football fans would always be far more than that.
“The thing is if people stop coming then they get out of the habit of coming. People use the word customers but they are not customers, they are fans.
“A man gets up at half four in the morning in the freezing cold to get on a bus to Dingwall, he is not doing that for money, he is doing that because that’s his team and he goes to support them and his kids, when they grow up, will probably be as daft as he is.
“There are a lot of clever people watching the club, but calling it a corporate entity? The man on the terracing might have a problem with that. It’s the same when you hear people talking about Man Utd being a global brand. They used to be a football team when Bobby Charlton played for them!
“I know all these things come into it but I think you have to watch the language you use so the punters can identify with you. The guy sitting in the pub down at the bottom of Leith is going to hear corporate entity and it’s not going to ring any bells with him.”
Business acumen is one of the areas where Petrie has often earned plaudits, but Stanton says that it is understandable for fans who have watched the team in recent times to question whether money has been invested in the correct things.
While the former players who stood on the stage addressing the protestors had won trophies and challenged at the right end of the league, Stanton questioned the standard and the commitment of more recent team members.
“The cup final that is always spoken about, we had guys on the park that day with pink boots, blue boots, lime green boots, kissing the Hibs jersey. Where are they? What was that all about?
“The people here today weren’t kissing jerseys but they care about the club, that’s the difference. And I know clubs get advice from all sides, but we mentioned earlier on, the most important relationship at a club is between a chairman and a manager. Those two need to keep it tight. And it’s easy to see that hasn’t been the case here.”
Football matters will be addressed by Dempster this week, with manager Terry Butcher’s future expected to be decided at a meeting tomorrow, but Stanton insists wider issues still need addressing and he hopes Hibs can learn from their city rivals and prove more open to engaging with fans.
“There are examples all around but you have to be open to it and not just close your ears. You have to be willing to take things from other places and say we could learn from this.
“What you don’t consider is useful, that’s fine, but you might find something that could help.”