Hibernian Football Club, pioneers of European competition, floodlights, electronic scoreboards, undersoil heating, shirt sponsorship, quality match programmes and the perennial, multi-faceted Scottish Cup cock-up, celebrated 140 years in existence last week. But only cynics, masochists and Hearts fans would claim that it has taken them from 1875 until now to stand up to Rangers.
Nevertheless, is there not the tiniest sliver of truth in that? Obviously Hibs haven’t surrendered meekly to Rangers every time. Every time they’ve played, every time there’s been a contentious issue off the field, every time the Gers have coveted a Hibee. But Hibs’ stance on Scott Allan has surprised many, a reaction surely drawing on some past events and previous cave-ins.
Warburton has sounded increasingly silly by suggesting the bids have been random acts in which he’s had no part
When Rangers made the first of their 42 bids for Allan – all right, three, but it feels like many more – and were quickly rebuffed, the general opinion was that the Ibrox club would get their man eventually. If you’ve seen Rangers conduct their transfer business these past few years – and, hey, it’s the story of our lives to some degree – then you could envisage only one outcome. But, just to give the viewpoint some clanking authority, professional Rangers legends lined up to confirm that, oh yes, the player would be running out in light blue before too long, his breastie fair swelling to the beat of Tina Turner murdering the soft-rock.
You can’t miss the legends. They’re usually brandishing boards promoting ticket deals and suchlike. In the debate over Allan’s future it seems we’ve never seen so many outsized cards. If Alan Stubbs, the Hibs head coach, was older than 43 he might have wondered: “What’s this, is It’s A Knockout coming back? Are all these guys wanting to play their jokers on this outcome?” If he was even older his reaction might have been: “Who’s getting wheeled out next? Don ‘The Rhino’ Kitchenbrand?”
Stubbs has watched this synchronised display of sagely nodding. He’s listened to the ex-pros repeating to each other: “Allan’s coming. How can he possibly stay?” He’s said his bit when asked, although not in response to every spit and cough on the matter because that would have been tedious. And every day that’s passed – and crikey there have been enough of them this summer – he’s appeared more and more impressive.
Right away, he said he wanted to keep Allan, that the player was important to Hibs beating Rangers to the top spot, and that obviously in the circumstances, there was no way he’d be sold to the big rivals. This was viewed as Stubbs laying down a marker, not just to Rangers but to the Easter Road board. Sell him and I’ll be off. Oh dear, said some. Stubbsy doesn’t know the lie of the land, doesn’t know how Scottish football works. Allan will go in this window and then he’ll have to walk.
Right now, that marker looks as prominent as those art installations dotted along the M8. It’s as if he’s commandeered that Teletubbies horn and shouted: “No deal. Not while we can beat you to the title. Not while I’m manager here.” Except Stubbs has stayed tremendously cool during the whole affair. His reputation rests on him keeping his star man for one more season but he’s never wavered. He’s kept calm amid the frenzy of it all, only getting irked after that third bid to say he thought Hibs’ position in a saga given a decidedly “one-sided” slant deserved more respect.
He didn’t quite say that he thought the timing of Rangers’ bids had been “mischievous”. “You’d have to ask Mark [Warburton, the Ibrox manager] and his directors,” was his response. But I’ll say it for him: mischievous was what they were. The first bid came just before the Petrofac Cup tie between the teams. The third as Hibs were preparing for their Championship opener against Dumbarton yesterday.
The maximum Rangers could have got from their efforts would be the player, Allan in the No.10 jersey, which had been kept back from the general allocation. But there was a minimum, too: disruption to the preparations of the team they’re most worried about. Allan has lodged a transfer request; he’s told Hibs he wants to go to Ibrox. Rangers will now be hoping that if Allan remains a Hibee, for the time being at any rate, that he won’t quite be able to embarrass them as he did in the 4-0 thumping last Christmas.
By this Christmas Rangers may well have their man, but they’ve displayed a pronounced lack of class in the affair. They told their fans they’d get him “whatever it takes”, only to weigh in with puny bids, their third being well below Rotherham’s first. Warburton has sounded increasingly silly by suggesting the bids have been random acts in which he’s had no part and can’t control. Does he really think anyone believes he’s not played a decisive role in this process?
Some of the Govan faithful, while generally welcoming their new manager – and in other respects he’s made a fine start – have been frustrated by the failure to act big like the Rangers of old and stop mucking about with mimsyish offers. And they’ve been perplexed that the club don’t appear to have a plan B, that they were prepared to risk starting their league campaign on Friday without Allan’s dynamism and dazzle in the playmaker role, albeit that Warburton seems to have bought well elsewhere.
Allan gets crowds out of their seats. In his substitute’s cameo in the Petrofac, he took a pass with his back to a Rangers player, flicked the ball round him one way and nipped the other way to retrieve it. The best piece of individual skill thus far in this young season, Ibrox would love what Easter Road has been appreciating for a while.
Maybe Rangers expected Allan to arrive on that trusty conveyor belt which has delivered so many bright young things to the Old Firm down the decades. Certainly we can think of a few Easter Road regimes which would have made this more likely to happen. Allan’s move could still happen, but only when Hibs’ chief executive Leeann Dempster and her impressive manager are powerless to stop it.
Rangers have been irked by Hibs disclosing details of the bids and how the small sums would only have reached them in smaller instalments. The diddy teams of Scotland are not supposed to display such ballsiness. Rather, they’re expected to roll over and accept the inevitable. It hasn’t quite happened this time, a tiny victory of sorts.