At half past four last Saturday it wasn’t looking good for Hibernian. The team were losing the Scottish Cup final – not badly and not like John Blackley’s Hibs in 1972 and Garry O’Connor’s Hibs exactly 40 years later, both of whom were thrashed – but losing all the same. At that stage it was shaping to be another unhappy outing to Mount Florida for this semi-tragic club and you wondered: where were the losers’ medals going to end up this time? O’Connor launched his across the Hampden steps, a devastated Blackley got rid of his in the car park.
But ten minutes in May changed everything. It changed darkness into light. It made the prospect of another season in the Championship bearable (and by the time the faithful had remembered to factor in trips to the Ayrshire coast this time round, positively exotic). And the medals, changed to winners’ ones at last, sparkled in the sunshine of a victory parade that took in all the key staging-posts – the City Chambers, North Bridge, the sweep down Leith Walk, the Borlands shop bearing the legend “Darts … Television” – and will never be forgotten.
The cup was theirs, the fans could continue merrily with their lives or die happy. But, Hibs being Hibs, new anxieties quickly presented themselves. Moving on from the cup versus promotion debate, the new dilemma centered on the pitch invasion and the possible punishment. A Euro ban or not being allowed to defend the cup next season – if forced to choose, which would you take? And there were other questions. If one of the stars had to leave – Jason Cummings or John McGinn – who would it be best to keep to help get the club back into the top flight? If Celtic were prepared to return one of their loanees, who would you rather have, Anthony Stokes or Liam Henderson? Then there was the Alan Stubbs question. But tell me, why is this a question at all?
Why are Hibs not tying him down to a new deal now? Why didn’t they do it immediately after the final whistle at Hampden? OK, that was a fairly hectic period, but the top deck of the bus would have been the ideal moment. Give the trophy to Jase, Stubbsy – he’s not held it for at least three seconds – and sign right here …
This would have told Rotherham – and anyone else who fancied trying to prize him away – that they were wasting their time. It would have been reward for a historic triumph, transforming the culture at the club, smashing the curse, all of that. It would have told this hugely impressive fellow that he’s loved upstairs at Easter Road almost as much as he’s loved all the way down the Walk and right across the East Stand.
I’m sure Rod Petrie and Leeann Dempster do appreciate Stubbs but what is needed this week is for them to declare, with the best contract they can muster, that Stubbs is theirs, that he’s not going anywhere, that he’s going to finish the job.
The last time Hibs won silverware, the League Cup in 2007, they lost a manager soon after. They really don’t want that to happen this time. Respect to John Collins for his success but I think the fans love Stubbs more. Collins was fortunate to inherit a fine young team from Tony Mowbray; Stubbs has made all of his own luck.
When he took over, Hibs were at rock bottom. Relegation had been an eviscerating experience and if Stubbs could find a player still standing after the big summer cull there wasn’t much hope left in his eyes. A massive disconnect existed between the people in charge and the supporters and Hibs had become something of a joke for their fanciful notions and frequent calamities.
Hibbies are fussy and quite demanding and they didn’t much care for Terry Butcher’s hoofball. His final act, the disastrous play-off against Hamilton Accies, was frequently interrupted by cloudbursts. The disgruntled support were convinced it was because centre-back Michael Nelson’s booming clearances were puncturing the sky. And after the strikers James Collins and Rowan Vine left, the fans weren’t surprised to learn of incidents which typified what had been poor contributions to the green-and-white cause – the former disgraced himself by piddling into a beer glass at Cheltenham while Vine was left stranded on a garage forecourt after filling his car with the wrong fuel.
Stubbs said: “Would you like to watch Scott Allan instead?” “Yes, please,” said the supporters. Then when Allan left the manager said: “I’ve brought in this lad McGinn who I think you might like. There’s Dylan McGeouch, too, and watch Henderson go.” These are vibrant young footballers – all of them desperate to get on the ball and not just pass it sideways – to whom the fans can relate. Indeed it’s very difficult not to relate to Henderson when he turns to the stands and roars his delight at something – the match having started, for instance. He’s his own electricity sub-station and his passion is immense. Maybe the chances of getting Hendo back are slim, but which manager has done most for him in his career thus far?
Stubbs, in a short space of time, has carved himself a reputation for bringing the best out of young players and he seems to specialise in the wayward type. This has been noticed by other clubs, along with the dignity and coolness he brings to football management, much of it born out of having suffered greater setbacks in life than the loss of three points at Dumbarton.
Now, beating Dumbarton next season will be a must for Hibs. It won’t seem like a short space of time that Stubbs will have been at Easter Road if they don’t go up; rather it’ll have been too long. He may think that two years in the Championship is enough. He’s given the fans their football team back – and the Scottish Cup into the bargain – so his legend is assured. Maybe he wonders if this experience won’t get much better and may start to pale.
The board have to acknowledge that right now they can’t do much better than Stubbs and remember how, in the recent past, they often did much worse. If they had to replace him, their track record of picking the right manager hardly inspires confidence. At their lowest ebb they got fortunate with Stubbs and should do their utmost to hold on to him for one last push.