AT THE very moment she was supposed to be stepping on a holiday flight last week, Leeann Dempster was sitting in Manchester airport interviewing managerial candidates.
The subsequent recruitment of Alan Stubbs to the role won’t, though, give Hibernian’s chief executive a break. Not in one crucial respect.
Appointing a new man to the helm of a failing football club always brings a welcome injection of freshness and enthusiasm. Yet, Dempster isn’t daft. She knows signing up Stubbs doesn’t wipe the slate clean in the eyes of supporters as far as age old problem is concerned – the presence of chairman Rod Petrie at Easter Road.
The protesters demanding the removal of Petrie have already made plain they won’t be appeased by the arrival of an eighth manager in ten years. The entrenched positions taken by the Leith hierarchy and the club’s followers poison the potential for Stubbs to work against a backdrop of peace and harmony as Hibs embark on a campaign in the Championship. Dempster doesn’t need to be made aware of that fact that, for a sizeable section of her customer base, hiring a new head coach is practically a side issue when the man at the top hasn’t been fired.
“I’ve got to work to the strengths I’ve got, in terms of the football side of things and the club in general. There are supporters for whom that’s a one-ticket item, but what can I do to influence that?” she says. “At the end of the day, we’ve got a board of directors, we’ve got a set-up and we’re going to move forward with that. Things will change, things will evolve over time.
“But we’ve got, may I say, more important things to deal with. We’ve got a football club to run at the minute, we had a manager to recruit, we’ve got players to get for the new season. I know it [the Petrie issue] will be a recurring theme and it’s one I’m trying not to shirk, but Rod is the chairman. Rod recruited me and he recruited me for a reason, and for that reason he’s let me get on with my job.”
Petrie has allowed his new chief executive to get on with his old job to the extent that Stubbs never met his chairman before signing his contract, and there was no dissent over Dempster’s choice. The former Everton under-21 coach will take his place in a new football structure that will see him work alongside new head of football operations George Craig. With Dempster maintaining she will retain a footballing input, because that is what she “likes doing”, the non-involvement of Petrie – once considered an emissary of owner Tom Farmer – seems genuine, even if will not be enough for some.
“That’s pretty much how him and I discussed [the new manager appointment] before all of this happened and he’s been true to his word. He’s concentrating on the things he’s very strong at, he’s got other interests to get on with. The reality is we do complement each other in many, many ways and George complements me. So, we have actually a good team, if you like, if we concentrate on the things we’re good at.
“The [whole] board left the managerial search to me, it wasn’t just Rod. We went through a process, a rigorous on paper process as well just to do some research, and we narrowed it down and did some diligence, spoke to some people, and put together a short-list. George and myself went away, we went down to Manchester for three days – and the people we met were all fantastic, they were really, really good candidates.
“Alan, for me, was just something different, something special, and I never got a sense that there would be any kind of veto at all. We went through the process and George was involved in the interview process more from the structural side of the club and moving forward in his expertise. But, actually, the final decision was absolutely mine, and it was me who took it to the board and made the recommendation. There was no push-back at all. Obviously there was a discussion because people were asking questions – it was me who had met him. But there was an enthusiasm around the table, and it was done relatively quickly. There’s no lies there, that’s how it happened.”
What has happened as far as Dempster is concerned is that she brought a man on board with whom she has a “rapport” that feels similar to that she enjoyed in her last posting, at Fir Park, with Motherwell manager Stuart McCall.
“I’m under no illusions, I know how important it is to get on with your manager. Stuart and I had a cracking relationship, a brilliant relationship, and I think you can see the success Motherwell had. I was part of that, he was part of that. I’ve said before I did his worrying for him and I’m sure I’ll do a bit more worrying here as well.”
Whatever she might say publicly, a worry that won’t go away is how to heal the schisms caused by Petrie staying on.