Alan Stubbs feels for Old Firm rival Ally McCoist

Alan Stubbs holds off sparring partner and occasional drinking buddy Ally McCoist during an Old Firm game in 1997. Picture: SNS

Alan Stubbs holds off sparring partner and occasional drinking buddy Ally McCoist during an Old Firm game in 1997. Picture: SNS

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Alan Stubbs played against Ally McCoist on enough occasions to know that he probably isn’t sitting at home feeling sorry for himself. Nevertheless he intends to make contact with the deposed Rangers manager in the days ahead since circumstances have dictated they will not have the chance to swap Christmas greetings this weekend.

Stubbs won’t be shaking hands with McCoist, currently on gardening leave from Ibrox, before this weekend’s clash between Hibs and Rangers. Instead, he will welcome Kenny McDowall, McCoist’s interim replacement, to Easter Road on Saturday, as well as former Hibs star Gordon Durie, who has been promoted from the Ibrox Under-20s to assist McDowall.

Whether or not this is good or bad news for Hibs remains to be seen. It is a tradition as rigidly observed as Christmas that football teams receive a temporary boost – at least – from a change in manager. But Stubbs’ thoughts yesterday were with McCoist, against whom he had enjoyed a competitive but healthy rivalry in the late 1990s when the pair encountered each other in Old Firm derbies. They even drank together on occasion, as tended to be much more the case in days before camera phones.

“It is not ideal and I really feel for Ally,” said Stubbs. “I wish him all the best and hope he’s back in football soon. I will look to make contact with him soon and speak to him – that’s just the decent thing to do.”

“I had the utmost respect for Ally as a player and we were know to socialise once or twice in Glasgow,” he added. “The rivalry between Rangers and Celtic was so intense, but we got on great. There were a group of players who, if we saw each other in town, would stop and have a couple of drinks before going our separate ways. It was total respect.

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“When we played against each other, there was still that respect, but we wanted to… actually I can’t say what we wanted to do to each other! We wanted to win, that’s all I will say.”

“He was a good player, a real pain,” continued Stubbs. “We used to have words and a bit of banter. His record speaks for itself. He was a fantastic goalscorer and, no matter what anyone says, he did what he had to do as a manager by getting Rangers promoted [twice].”

“However, when you are at a really top club, where the demands are so high and the pressure is always on, if you don’t deliver you run the risk of this happening. It’s the same at any club. It is a results business and unfortunately Ally has paid the price, rightly or wrongly.”

The Hibs manager did provide some context for his words. He knows football is a career defined by its ups and downs. Stubbs, more than many, also realises that being placed on gardening leave on an even higher salary than before is not the worst thing that can happen to someone.

“The one thing I would say is: Ally knew exactly what he was going into,” said Stubbs. “People will look at us managers and say we are stupid, we’re thick. They are probably right, but it’s the buzz you get from the job. When things are going well, it’s fantastic, when things are not going well you need to find a way to turn things around quickly.”

Stubbs is experiencing something approaching a ‘buzz’ at present following the posting of successive victories over Alloa Athletic and Raith Rovers. These wins means that victory over Rangers on Saturday could take Hibs to within four points of the Ibrox club, who were expected to set the pace this season. This hasn’t been the case. Hibs have struggled at times as well. However, with midfielder Scott Allan developing into the creative force Stubbs clearly hoped he would become, the manager’s contention that Hibs will only improve in the coming months looks to be well-founded.

“I’ve always said that I think we will get stronger as the season goes on and I really don’t think there is an awful lot between Hibs, Rangers or Hearts,” Stubbs said. “However, Hearts have been very consistent, even when they have not reached the heights. That’s the reason they are top of the league.

“Rangers obviously have resources, because they have the biggest budget, but it’s about how you spend it

“I have a budget here and I need to get the best out of it. The biggest budget will not always win you the league and, at the moment, the league bears that out with Hearts having such a big lead.”

The Easter Road manager would not be drawn on the continued financial struggles being endured by Rangers. He did raise his eyebrows when the Ibrox club’s squad rebuilding of last summer continued unabated under McCoist. Such high-profile players as Kris Boyd and Kenny Miller were recruited on wages that reflected their achievements in the game, and yet here Rangers are, pleading poverty again at their AGM on Monday.

“No comment!” said Stubbs, before adding: “Listen, they started a season with a budget. Whether it’s fair or not, they have the players. The club is losing money, but it’s not my problem or Hibs’ problem.”

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