ASK 100 people to think of a term to describe Hibernian, discard any unprintable answers, and chances are you would be left with a sizeable majority currently favouring one word: underachievers.
The Easter Road club won plaudits under Tony Mowbray and the CIS Cup under John Collins, but since the latter resigned as manager at the end of 2007 their supporters have known little but disappointment.
No club has a divine right to win trophies or even to finish in the upper half of the league, but with the resources at their disposal, Hibs should have fared a lot better over the past six years. Pat Fenlon got them to the past two Scottish Cup finals, but his claim that this was a creditable feat was undermined by the manner in which they lost those finals. In the league, meanwhile, they have either begun brightly then fallen away, as they did last season and earlier under John Hughes; or begun poorly then succeeded in hauling themselves to safety.
Terry Butcher, for one, knows his new club should be faring far better, and as he began his term in office yesterday the new manager made it clear that he would demand a substantial improvement.
“I want our team to be known as overachievers,” the former Inverness boss said. “Give me time and I might produce better. The whole club really overachieved at Caley Thistle and this is a really huge club. What we achieved and what the players achieved and what everybody else achieved, it was a terrific effort from everybody at Caley Thistle, it was just magnificent. With the resources we have here, we have to match that effort at Caley Thistle and more.
“I wouldn’t say Hibs had a soft centre, but playing at a big club is always a massive responsibility. There is always pressure. You’re always expected to win and play well. At Caley Thistle people normally expect you to lose and people think they’re going to beat you quite comfortably. At this moment in time people playing against Hibs probably think they have a good chance of three points.
“We want to change that mentality and be a team people hate playing against, simply because we are organised, strong, there is bags of effort and we are wholehearted, together and the boys can play a bit as well. I know Hibs fans crave a Scottish Cup win, but I think they’re looking for stability and to be a top-six side and push on from there. We want to get as high as we can in the table. A lot of people are saying that’s where Hibs should be, but lately Hibs haven’t been anywhere near that.
“After Saturday’s performance [when Butcher’s old club won 2-0 at Easter Road], you think ‘onwards and upwards’. There’s only one way to go as far as I’m concerned and that’s to be much better. But it takes time and the players have got to learn what we’re all about. Everybody has to work harder and that means everybody at the club, even the administration side. There’s nothing like hard work. Hard work gets you to the top.”
In one sense, it should be easier for Butcher at Hibs than it was for him in Inverness. The facilities at East Mains, the club’s training ground, are well in advance of what he was used to in the Highland capital. The stadium is roughly double the size. And although at little more than 8,000 the crowd on Saturday was Hibs’ lowest in the league this season, that is still more than double the average home gate for Caley Thistle.
Butcher appreciates all those advantages he has inherited, but is also aware of a significant drawback at Easter Road: the lack of continuity.
There have been too many changes, and Butcher aims to ensure there will be none at the top for some time to come. “Caley Thistle got into the top six last year, but that was through a lot of hard work and the team staying together,” he said. “Stability and continuity.
“I hope there’s not another press conference (at Hibs), where a new manager is appointed, for a good number of years now. That’s what we want to give them.
“We’ve shown that at Motherwell and at Caley Thistle. We do set a platform and a standard. I want everybody to be proud of this football club through the first team, through everybody at the club on the playing side and that will transfer to the rest of the club as well. It’s a proud club and we want everybody to be proud of what we do here whether it be catering, the commercial side, the football side.
“We need to make everybody really happy with what we’re doing on the pitch but that will take time. If you look at Saturday’s team, that was 18 months of a project for Caley Thistle to get to that stage.
“I’m not saying it will take 18 months here. I’m optimistic it will take a much shorter time. The first thing we said to the players was that we want them to work harder than any other team in the Premiership. To do that you’ve got to be fit and you’ve got to be strong.”