Fans of Hibernian have long grown weary of new arrivals – and here we’re talking players and too many different managers for the club’s good – waxing lyrical about coming to work in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.
Time will tell if Leeann Dempster is smart enough to have made a conscious decision to avoid such crowd-pleasing soundbites, but the simple truth is the new chief executive hasn’t had the time to feel the east wind on her cheeks because of the storm that continues to engulf Easter Road.
Yesterday Terry Butcher was sacked following Hibs’ spectacular plummet into the Championship. Although chairman Rod Petrie accompanied Dempster when she met Butcher the previous day, it had been her call that he be relieved of his duties, which was then ratified by the board. Thus she’d made a decision about a man without having seen him at work, and then relayed this to the man who’d just hired her, but who she knows is massively unpopular with the supporters. To say that Dempster’s first week called for iron nerve and an absolute sureness of what she was doing is a massive understatement.
What with fan protests, rallies and deputations to the door with which she’s probably not yet wholly familiar, Dempster described her introduction to the post as “very stressful”. Now she must find a new manager for the challenge of what promises to be a ferocious league. And operate with a budget which will inevitably be less than the one anticipated when her appointment was announced and Hibs were still a Premiership team. These stresses have only just begun.
Is she up to them? “You have to live or die on these decisions,” she said, referring to the one of dismissing Butcher before he’d had the opportunity to properly shape his own team. There would be a view he hadn’t had that chance; she took a “different perspective”. “Whether they are the right decisions only time will tell.” Hibs had gone through many managers. Now was the time to “stop that pattern”.
Yesterday she met reporters in the directors’ lounge on the top floor at Easter Road, the first-floor media room being deemed unsuitable for the announcement given it was still decorated with Premiership signage and bunting. Outside in the car park, a lone fan had brought along some bunting of his own – a bedsheet banner demanding “Petrie out” in the hope that Dempster’s announcement might prove even more eventful. She began hesitantly and seemed to be catching her breath – understandable after her whirlwind week – but after asking photographers to refrain from trying to snap her every gesture, she found some poise.
“I haven’t managed to get to know Edinburgh yet,” she said. “Most of my time has been spent in this building.” Was she already regretting having taken the job? “Absolutely not.” But it was already proving a challenge – “a major challenge, no doubt about that.” She regretted that the manager had to go. “It’s really unfortunate, I’m very saddened about it. This absolutely wasn’t the first task I had in mind in coming to the club. But I can’t look back, I have to look forward.”
In a room enshrined with images of the Famous Five and other Hibs greats, these were the Dempster watchwords. Four times in 20 minutes she said she would be looking forward. A closer inspection of these cabinets, however, reveals that the past is not all it’s cracked up to be, or all it should have been for this club. The one directly behind her contained the Reserve Cup (1878), the Edinburgh Association Cup (1879) and other modest bawbees from long, long ago.
Dempster did describe Hibs as a “big club” – another of those phrases which make some fans wince when they have so obviously refused to act like one out on the pitch.
But this didn’t sound like blather. She was talking about big as in the pressure of her job, how she wanted it and how she hoped the man who succeeded Butcher as the eighth appointment in ten years will want his just as much.
The manager’s position had, she admitted, been termed a poisoned chalice but she hoped to play a part in ridding it of that tag. Would the high turnover deter some good men? She hoped not. “I looked at my job as a great opportunity. This is a big club with a massive fan base but obviously there are great expectations. I’ve certainly experienced that in the last seven days. It’s unique. There’s a lot of pressure on people who come to work here. Everyone who comes has to know that.”
As well as bringing their expectations, the fans have also brought books. Tomes on what she called “the Hibernian way”. The F-word – flair – which older fans who at least remember Turnbull’s Tornadoes, if not the Famous Five, have struggled recently to justify as an established tradition. Initially, Dempster didn’t want to discuss the footballing philosophy the new manager might bring with him, as this could have been deemed a criticism of Butcher and, in any case – that phrase again – she was determined to look forward. But she added: “I definitely know about it. Supporters have told me the type of football they want to see here. They’ve given me lots of advice. I’ve been inundated in that regard. I’ve had many books posted to me.”
Which ones? “Gosh, you’ve got me there,” she said. No time for reading and certainly no time for a bus tour of the capital, home to the underperforming Hibees. On with the job, the trickiest in Scottish football. After that of the club’s manager, of course.