When Alan Stubbs looks back on cup finals, for him it is all about the families. Sure, the players have all had a personal drive, and a desire to deliver success for the club and the fans, but, the Hibs manager says, what makes the occasions really special is their ability to give something back to the parents and siblings, the partners and the kids, who have all shared in the journey.
His nearest and dearest arrived in Glasgow yesterday but unfortunately his dad Ron wasn’t among them. Having passed away shortly after Stubbs made his playing debut for Everton, he never got to see his son make the transition from player to coach or head back north to guide Hibs to this afternoon’s League Cup final.
“To see me at Hampden on Sunday would have been great, but he’ll be there somewhere,” says Stubbs. “I’m the same as every other player. Everyone will have family or a friend who they may think about. Hopefully I’ll be thinking about my dad at the end of the game having done him proud.
“He came to see me at Celtic quite a few times. He was a real football person. He would have done anything for me to get me there, to fulfil my ambition of being a professional footballer. He would do what he could do to get his child to where he could be.
“When I was a kid, he was the one who was with me on the bus, on the train, everywhere. It was just after I signed for Everton that he passed away but I probably left him with the biggest memory he ever had – seeing me running out at Goodison.”
He describes his dad as ruthless and says they were cut from slightly different cloth. He has woven few of his father’s personality traits into his style of management but admits that the ruthless streak is evident in his decision-making. “I don’t have a problem making big decisions – but in terms of dealing with the players, no. My players get away with murder!”
There will be tough decisions necessary at Hampden. With too many strikers to squeeze in, he will need to either switch formations or leave one or two key individuals on the bench or even in the stand. Injuries have necessitated further tinkering, the Hibs manager unable to field the team that got them to the first major cup final of the season.
But man-management is a strength. That was one of the reasons he was elevated to the role of captain at a relatively young age at Bolton. His dad never got to witness his switch from player to coach but he says that it wouldn’t have surprised him.
“I do think he would have expected me to be a manager. It was something that I’d always thought about. I liked being a captain. I liked taking responsibility, looking after players, going to the manager with problems, speaking to him on their behalf, helping the younger players if they had any problems. I felt very comfortable with doing all of that. Football now isn’t the be-all and end-all for me. It was when I was a player. But with everything that has happened to me it comes where it should be, which is second.”
A man who won four league titles throughout his career, he also collected two League Cup winners’ medals with Celtic. While details of particular games are sketchy, the occasions are treasured, with the emotions proving more memorable than the minutiae of the 90 minutes.
“My biggest memory is obviously our medal. Your medal is there to make you remember but I think it is also for the families. The players will have all their mums and dads there and their children and it is a day for that and, when you win, [cup finals] are literally amazing. You can’t describe the feeling after the game, the players, the emotions, there are so many things that you won’t forget. If you flip it [the cup finals you lose] are days you want to forget very, very quickly. On Sunday we will have 30,000-plus travelling through and we want to give them a day to remember. We want to give everybody associated with the club a day to remember. That’s what it is all about.”
Battling on three fronts, the club, the manager and the players have never made a secret of the primary target. The ambition from day one was to secure promotion back to the top flight but, fleetingly, Stubbs is placing that ambition on the back burner.
“I’ve got to be honest, right now it is Sunday and then, hopefully once we win on Sunday, we can then start concentrating on Wednesday,” when they have their Scottish Cup quarter-final replay away to Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
“Obviously promotion is the priority because it has the biggest gains and biggest rewards but here is something strange about cups. You speak about it and sometimes as players you forget about promotions and think more about cup finals you have been to. Cup finals are unique. I think you can have promotional runs but some people never got to a cup final and that’s how cruel it can be. That’s what the players have to remember. They might never get the opportunity to get to another cup final but Sunday is their turn and they have to make sure it doesn’t pass them by.”