THERE will remain a ‘massive disconnect’ between fans and board so long as Rod Petrie stays, writes Scott Fraser
Today brings the dawn of a new football season and with it a new adventure for a generation of Hibernian supporters.
However, this is not an adventure that many will relish and is certainly not the adventure they would have envisaged 12 months ago.
The situation which has unfolded at Easter Road over the past few years has brought pain and embarrassment to all Hibernian supporters and although there are some signs that a new broom is beginning to sweep clean, significant problems still remain.
Having suffered two thumping Scottish Cup final defeats in the previous two seasons there was still a sense of optimism as we looked towards the new season in the summer of 2013. The possibility of a run in the Europa League and the belief that with The Rangers out of the Premiership and Hearts mortally wounded by their 15-point deduction, a positive season challenging for second or third place was more than a possibility.
What happened was the stuff of nightmare for Hibs supporters.
A record defeat in the Europa League qualifier, failure to inflict the expected “punishment” on Hearts during the season and ultimately relegation at the hands of Hamilton Accies following one of the most cowardly performances by a Hibernian side at Easter Road for many a year were certainly not in the script.
The appointment of Terry Butcher and his backroom team at the turn of the year, which was greeted with almost unanimous approval by the fans, proved to be yet another disastrous decision by the Hibernian board and one which ultimately led to that final day humiliation.
However, this was not the first poor decision made by Rod Petrie and his fellow directors. Pat Fenlon and Colin Calderwood had also been unmitigated failures which resulted in some of the most dire performances and results in the club’s history, yet it seems that board are unwilling to accept any responsibility for these failures.
The appointment of Leeann Dempster, which was announced prior to the end of the season, will hopefully prove to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to board appointments and having met Leeann personally I found her beliefs and vision for Hibernian Football club, along with her passion for supporter engagement, optimistically refreshing. However, along with the vast majority of Hibs supporters, I very much doubt that Leeann has complete authority over the material decisions that need to be made at Easter Road to ensure a swift return to the Premiership.
That, in my view, is where the problem lies.
When Sir Tom Farmer acquired Hibernian Football Club during the dark days of the proposed takeover by Wallace Mercer, he did so, not as a staunch Hibernian supporter, but as an astute businessman who had grown up and prospered in the area and recognised the significance of the club to the Leith community. He quite rightly looked to protect his investment and appointed Rod Petrie to the board in order that a safe pair of hands could guide the club back to stability and, more importantly, ensure that his investment was protected.
Petrie was not a football appointment and was not a “football man”, but he has become a figure in Scottish football thanks to his association with Hibernian and has built a certain reputation in the process.
There is no doubt that Petrie has overseen a dramatic improvement in the financial health and infrastructure of the club during the past 20 plus years, but memorable seasons on the park have been rare during this same period. While Rod may have been brought in to protect Sir Tom Farmer’s investment as the owner of the football club, the people to whom the club truly belongs, the supporters, have apparently become less and less valued by the board.
Following that last day defeat by Hamilton, there was a vociferous disconnect among the supporters, the team and the manager, and while events over the close season have gone some way to reconnecting some supporters to the team, there remains a massive disconnect between the board and the fans.
In my view, this disconnect will only start to repair if and when Petrie and all current, non-executive directors leave Easter Road for good.
For this to happen, it is almost certain that Sir Tom Farmer will have to agree to sell his controlling interest in Hibernian and we have seen activity around this front in recent weeks.
I believe there are people in the Hibs-supporting community who are both willing and able to take the club forward if an agreement can be reached with Sir Tom. However, it would appear by the lack of comment coming from the board of the football club that Petrie does not adhere to this view.
In any organisation, of whatever size, when the person or persons at the top remain in a position of complete control and in an environment where they cannot be challenged, eventually the organisation will decay. I believe that we Hibernian supporters have witnessed this decay manifest itself on the pitch at Easter Road over the past few seasons.
So today brings the dawn of a new football season and I, along with thousands of others, will be willing Hibernian on to victory over Livingston, in the fervent hope that a win today just might be the first, small step on the long road back to success both on and off the pitch for my beloved club.