SCONES, sofas, headstones, handshakes and mickey-takes. The world according to Terry Butcher in his Leith life is already beginning follow a familiar pattern set long before he pitched up at Inverness: that is, serious and earnest football discussion interspersed with gloriously off-beam flights of fancy.
A willingness to give expansive responses on all subjects – some of those his own potty choosing – makes the big Englishman forever a joyous interviewee. But the bravura performance the Hibernian manager gave at the club’s training ground yesterday also pointed to the joy he is deriving from a job that yielded a hoodoo-busting win away to Ross County at the weekend, on the back of a losing-streak ending scoreless draw at Paisley in his first assignment. “The response and attitude has been great so far, the place is really buzzing,” he said.
The attitude has not been universally great, however. Butcher has had a first disciplinary issue to deal with following Ross Caldwell insolently slapping his manager’s hand away when he tried to shake it in the closing seconds of the Dingwall Scottish Cup win, the futile attempt to console the youngster made after Butcher substituted him despite only bringing him on with 11 minutes remaining.
“I spoke to Ross, we had a good chat today, and he apologised and knew he had done wrong and we’re moving forward together. He is a good kid and he has a good future at Hibernian. I read how I was going to read him the riot act and I was going to do this and that. It was a simple case of having a chat and putting it to bed.
“I have two sofas in my office and I sat on one couch and he sat on the other and we had a good chat. If anything, that has brought us even closer together.
“I was concerned about Ross’s level of fitness and sometimes you cannot get your second wind on a pitch and there are times when you have to make decisions like that and it is not a nice decision to make. You do not like to substitute the sub and it is history now and we will learn from it. Ross accepted my explanation as he is a clever boy and he is just so desperate and keen to play for Hibs.”
Butcher seems desperate to lead Hibs out at Easter Road for a first time, an occasion that will arrive on Saturday when Partick Thistle are the visitors. Before he performs his duties at the stadium in the afternoon, he will fulfill a poignant role in the morning by taking his place at Eastern Cemetery on Easter Road for a ceremony to mark the erecting of a gravestone to former Hibs manager Dan McMichael. Butcher is well aware of the special place McMichael, whose stone has been paid for by the St Patrick’s branch of the club’s supporters association, occupies in Hibs’ history.
“To wait three and half weeks for your first home match is a long time. It will be a long day with going to the cemetery on Saturday morning for Dan McMichael – the last Hibs manager to lead the club to the Scottish Cup – but hopefully it is an enjoyable occasion. It is really special and I want it to be special.”
Butcher would become mighty special to the Leith club’s followers were he to follow in the footsteps of 1902 cup winner McMichael and the draw that paired his team at home to Raith Rovers for the February last 16 ties offers possibilities. “We will be a different team when we play them; it’ll be after the transfer window so we’ll see how many we get in. I don’t know if we will get any, but we will be different because we will have had a lot of games under our belts. With the progress we’ve been making we’d hope to be a better team all round.
“We played them at Inverness in pre-season and they murdered us for an hour in a 2-2 draw. It’s another one of my clubs. Jimmy Nicholl got me back in [after a spell out of football] and I loved the club, it’s great.”
Butcher says he has been impressed with the response from the, as yet, non-playing members of the squad he has inherited. Disposed captain James McPake has been giving advice, his manager said, about logistical aspects of the squad’s pre-match regime as well as helping Liam Craig to succeed in the skipper role.
Such an advisory role is all that will be open to McPake in the coming months, with Butcher revealing yesterday that he will undergo surgery on his troublesome back in the next week. “He needs this operation. He is 29 now and has a young baby and is looking to get his career back on track,” said Butcher, who would only state “before the end of the season” when asked about a timescale for recovery. Tim Clancy is much closer, the long-term sidelined performer having turned out in an East of Scotland game this week.
Butcher made light of “bodies being taken” in a 7-1 win for Hibs’ East of Scotland league side against Eyemouth on Saturday. He did likewise about setting up home in North Berwick after a strange incident when he was present with soup and scone in a local cafe. And he was determined to settle for only a gentle ribbing when asked about Kenny Shiels’ comments on the radio the other night to the effect that coaches who have played for Rangers and Celtic received favourable treatment over managerial vacancies.
“It’s ages since Kenny has been in the paper or on the radio, so he’s got to say something. I have had letters from Hibs fans saying it is what you do now and what you do as Hibs’ manager that matters. As a player, I can’t play. But, as a manager, I have gleaned experience from clubs and that’s where I am now. I think he went on about people recommending you and all that. I’ve had no-one recommend me. Bobby Robson has passed away, and no-one has recommended me for jobs in the past. I always thought that, just the same as in business, it is about your CV. It is what you do and what you can do that is the most important.” What you say is also important. And Butcher has long been top in his game on that score.