AS WELL as sporting one of its most notable moustaches, Rod Petrie is renowned for possessing perhaps the thickest skin in Scottish football. It is about to be tested as never before.
Paul Kane claims it’s nothing personal – but there is no other way to view the campaign from Hibernian supporters to oust the Easter Road club’s embattled chairman which was formally launched yesterday.
Simply entitled ‘Petrie Out’, it will be led by former Hibs midfielder Kane, who hosted a highly-charged and often emotionally-fuelled gathering of fans’ groups representatives at the Hibernian Supporters Association headquarters yesterday.
Better known as The Hibs Club, situated on Sunnyside just off Easter Road, its biggest forthcoming event is an appearance by a Tom Jones tribute act next Saturday night. But the main focus on that day now will be on songs of a very different kind which will certainly not be music to the ears of Petrie as the fall-out from Hibs’ relegation to the Championship following an extraordinary plummet down the table continues to reverberate.
The ‘Petrie Out’ campaign have called for a rally of supporters at 11:30am next Saturday outside the stadium where Terry Butcher’s team imploded in the second leg of the Premiership play-off final against Hamilton Accies last Sunday.
After Petrie had been steadfast in his refusal to step down in a meeting with Kane and his colleagues on Thursday, the man who made 292 first-team appearances for the club insists the time has come to try and send him a message he cannot ignore.
“I don’t know how he will respond to it,” admits Kane. “But one thing is for sure – with the emotions shown here today, we will get what we want. It’s now up to the Hibs supporters to decide what they want.
“They have been given an opportunity to show that. If it doesn’t happen, I will hold up my hands and say I made a mistake and walk away because this is about Hibernian Football Club.
“We think this is a crucial time in the club’s history and that, without Rod Petrie being here, Hibs would be a better club.
“I think the pivotal moment of our campaign will be next Saturday. The opportunity for Hibs supporters to get rid of Rod Petrie is now there in their hands. Is that what they want? If they do, then it will happen – it has to happen.
“It’s not personal with Rod Petrie, it’s about him not running the ship right. The club’s demise has been caused largely by Rod Petrie.
“He has now put us down to the Championship, along with all his other decisions down the years. He is the leader of this club and basically he has to go.
“We went to the meeting with him on Thursday in a dignified way, to try and stop having to do this today. We don’t want to go down the Rangers scenario, where it’s all tit-for-tat – that won’t do Hibs or the supporters any good.
“But we have been forced into this because we asked him to go and he said ‘No’. It was cordial enough, there were no problems that way.
“But he says he wants to stay to see the changes through and we are not accepting that. We don’t want him anywhere near the club. He might think he has got more backing than we have – time will tell. We’ll find out next Saturday.”
Kane is determined that the campaign will focus solely on Petrie and made a point yesterday of asking fans not to turn their attention to either the club’s owner, Sir Tom Farmer, or manager Terry Butcher.
Yet so long as Petrie retains the backing of Farmer – and there is nothing to indicate that does not remain the case – simply protesting against the chairman could prove fruitless.
“I don’t want to go down that route,” added Kane. “Of course Sir Tom Farmer could make the decision himself to get rid of Rod Petrie and you would have to ask him why he hasn’t done so yet.
“But I don’t want this to be diluted by Tom Farmer or the football side of things.
“This is about getting rid of Rod Petrie because we think he has made the decisions which have led to the club’s demise. But this is only stage one – we also have a stage two and three. Once we get Rod Petrie out, I can tell you about the next stage.”
The campaigners are not calling for a boycott of season tickets and there was an angry reaction at yesterday’s gathering to an official club statement issued earlier in the week which expressed concern over attempts by supporters to ‘starve’ Hibs.
Kenny McLean junior, son of the former Hibs vice-chairman of the same name who led the Hands Off Hibs campaign against Hearts chairman Wallace Mercer’s takeover bid in 1990, told the meeting: “Only one person is starving the club – Rod Petrie has starved us of our heart and now of Premiership football.”
Kane said: “Our group won’t deprive the club of money. The individuals can take up that themselves. If someone doesn’t want to buy a season ticket, I am not going to tell them to buy one. That’s their decision. If they want to go down the route of not buying one and depriving the club of their money, that’s up to them.”
Monday will be the first official day at work for new Hibs chief executive Leann Dempster, whose recruitment from Motherwell had been intended by Petrie to help persuade supporters he would be less involved in the day to day running of the club in future. Kane insists that simply doesn’t wash.
“If he thinks Leann Dempster is that good, then he can walk away,” he said. “There have been others there in the past, like Scott Lindsay and Fyfe Hyland, but Rod Petrie was always pulling the strings.
“Leann is very unfortunate to come in and be caught in cross wind. If she can do such a good job, the support will welcome her and give her a chance, but she can do it even better without Rod Petrie being there.
“It would be a very silly business person or chief executive who would see fans outside in their thousands, who bring two-thirds of the club’s money in, and decides to ignore them.
“We will be speaking to Leann next Saturday and that’s why I’m asking for a peaceful rally to show support for our campaign.
“If she sees the numbers I expect will be there, she will have a major decision to make. We are told she will be in complete control, so she should be able to make that decision. This is a crucial time in Hibs’ history and a crucial decision.
“There were grown men crying in my pub last Sunday night after the team were relegated. That’s what this club means to people. We now need the spirit of Hands Off Hibs to come back – we need as many to turn up on Saturday as possible. The more there are, the stronger the case we have.
“We might even ask the club to open up a stand, maybe two stands, if enough people turn up. Why would they ignore that? They can’t ignore the supporters. If they do, it’s a perilous road they are going down.”