WHEN Peter Cormack played for Hibernian there were good young players coming through every year. When he was assistant manager under Alex Miller that was still the case. And, up to a few years ago, when he turned up to watch every home game he could be sure that over the course of the season a few gifted footballers would emerge.
Now 67, he still goes to games, albeit against his better judgement at times. But while his commitment to his first footballing love remains, that flow of talent has dried up.
Cormack, who played for Hibs from 1963 before leaving for Nottingham Forest seven years later, used to attend games at Easter Road as part of a group of distinguished former players. But invitations to those reunions stopped some time ago, and so, while still a regular, he is no longer so close to the club. He therefore does not pretend to have all the answers – but does at least have some relevant suggestions about where Hibs are going wrong.
“I go to all the home games, because my grandkids are all Hibs supporters,” he said yesterday. “I meet their other grandad and we have a pint before we go. I still go along – but I can’t say I enjoy it.
“It’s like everything else – it’s what you were brought up with. In our time there were that many good teams and good players.
“Marion, my wife, says to me I always come back from a game and say ‘I’m not going back again – that was rubbish’. But I say it’s just what we were brought up with, and watched, and played. You don’t lose that, or change that – you still go down to Easter Road.
“Half the current team wouldn’t get a game with our reserve team, never mind the first team. But I didn’t expect things to get this bad. It’s scary. I know it’s hard if you’ve not got the finances…
“I don’t know how the programme works now with bringing the youngsters through. There were five or six of us came through together, and that wasn’t costing the club a lot of money.
“In my time there was myself, Jim O’Rourke, Pat Stanton, Alex Cropley…We maybe managed to bring in a couple every year.
“That’s a massive advantage. Hibs were always really good with that. The club had three or four young players coming through all the time. They were able to fit in with the blend of the side, which was very important, because that’s sometimes the biggest fault at a lot of big clubs – they buy in players and they don’t get the balance right.
“They might have good front players, but no decent midfield players to get the ball to them – or vice versa. We always had good wingers. All round we had quite solid players who knew their strengths.”
When Cormack says “quite solid”, he means “very talented” – and he was himself one of the most gifted, winning multiple honours with Liverpool after moving from Forest in 1972. Peter Marinello was arguably just as talented, although he achieved far less, and Cormack believes the extra work that he and his namesake put in is something that today’s professionals should emulate.
“I used to do extra training in the afternoon with Peter and John Murphy,” he recalled. “I remember them leaving the club at lunchtime and I’d say ‘Where are you going?’ They said ‘We’re going away’ and I said ‘Naw you’re no, you’re coming back in the afternoon’. They said ‘All right Peter’, and to be fair to them they came back every afternoon I asked them to. I did crossing and finishing with them – we worked on Peter’s crosses and John’s passing. We did an hour and a half, two hours, maybe three times a week, and they got the benefit of it later on.
“I’d still do the same today if I was at a professional club. What else have players got to do in the afternoon?”
The instinct for coaching he showed then stood Cormack in good stead when his playing days were over, as he managed Partick Thistle, Anorthosis of Cyprus and the Botswana national team among others. He is convinced that he and many other professionals of a similar age still have a lot of wisdom to offer today’s young players – not necessarily full-time, and certainly not for a salary.
Or at least, those were the conditions on which he offered his services to Hibs several years back. He or a former team-mate such as Neil Martin would go in for about a month to work with the young players free of charge, and they would then let the club hierarchy decide whether there had been improvement. If not, they would walk away not a penny richer and accept failure.
It seemed there was nothing to stop Hibs from taking up the offer, but that did not happen. Indeed, in a sign of the club’s growing estrangement from its own former star players, Cormack says that no-one from Easter Road even got in touch to say thanks but no thanks. “I think it’s a big loss that they’ve not got experienced guys like myself and Neil Martin. A while ago I said to the club I could go in every afternoon to take kids for things like heading, or learning what runs to make.
“I said ‘Why don’t you employ a couple of experienced pros? Do it for a month and see if it’s working. I’m not wanting any money so it’s not costing you anything. Just see if it works and the young players improve – which they will do, because they’re getting our experience to draw on.’ They never came back to me, even to say no thanks. I just said I was there to talk because I’d done it and worked abroad and all the rest of it. I thought they would take me up on that. But no.”