Stuart Bathgate: Hibs supporters must unify

Hands On Hibs is currently working separately from Buy Hibs, but both groups want change at the club. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Hands On Hibs is currently working separately from Buy Hibs, but both groups want change at the club. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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WHEN Buy Hibs launched their scheme for a supporters’ takeover at Easter Road last month, one obstacle to their hopes of success was mentioned by nearly everyone. Unlike their rivals across Edinburgh, who were in administration for nearly a year before the Foundation of Hearts completed a takeover, Hibernian do not at present face a threat to their very existence.

Without such a threat, it was argued, the majority of supporters will not feel motivated to spring into action and join in a campaign which could be time-consuming and cost them money. And certainly, it would be fair to say that, partly for that reason, But Hibs have had a low-key start.

There may have been drastic shortcomings both on and off the field of play, and chairman Rod Petrie can expect some awkward questions at the club’s forthcoming annual general meeting, which is already late in being announced. But, as things stand, the debt is guaranteed by owner Sir Tom Farmer, who is richer by far than anyone else who has expressed an interest in running the club.

So should Hibs fans rest easy? The experience of two other supporters’ groups, at Hearts and Rangers, suggests otherwise.

By the time Vladimir Romanov’s business empire collapsed, plunging the Tynecastle club into administration in June 2013, the Foundation of Hearts had been around for years. True, at that time it was little more than a small group of like-minded businesspeople who had tried and failed to bring Romanov to the negotiating table, and from that point until its successful takeover 12 months later it would expand out of all recognition.

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But the vehicle was in place. The structure was there. And, crucially, the Save our Hearts movement of a decade earlier had given thousands of supporters a grounding in political activity. While Foundation chairman Ian Murray and others had a hard job banging heads together, unity was eventually achieved: every group of organised Hearts fans joined in with the Foundation, and more than 8,500 individuals signed up to pay a monthly subscription.

Even then, the takeover would not have been successful but for Ann Budge, who put in millions of her own money. But similarly, Budge only committed those funds because a mass membership was in place.

Contrast that happy outcome with the fate of a far larger club, Rangers. With roughly three times the attendances at home games and a vast organisation of supporters’ clubs, Rangers would appear ideally placed for an attempted takeover by their fans. Given the characters who were in and around the boardroom at Ibrox since Craig Whyte put the club into administration in February 2012, that attempt may well have failed. But if it had been made, it might just have persuaded some of those characters that they were better off working with the supporters

Instead, it took roughly a couple of years before the Union of Fans was born as a body which, like the Foundation of Hearts, united nearly every relevant group of the club’s supporters. The Union has emerged as an articulate and accurate critic of the machinations within Ibrox, but it cannot yet mobilise massive numbers. Instead, a deepening disillusionment has set in among the support, with apathy rather than anger appearing the predominant emotion.

There is surely a lesson there, not only for Hibs fans but for any supporters who care about their club. Even if you have faith in the board of directors who are currently in control – as so many Hearts fans did with Romanov, for example – there could well come a time when you do not feel so enamoured by their decisions. Even if those decisions are made with the good of the club at heart, you might still find yourself fundamentally opposed to them. And, if then you choose to stand against those directors, your hopes of success will be so much greater if you already have an organisation in place. The bigger and more united the organisation, the better your chances of success. There were a lot of militant members of Save our Hearts who were easily disenchanted by the pace at which the Foundation made its decisions and by the cumbersome, bureaucratic nature of some of its meetings. But, while maintaining their freedom to act independently, they still signed up as members.

Hands On Hibs is currently in a similar position regarding Buy Hibs. The street, not the office, is their preferred milieu. But, if the two groups can find a way to work together, it can only be to their mutual benefit.

The current owners of Hibs will eventually sell up. When they do, the fans need to be ready. They may never get another chance to return their club to the people who care about it most.

Spartans do their bit to restore cup’s allure

THERE was always a special allure to the third round of the Scottish Cup when it took place in the second week of January. With the festivities out of the way, including the New Year matches, cup weekend marked the return to real, serious football. And, of course, being the stage at which all the big teams entered, the third round was also the stage at which the majority of fans would begin to dream in earnest of Hampden glory. Since the expansion of the competition and the revision of the calendar, some of the glamour has gone. The fourth round, which has just been played, is now the point of entry for the Premiership and upper Championship clubs; January is an unrelenting diet of league action; and the round of 16 does not take place until February. Oh, and to be honest, the fourth-round draw did not help, with the top 14 teams in the country all facing each other.

But maybe, thanks in large part to Spartans, this season will see a return of that glamour. And maybe, if this afternoon’s draw is kind, we will look forward to the fifth round as we once did to the third.

The Lowland League club provided the upset of the weekend when they came from behind to beat League One Morton on Saturday, and are now just one tie away from going further than ever before in the competition.

Ten years ago they reached the fourth round before losing to Livingston, then two seasons after that they also got to the last 16, going down to St Mirren only after a replay.

There would normally be a temptation on financial grounds to hope to be drawn with one of the biggest clubs left, but this time, surely, Spartans will hope for a winnable match – and with so many Premiership teams already out, the majority of potential opponents would come into the beatable category.

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