Fans of Hibernian, here’s how your future is going to pan out: your bedevilled club are going to win the Scottish Cup after 114 years of hurt, hoodoo and Harry Haddock of Clyde lifting it instead… and Neil Lennon is going to become your manager.
Six months ago if you’d painted this scenario for a Hibby he would not know whether to laugh or cry. He would have struggled to tell you which of those two outcomes was the more fantastical. But strange things always happen in football and today, in a room not far from one containing the oh so elusive trophy, now decked in green and white ribbons, Lenny will be formally introduced as Alan Stubbs’ replacement.
Given that so many fans were prepared to take the cup over promotion if it came down to an either-or choice – and last season it did – some might have been prepared to accept Boris Johnson or Kim Kardashian as boss for a third go at getting out of the Championship. But they don’t have to. They can have a man who’s beaten Barcelona, just as Hibs themselves did back in the 1960s. And any doubters would have to concede that whatever they think might be Lennon’s disadvantages – a lack of knowledge of Scotland’s second tier, the possibility he’ll get frustrated if things don’t go to plan, the chance of the odd explosion – he comes to Easter Road with advantages, too.
First, he brings experience. He’s been in management a lot longer than Dundee United’s Ray McKinnon and only one year less than another rival, Falkirk’s Peter Houston. Discount the unhappy spell at Bolton Wanderers, that experience has come in the extreme-pressure environment of the Old Firm, going toe-to-toe and on one notorious occasion nose-to-nose with Rangers, winning titles and cups. Lennon is a heavyweight and persuading him to come to Leith is a coup for chief executive Leeann Dempster.
No one among the Hibee faithful will hear a bad word said about Stubbs. He brought the club decency, dignity and the cup. But he was a rookie boss and Lennon is not that. If the new man arrives with brashness, drama, devilment and a hint of menace, maybe these things will be useful in a campaign which must – absolutely must – result in promotion. Perhaps they’ll be just what Hibs need.
Dempster and the board will be hoping that Lennon’s status and swagger will ensure that no one else important leaves the club in the close season. When Stubbs said his farewells, there was immediate speculation that some of the star men might do likewise, with top scorer Jason Cummings and Scotland cap and Player of the Championship John McGinn not short of admirers. McGinn, on collecting that award, expressed his determination to stay and help Hibs get back to the Premiership and that he’d be pleased if Lennon got the job. You’d imagine that relationship working out all right, and that others like Paul Hanlon, who’s out of contract, might be persuaded by the appointment as the clearest-possible sign of Hibee ambition. You’d think, too, that Lennon must have been given assurances that, as much as a club like Hibs can influence such matters, or even want to, they will try to keep their best players.
If there’s scope for bringing in some new ones then Lennon’s clout will prove useful. If not actual signings then key loan deals. Anthony Stokes’ part in the cup victory will never be forgotten, but Hibs fans last season probably loved another Celtic man just a little bit more. The young midfielder Liam Henderson hugely endeared himself with the conviction and above all passion he brought to the role of hired help. While Lennon will obviously want to build his own side he’d win friends right away if there was any chance of Hibs getting Henderson back, even using his Celtic Park connections to secure another loan arrangement.
Traditionally the Hibs support – a fussy, demanding lot – can be slow to warm to those with Old Firm heritage. This is more true of ex-Rangers men but Lennon comes with his own colourful back-story, his own edge. He might not be able to walk into Easter Road today and tell a heartfelt tale like the one delivered by Stubbs, who was so touched by the reception given him by Hibs fans when, as a player, he made his comeback from his cancer in a game at Easter Road. But that will not bother Lennon.
One last thing: Hibs fans were probably worried before the cup final that, with promotion denied them, the Championship minus Rangers and Hearts would be a quieter place in 2016-17, even though their chances of going up would increase. In the wake of that triumph they’re not worried about very much but when the league resumes there is no danger, with Lennon around, of anyone taking their eye off the second tier.
No danger, either of the Mortons and Dumbartons not wanting to put one over on him.