Hibs and partnerships: That meme was made for Easter Road - do you really want to date them?

Hibernian Football Club are steeped in history. They are one of the great names in Scottish, nay British, football. An institution.
FC Edinburgh chairman Jim Brown and Hibernian chief executive Ben Kensell shook hands on new partnership earlier this week.FC Edinburgh chairman Jim Brown and Hibernian chief executive Ben Kensell shook hands on new partnership earlier this week.
FC Edinburgh chairman Jim Brown and Hibernian chief executive Ben Kensell shook hands on new partnership earlier this week.

Even the club motto, Persevere, speaks of dependability. In a few years they will hit 150. It may have been grim at times, but Hibs keep on keeping on. As the club’s adopted anthem goes: “While I’m worth/My room on this earth/I will be with you.” Noble sentiments.

But boy, they don’t half put it about a bit. I know George Best once played for them, but this is getting ridiculous.

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What are we to make of a club that promises a strategic partner the world before leaving them with little except the memory of a budding centre half and some branded training kit?

A team only needs to go a little continental by sticking a fancy “FC” in front of their name and Hibs are sniffing about them like a collie on heat. Stenhousemuir are the latest club they've ghosted. Left on the shelf. Formed as long ago as 1884, the Warriors are 138 years old. Who’ll have them now? And what about poor old Spartans? Tossed aside by Hibs seven years ago just 18 months into a landmark collaboration to provide an “unrivalled” player development pathway.

It’s why a press release from Easter Road caught the eye last Monday morning. Hibs were announcing a media opportunity to launch a “brand new partnership” with the recently renamed League 1 club FC Edinburgh. Sounds familiar. Didn’t they announce something similar a little while back? In fact, yes, I remember writing about it.

December 2020. Deep in a bleak midwinter of Covid tests and empty stadiums, Hibs announced their “delight” at forming a strategic partnership with Stenhousemuir, “the first of its kind in Scottish professional football”.

It was hailed as innovative and had been in the pipeline for months. They looked forward together to years of cooperation.

Hibs are not just free and easy in their affections when it comes to managers. There’s been three of those – and counting – in the last 12 months. Almost as many as the number of club partnerships they have embarked upon before well, their eyes begin to wander.

That meme of a chap holding his partner’s hand while turning to admire another girl as she walks by was made for Hibs. They can’t settle for what they have. The grass is always greener at another club’s ground. Charleston Battery, their United States partners, ought to be getting worried.

Hibs aren't the only ones. Indeed, the game is littered with such ventures, most of them failed – although you don’t tend to get expansive press releases to relay news of a relationship having fizzled out, if anyone even remembered it existed.

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There’s a Raith Rovers-Norwich City partnership from 2014, based on little more, it seems, than political allies Gordon Brown and Ed Balls holding positions at the respective clubs at the time.

Dundee announced an unlikely coaching tie-up with AC Milan in 2012. Celtic announced a partnership with Mexican side Santos Laguna in 2010 and there hasn’t been a noticeable stream of players going either way between clubs. One also wonders how the Rangers and Orange County SC strategic partnership is faring.

Stenhousemuir chairman Iain McMenemy admits “disappointment” at the way things ended with Hibs. “Even in the year we had it, there were still players that went to Edinburgh (City) and we were thinking, they should have come to us,” he says. "I don’t think Hibs put enough will into making it work unfortunately.”

He considers the biggest problem to be the simple churn of staff. Graeme Mathie, the former Hibs sporting director, drove the collaboration. He is now with Ayr United.

There is a happy ending to the story with regards to Stenny. They are ready to start dating again it seems. McMenemy confirms discussions are on-going with another couple of clubs. Dundee United, who they beat to lift the Challenge Cup in 1995, appear an obvious candidate, although didn’t the Tannadice club announce a partnership with Fulham a few months back? There was also talk of establishing ties with a club in Argentina shortly after sports director Tony Asghar came on board.

Jack Ross, their manager, was at Hibs when Stenhousemuir embarked on their doomed relationship with the Easter Road club. One imagines there will be others interested in making a connection.

As McMenemy points out, jumping into bed with another, better-resourced team seems like a good idea for clubs such as Stenhousemuir. In theory at least. And with no reserve league in operation, bigger teams are desperate to give their young players competitive football opportunities – hence the desire to install B teams at Lowland League level.

The controversial change to the league structure, implemented last season, will continue in the coming campaign, with a Hearts colt side now added to those from Celtic and Rangers.

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Establishing relationships with other clubs is another way of ensuring young players get a taste of playing to win to aid their development. As many as four from one club can be loaned out to another team, which does raise the issue of sporting integrity.

McMenemy counters this by pointing out that the chance of four on-loan youngsters being good enough to prove season-changing for the team involved is “remote”. They are making their way in the game. As promising as they may be, they are bound to make mistakes when asked to perform in front of a crowd, however sparse. Indeed, that’s the idea. Toughen them up.

So we will watch this latest match-up with interest. Hopefully FC Edinburgh can reap the benefits, Hibs as well.

The "festival of football" concept where both clubs’ women’s teams play on the same day at Meadowbank is imaginative and deserves to succeed.

But there’s no fool like an old fool. And Hibs, formed in 1875, have been around the block already. We have the right to remain sceptical about them changing their ways.

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