Aidan Smith: Paul Kane bemoans Hibs’ sorry state

FORMER Easter Road star Paul Kane steeped in the ‘Hibs way’ is alarmed by team’s sorry state says Aidan Smith

Hibs' Paul Kane is shadowed by the late Sandy Jardine. Picture: SNS

I’m chaining up my bike when the subject of this week’s chat says: “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine – we’re not in Leith.” Now, only a certain kind of footballer could get away with a remark like that. He’ll have to be steeped in Leith and Hibernian. He’ll have to mention what seems like every street and every landmark, and every juvenile team en route to Easter Road.

Not just players, he’ll have to namecheck groundsmen, tea-ladies and fans, the latter being accorded equal status to players, including the absolute fanatic for whom he was a pall-bearer, because a supporter is what this fellow remains, even though his journey took him to Oldham and Stavanger in Norway and then St Johnstone which was where he played the best football of his career. And after all of this, two hours plus on a fine spring afternoon, Paul Kane has just about talked himself hoarse but is still able to inquire: “What is Hibs’ vision for themselves? I just don’t know …”

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More of that later, but let’s properly meet him here in the Murrayfield Hotel. He’s Paul Kane, businessman, these days, with pubs and other concerns. Now 48, he lives close by with his wife Veronica and their five daughters. He’s a bit rounder than I remember from his playing days, though still sports the same brushed-forward hairstyle. Known to all as Kano, his era in the green and white was those fashion-hazardous 1980s when shorts were very short. That was fine if you were a skinny skelf as he was then. Even better if you were John Collins, who went on to become Mr Upper-Body (North Edinburgh, undisputed). But the likes of poor Gordon Rae had thighs of juniors-league dimension, so the skimpy kit was unflattering in the extreme. Our man’s association with Hibs began ­further back than that.

Says Kane: “My dad Jimmy was on the club’s books from 1958-61 but never quite got out of the reserves. He broke his leg up at Aberdeen in a collision with [goalie] ‘Tubby’ Ogston and also on two other occasions. I’m an only child who came along after his career was finished. He was never one for praising himself or even talking about his time in football so I had to find out about it from his brothers. Anyway, he indoctrinated me into the Hibs quite early. My first game was away to Motherwell aged two and I caught pneumonia.”

His first, vivid memories of being Paul Kane, Hibs fan, are of the Juventus flags at the 1974 Uefa Cup tie (“Absolutely ginormous”) and a Hampden cup final excursion from the same period (“We froze on the bus home. Celtic fans had tanned all the windows”). That trip was almost certainly organised by the Artisan pub, now the Tor, which he runs. When he joined the Hibs groundstaff the family home was in Restalrig close to Easter Road so by 9am he was usually first in the gym under the old stand, waiting for someone to challenge to a game of long-bangers. Kane’s world is tight. Small and, he would maintain, perfectly-formed. The club is part of the community; the community believe in “the Hibernian way”.

He was only ever going to do one thing with his life. “Dad drove me on. After he quit playing and opened a licenced grocer’s at the dock gates he ran [juvenile teams] Edina Hibs and Edinburgh Thistle and I’d tag along to the games, wee ball at my feet.” Most of Leith, it seems, ran a team. Kane played for one looked after by the father of a friend from St Mary’s Star of the Sea Primary – John Hughes, later Yogi – and these chums also turned out for an outfit run by one of Kane’s nine uncles. “Thank goodness for football because I was useless at school,” he laughs.

Then Kane moved up to the famous Salvesen club where he was coached by Peter Mackay, dad of future Hearts star Gary. Another pal from those days was Allan Preston, cousin of Yogi, also to wear the maroon, and they remain good mates even though Kano thinks Biscuits is “really annoying” on Sportsound. He also knew Dave Bowman from then. The Jambos have never been far from Kane’s story, none more so than in 1990 when then Tynecastle chairman Wallace Mercer launched his audacious takeover bid.

Kane was stunned and joined the fight to save his club. “I was on the Hands off Hibs bus with Craig and Charlie Reid [The Proclaimers] and at the rally in Easter Road I stood on the terraces next to Yogi. We were so close to being history. There was that meeting in London where [ex-chairman] David Duff was about to pass his shares on and [brother-in-law] Jim Gray said: ‘Well, I’m not doing that.’ In the end Mercer looked at the size of the revolt and decided he just wasn’t going to win. Hibs fans will always be there, they’ll always come out. Young and old, diehards and guys who haven’t been in a while, it doesn’t matter. The reaction was phenomenal. No-one was prepared to let the team die. Right now I’d love to see club and support more together.” Kane wants fans involved in the running of the club.

Now, as then, Hibs fortunes are tied up with Hearts, with the Hibees desperate for a win in tomorrow’s derby to all but secure their Premiership future. Kane thinks they’ll survive – just – but is none too enamoured with recent performances on and off the park. “I’m really ­concerned about the club,” he says. “The vision doesn’t seem to be there. We should be challenging for Europe every year but instead there’s this acceptance of mediocrity. Well, I’m not accepting it.

“I don’t ever talk about 5-1 and hope you won’t be mentioning it in your article [Scottish Cup final, 2012 – sorry Kano] but in last year’s final the team were happy just playing out the second half to avoid losing any more goals. To me that’s not the Hibs way and I think that Pat Stanton, Jackie McNamara Sr, Mickey Weir, Keith Wright, Tommy Preston, Stan Vincent and John Fraser would all agree. Hearts fans will laugh and say the Hibs way doesn’t exist but to us it began with the Famous Five and if you weren’t around to see that team then your dad told you about them. Turnbull’s Tornadoes were the dream-come-true team for lots of us. Then came the [Russell] Latapy-[Franck] Sauzee team, then Tony Mowbray’s kids and all those sides had flair.”

What does he think of Terry Butcher?

“I was in favour of him getting the job but I’ve heard him wondering about the Hibs way. Well, Terry, for us it’s justified. It’s been passed down the family line. We believe in it and want to see our team play attractive football. They aren’t at the moment and I hear the grumbles in my pubs. Terry obviously wants the ball moved forward faster and maybe that’ll work if he’s winning. But the downfall will be quicker if he’s not.”

Paul Kane, wide-eyed wannabe footballer, was given his big chance by Bertie Auld who promptly left. He wasn’t too downcast; the next manager was Stanton – “my ultimate hero”. He was part of a crop of likely lads, most of them local and fans: Weir, John Collins. Gordon Hunter, Eddie May, Callum Milne, Kevin McKee. “We had a terrific time as groundstaff together, doing the jobs, learning from the pros and being so chuffed when one of us made the first team.”

When he played for Aberdeen later the job of readying the stadium for games was given to local pensioners. “In return for tidying the stands they got their lunch, the chance to meet the players and tickets for the match. I thought that was fantastic and wish that sort of thing still happened.”

Now Kane is laughing because he’s remembering the time the Easter Road groundstaffers were ordered to hack down wildly overgrown weeds behind the Dunbar End. “We weren’t looking forward to that but then Kevin Wilson – Treacle – had the great idea to set fire to them. The fire brigade had to be called and we all got carpeted but no-one owned up – we were thick as thieves.” When John Blackley became manager a tuck-shop was instituted and Kane, who knew where to get the cheapest Mars bars through cash-and-carry trips with his father, was the obvious choice for proprietor. Presumably Collins didn’t indulge en route to his body becoming his temple. “No, he did – the footballer’s diet was shocking back then: we didn’t know any better. But at first maybe John’s fitness regime was all about survival.

“When he came up from the Borders he stayed with Jimmy Curran, the guy who locked up the stadium. The house was so cold he had to do press-ups and sit-ups to keep warm.”

So, the derby, give us some memories. He’s no authority on the fixture, the games tending to merge into a blur – a small, chunky, maroon-hued blur. “My derby era unfortunately coincided with Robbo’s,” he says, referring to John ­Robertson, “and they were never over until the fat striker scored, which he usually did. I tend to remember the few in which I scored, or the few we won, but whatever happened, the games with Hearts were never dull.”

Kane netted a 20-yarder in his 1984 debut derby as Easter Road only for Hearts to fight back for an injury-time victory. “I’ve got a great photo of my celebration, arms in the air, the away end behind me looking stunned or giving me the finger. There was a pitch invasion. A Hearts fan confronted Jackie [McNamara]. But we had a beast called Erich Schaedler who held the guy down until the police turned up. I was gutted by the result, not knowing it was going to be typical, and went home and hid. I never drank until I was 32. A couple of times up town with friends before that there had been some bother and Pat [Stanton] said to me: ‘Son, which way do you want to go?’”

Kane moved around as a Hibee – striker then midfield then right-back – and in derbies would invariably be facing up to an opponent he’d known from the public parks. “I got on well with Robbo, less so Gary. I’d never shake his hand when Hearts won and when we finally got a victory he remembered that and wouldn’t shake mine. That was silly but we’ve sorted it out and get on fine now. I guess we’re too similar – absolutely ­passionate about our team.”

Hibs ended the miserable sequence in 1987, Kane scoring with a header in the 2-1 win at Easter Road. “Afterwards Jim Gray came into the dressing-room: ‘Right lads, that’s a double bonus – £1,000 each.’” The following season at Tynecastle Hibs won again by the same scoreline, Kane netting another header before setting up Steve Archibald. “After the game I got summoned by Jimmy Johnstone – not that one; the head of the West End police. He said there had been three complaints. I was supposed to have gesticulated at the Hearts fans. I said I hadn’t done anything, that if I had there would have been a lot more than three, but he told me that in future when I celebrated goals I should try and keep my arms down by my side.”

An impossibility for Kano, you would have thought, and especially in derbies, but shortly after his worst loss in the fixture – 4-1, Hibs’ goal an o.g. by Mackay, still no handshake from our man – he went on his wanders. “I wasn’t getting on with Alex Miller. Maybe I shouldn’t have told Pat, George Stewart and some of the other guys that he still had his Rangers jacket, but I didn’t think that had any place at Easter Road. He carried on ­picking me after that but it was time to try something else.”

First, Oldham Athletic which came to an end after promotion had been won to England’s top tier. Aberdeen was even more frustrating when Willie Miller left him out of the 1993 Scottish Cup final and then Roy Aitken banished him to “the Highlands and Islands with the youth team”.

But Viking Stavanger as Britain’s first Bosman was better and St Johnstone better still, the highlight coming in 1999 with the goal which qualified them for the Uefa Cup.

“I’d found my best position in midfield. It coincided with me starting drinking although hopefully there’s no connection! After we’d beat Dundee we piled into the centre of Perth. A pitch was set up in the road between two sets of traffic lights and the team played the fans. Fantastic night, fantastic club.”

But Paul Kane, arch Hibby, could have been a Jambo. “Alex Miller accepted a fee of £250,000 from Hearts but I couldn’t have gone, could I?

“I’d have been hated at both ends of ­Edinburgh. I’m really glad Hearts have been saved but I still don’t drive along Gorgie Road. I’ve worked out all these ­circuitous routes so I avoid it!”