Dempster talks unlikely to comfort Hibs fans

WHEN a company carries out any kind of customer-satisfaction survey, it tends to do so at a time when at least some of the customers are likely to say “Thanks for asking – as it happens we’re very happy indeed with the product or service we’re getting from you.”

Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster will find words of comfort hard to come by when she meets the fans. Picture: SNS
Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster will find words of comfort hard to come by when she meets the fans. Picture: SNS

But when Hibernian chief executive Leeann Dempster carries out “supporter consultation” meetings over three nights this week, surely not a single soul will be able to offer any sort of contentment about what is being served up to them, either on the pitch or behind the scenes.

Dempster herself should be largely exempt from criticism, having only been in the job a matter of months – though, mind you, Alan Stubbs has been manager for a shorter period than that and he has already been copping a lot of flak. But even if the couple of hundred Hibs fans who are expected to attend each night do go easy on the former Motherwell official, you can be sure that virtually no other aspect of their club will be immune from justified criticism.

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This, after all, is the club which, under the leadership of Rod Petrie, have for years somewhat smugly boasted about their financial prudence. And indeed, a rebuilt stadium, a brand-new training centre that is the envy of many and a balance sheet that is one of the healthiest in Scottish football have all been worth boasting about. Especially within the context of what has been happening up the road at Hearts – a contrast that Petrie has made at several annual general meetings.

Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster will find words of comfort hard to come by when she meets the fans. Picture: SNS

But when your football is so consistently dismal, when results go from bad to worse apparently no matter who is manager, those assets are no longer seen as simple virtues. Instead, they look embarrassing.

What’s the point in having a 20,000-seat stadium when you can hardly half fill it? What good is the state-of-the-art training centre when the football practised in it is so poor? And why boast about the balance sheet when a little extra expenditure on players might have staved off the threat of relegation and thus ensured a far larger income this season?

With so many things going for them thanks to the benevolence of Sir Tom Farmer, Hibs have been unable to put a decent team on the park. Worse than that, they have ended up suffering the same fate – relegation – as their spendthrift rivals, without the mitigating circumstances in which Hearts found themselves last season of a 15-point penalty, a signing ban and a fight for the very survival of the club.

Terry Butcher carried the can for that relegation and, although upwards of 1,000 fans turned up to a rally to call for Petrie to go, he is still at the club, just removed from the firing line thanks to Dempster’s arrival. While Stubbs has hardly been around long enough to put his stamp on the squad, his early results have at least demonstrated that the problems on the park did not vanish the minute Butcher left the premises.

Indeed, if anything, they have become worse. The 2-1 defeat at Alloa on Saturday – surely another humiliation to add to a lengthening list – left Hibs in eighth place in the Championship, out of the relegation places only on goal difference.

Injury to striker Farid El Alagui during the match could deprive Stubbs of one of his most important players for weeks if not months, and the prospect of taking Leigh Griffiths back on loan – a fan-pleasing move if ever there was one – was knocked on the head yesterday by Celtic manager Ronny Deila.

Realistically, Hibs should get out of trouble in the Championship. But then, so many of us said that week after week in the early months of this year about their battle to steer clear of relegation from the Premiership.

In other words, there is no guarantee that better days are just around the corner for those supporters who will turn up tonight and the next two nights hoping for comforting words from Dempster.

The rot that set in several years ago has still not been eradicated, and the new chief executive has yet to make any public utterance that suggests she has identified the problem and decided how to solve it.

To those who argue that Petrie has to go in order for a clean start to be made, Dempster will offer no words of comfort. No matter if she has full independence to carry out the day-to-day running of the club the way she wants, her predecessor is still there in the background and still enjoys the confidence of Farmer.

So it will be a surprise if the consultation evenings offer much in the way of genuine optimism for those who attend.

Dempster’s sincerity and professionalism will make a good impression, but the best she is likely to be able to say to the fans is to plead for them to be patient.