Afterwards, Pat Fenlon hands the jacket back, indicating it’s a bit on the small side. “You’re too muscley,” says an Easter Road staffer. “I wish,” says Fenlon, a wee guy with glasses. So how is he going to cut it on the touchline and, more importantly, how will his team look on the pitch?
Will he be like Bobby Williamson – Mr Bobby – who always wore such jackets so well, possibly in defiance of those snobs-and-proud-of-it fans who didn’t much care for his industrial football either? Or will he be like John Collins, a dapper fellow who didn’t even go nylon and padded for the snowstorm-battered League Cup triumph (and whose team, while mostly inherited, could be just as dapper) but who quit so abruptly?
But the most remarkable thing about Fenlon’s first day in the job was how unremarkable the flair issue was deemed by the hack-pack he met in the media room. It only came up once in the session I attended, towards the end, and prompted no supplementary questions.
Maybe none of the journos could remember Hibs playing with anything like flair under Colin Calderwood (have to admit: neither can I). Or worse, maybe they’d begun to think that Hearts fans, who love to mock, as is their duty, might in fact be right: that Hibs and the whole higher aesthetic, play-with-eight-wingers thing, is a great, big blousy myth.
Previously, new Hibs managers have come right out and confronted the f-word.
Calderwood scoffed at coaches who merely talked a good (and attractive) game. Collins said from the off: “The ball is round, it’s meant to roll.” But Collins was unveiled with dancing girls (OK, some piped rock music). Franck Sauzee – according to my report – got a “spectacular finger buffet”. Fenlon got to walk behind Rod Petrie and a three-tier catering trolley which promised more than it ultimately delivered: a pot of tea and a plate of biscuits.
That’s classic Hibs, of course; no one can flatter to deceive, perform like dingles in Dingwall and wimp out of cups quite like them.
From the club that once paraded a new manager via helicopter touchdown (Jim Duffy), this was distinctly unrazzmatazzy. There weren’t even any jokes (not unless you count this from Petrie, re the likelihood of funds for new players, delivered with his little lemon smile: “We have a budget which as you know we operate in a fairly business-like fashion”). But maybe that was as it should be: a low-key launch for a low-positioned club. Especially after so many managers, and in times of austerity as well.
Under Fenlon, will there be austerity football to match? For the record, re style, he said he used a number of different systems in Ireland and would probably do so again, but that winning games was the thing. The aesthetes among the Hibs support – you know the type: they wear smoking jackets which they’d like you to believe were gifts from Noel Coward himself – cannot really argue with that right now.
Funny lot, fans. Towards the end for Calderwood they grumped about his grumpiness in press conferences. Since when was decorum such a big deal? It’s a Scottish football club we’re talking about – not an English public school. They also thought he wasn’t sufficiently animated in the dugout, but as Eddie Turnbull used to say: “If a guy’s waving his arms about like mad on a Saturday then he hasn’t done his work through the week.” Now there was a Hibs manager.
So far Fenlon can only be judged on this showing. He didn’t come up with a nifty soundbite like Collins, but neither did he say something which could be misconstrued, like Mixu Paatelainen’s “direct football” or tempt fate like poor Sauzee: “Maybe I am to be the worst Hibs manager you have ever seen.” Afterwards, hacks who’ve counted them in and counted them out at Easter Road were impressed – more so than by the introductions of “at least three others we could name” (they didn’t). And the little guy didn’t keep the Mr Bobby jacket on for long.