On the 11th day – the 11th of being able to call themselves, finally, at last, Scottish Cup winners – fans of Hibernian woke and were greeted by a sight that was as bewildering as it was distressing. For there was Alan Stubbs’ new home, glimpsed from above in the morning papers. And there, along one side of the stadium, was etched the legend: “KCM Recycling Stand.”
Famous Five Stand no more. Never again would supporters in a part of the ground dedicated to the most glittering forward line in the history of the Scottish game have the opportunity to rise from their seats in appreciation of the attractive football which the thoughtful Stubbs fashioned at Hibs. Now the recipients would be the season-ticket holders in a stand named after a waste management firm.
What was the thoughtful Stubbs thinking about, swapping Hibs for Rotherham United? This was the reaction of many of the Leith faithful when it was confirmed that the man who masterminded the historic cup triumph wouldn’t be sticking around for a third go at getting out of Scotland’s Championship. Yes, England’s Championship is a far richer division, but some had to admit that, presented with a map, they wouldn’t be able to locate the town where Stubbs’ new team play. And, even though they learned the nicknames of many English sides as schoolboys, Rotherham’s moniker had until now eluded them (it’s the Millers).
Rotherham don’t have Hibs’ history and their ground, the New York Stadium, has a capacity of just 12,000. Couldn’t the Hibees’ glorious former leader have done better for himself? Did Stubbs think – as one headline yesterday claimed – that life at Hibs was not going to get much better than 21 May, 2016 and that was why he quit? Did he want a bigger budget for next season’s win-or-bust promotion drive than the Easter Road board were willing to give him?
The answer to these questions may become apparent in time, so too Rotherham’s ambitions. After narrowly avoiding relegation in the last two seasons, they will be hoping for an improvement under Stubbs, who in his short management career thus far has only experienced narrowly avoiding promotion. And the small matter of the 114-year cup curse, finally banished, of course.
That incredible day at Hampden is a stunning addition to Stubbs’ CV, having been preceded by eye-catching defeats of top-tier sides in both domestic cup competitions which had already prompted other clubs to sit up and take notice of his work. Hibs fans, once they’d gotten over the surprise at where he was bound, will have known that Scotland, and certainly not the Scottish Championship, was never going to keep him happy for ever, and especially while his family remained down south.
Many – possibly still celebrating the cup triumph – instantly wished Stubbs well, thanked him for Hibs finally finding a way not to Hibs it, and said they looked forward to welcoming him back for the tenth anniversary reunion, maybe the 11th, 12th and 13th as well. Of course he’ll never have to buy a drink in Leith again.
But the robustness of football people is always impressive. Much as they like a good moan, they can be cheerily optimistic in the face of a setback and view their cup of Bovril as being half full. Managers and players move on all the time, some have stressed. No one’s bigger than our great club, it will survive and prosper.
These supporters would be the first to acknowledge that Stubbs, and chief executive Leeann Dempster, have made Hibs a more attractive proposition. There’s an excellent core of mainly Scottish talent at the club, assuming players don’t follow the manager out the door. The tricky relationship with the support has been repaired. The Scottish Cup – did the Hibees tell you they happened to win it? – is in the trophy room. As everyone says, they’re a Premiership team playing in the wrong division – all they need to do now is get out of it.
Without wanting to appear revisionist regarding Hibs’ return to flair under Stubbs, there’s a school of thought which has it that his side possibly played too much football against the mean and muscular rearguard actions fought by the likes of Morton and Dumbarton.
This is the dilemma facing the board, as indeed it has been throughout recent Hibs history. When pretty passing is deemed to have failed, or not worked sufficiently well, the new man can feel entitled to make Hibs equally mean and muscular, or adopt the long ball or something equally prosaic. Then the fans get irritated and the manager quits or is sacked.
When the cup euphoria finally quells and Hibs get back on the byways to Morton and Dumbarton again, the fans will probably accept a few dogged 1-0 wins to get out of the Championship. But – and everyone should know this now – they won’t take them forever. Hibs may not win many things, but they’ve never won anything playing hoofball. There is a Hibernian way and it should excite, not daunt, the next appointment.