WE’D BEEN there before. Too many times. So inevitably as we waited inside Easter Road for the latest unveiling, thoughts turned to some of the previous occasions when Hibs reckoned they’d found the right man for the job, and how they chose to tell the world about it.
John Collins got the rock-music fanfare: The Bucket by Kings of Leon. But he was to kick the bucket after little more than a year, just like the next four managers, including Mixu Paatelainen. Ah, Mixu – remember how Rod Petrie took issue with one gentleman of the press for suggesting he’d been a “maverick” appointment? The word seemed to have no place in the chairman’s vocabulary – you don’t balance the books so tyrannically by being maverick – and he almost regarded it as an insult. And then there was Pat Fenlon. Petrie had looked in the Irishman’s eyes and recognised a winner. Fenlon had the eyes, or eye, of the tiger. Bam-bam-bam. No rock accompaniment this time, though, and no Scottish Cup with this manager either, despite two finals – one lost meekly, the other disastrously.
Enter, then, Terry Butcher. Into a room with Gordon Smith and Pat Stanton decorating the walls; Benny Brazil too. At least he’d dressed up for the occasion – dark suit, Hibs tie, new shoes judging by the fierce sheen – and ditched the bunnet-and-mac ensemble from the weekend. This was the outfit with which he’d sneaked into Easter Road for the latest (and hopefully last) fleecing of Hibs by his old Inverness Caley Thistle. “It’s the Still Game look,” suggested St Mirren’s Steven Thompson, punditising on Sportscene. He’s a big man, isn’t he? Always seemed like it as a player out on the pitch, but put clothes on some footballers and they shrink. Big, but doesn’t flaunt it.
He actually tries to hunker into himself, almost as if he’s apologising for the presence he brings to a low-ceilinged, over-heated room. He’s not fooling us. Terry Butcher: big guy. Funny guy, too.
So Rod says how he’s the best man for the job – “head and shoulders” above all the other candidates, naturally – and, for the benefit of the TV cameras, shakes Butcher’s hand. Amused by the contrived theatre, Terry looks quizzical. Maybe a very small part of his very large self is wondering: Hibs, eternal failures, have I just been sold a dud? Rod, smiling behind his moustache – they’re not just for Movember, you know – then asks if he’d like to say a few words. “Not really,” says Terry. Cue much chortling.
But of course he did speak. With real feeling about his time at Inverness, a great bunch of people. Sometimes just-recruited managers keep this sort of stuff to the bare minimum, and almost overdo their delight at being at the new place.
Butcher, who is delighted to be at Hibs, said leaving Caley Thistle was “hard”, that watching them in a bunnet from the stand had been “bizarre”, that if and when he gets the chance to say proper goodbyes he will surely greet.
All of this should be taken the right way by the grumpy Easter Road cognoscenti: proof that Butcher had shaped a proper football team at Inverness, rather than one thrown together because it had to be, and then when “Fenloan” was given time to plan and a bit of money, didn’t look or perform any better. Butcher also used the word “we” a lot, because Maurice Malpas helped him at Inverness and will do so again.
The new No 2 in his playing days nicknamed Maurice Backpass but only because it rhymed. A fine footballer, he didn’t send the ball in the wrong direction any more than anyone else. Hibbys, of course, will insist they’ve seen quite enough backpassing, timid passing and pointless passing and will be anxious for football which harks back to the great teams remembered on the wall displays (even Benny’s one had Ally MacLeod in it).
“Stamina, style, steel,” Butcher promised. The faithful might quibble with the order of things, but for now, the new man should be allowed to get his gleaming new feet under the table.
Terry and Maurice love the furniture, for sure. At Inverness it was two desks squeezed into a tiny office. Now they can have an office each if they want. Butcher was thrilled to discover the rooms at the training centre come with actual windows. Malpas, unnerved by this, wants to board them up.
Let’s hope Hibs don’t have to introduce another new manager for a while, he said. Well, if that happens, he could have a career in comedy. After all, they’re bringing back Still Game.