In the feverish speculation over the future of Hibernian’s top goalscorer there’s been one headline which will irk the player. Knowing that its readers will have become a bit sketchy about Scottish football since Kenny Burns and the three Johns – Robertson, McGovern and O’Hare – starred for Forest, the Nottingham Post posed a question on their behalf: “Who is Jason Cummings?”
Actually, Cummings possibly won’t be thrilled, elsewhere in the East Midlands coverage, to have been described as “the stocky striker”. But don’t be surprised if the uncertainty over his identity – his legend – doesn’t have him redoubling his efforts as a one-man quotes machine, should the move to England’s Championship go ahead.
This is a man who’s put an awful lot of effort into the reality show Being Jason Cummings which has entertained Hibs fans and a sizable chunk of the rest of Scottish football these past three seasons.
But, lest it be forgotten, he’s also put an awful lot of effort into scoring the goals which have helped return his club to the top flight, becoming the first Hibee to net more than 20 in three consecutive campaigns for half a century.
So how are Hibs fans feeling about this? Angry, sad or philosophical?
There shouldn’t be too much anger. Talent leaves Easter Road all the time, and if younger supporters don’t know this they should ask their dads. There will be sadness because he’ll be the sixth to depart from the 14 who trod the Hampden turf on 21 May 2016 and trampled the great curse deep into the earth.
But most, if they’re honest, expected this. Possibly they would have liked Cummings to stay for Hibs’ return to the Premiership, to give it one more season but, really, they won’t be surprised that he’s chosen this moment with his stock high after Championship success to add to the Scottish Cup. Maybe this time next year it wouldn’t be so high.
“Who would you be more devastated to lose: Jason or John McGinn?” I reckon the majority among the faithful would be more concerned about keeping McGinn. Of course there’s been interest in the Scotland midfielder, which could turn to bids.
Then Rod Petrie, Leanne Dempster and Co. would face testing questions about the club’s ambition, given Neil Lennon hopes they’ll be challenging for second place.
There was a bit of mischief in that remark from the Easter Road manager, just as there was usually merriment in anything said by Cummings, a player who viewed a battery of voice recorders placed in front of him as an opportunity, never a threat. Scottish football will be a duller, more take-each-game-as-it-comes place without him.
Manager and striker seemed to get on with each other pretty well – once Cummings worked out that Lennon was different from Alan Stubbs, something which probably took him .0005 seconds. He certainly knew it after Lennon dropped him during the season just ended. He wasn’t scoring goals and, when that happens, things tend to go from bad to worse for Cummings, who has the frustrating habit of shooting from anywhere, trusting his luck even with three defenders standing right in front of him. He’ll have to get that out of his system should he end up at Forest, and there are some Hibs fans who’ve been disappointed that he hasn’t developed more canniness before now.
When Lennon (and Stubbs before him) has been invited to talk about Cummings the inference has been that this is an intuitive and fearless striker who loves scoring goals more than anything – more than wrestling, indeed – and that you don’t want to fill his head with too much info not absolutely specific to that task otherwise the genie might escape from the bottle. Or, to paraphrase one of Cummings’ great quotes, the “tin of beans”.
Latterly there have been fewer of the spectacular goals scored with that trusty left foot to rival those against Rangers and Aberdeen (in the League Cup) the season before last. Even Championship defenders knew to push him onto his right.
But it’s to Cummings’ credit he still managed to bang in his usual 20 despite the wised-up defences, the mid-term loss of form and a failure to properly dovetail with Grant Holt – just as could never quite get on the same wavelength as Anthony Stokes.
These criticisms might seem harsh. Greater criticism for a strike partnership not in perfect harmony should probably be directed at the senior partners. Cummings, through all the dramas of his Hibee years, which were never dull and often hilarious, continued to score goals and especially big goals.
Maybe he didn’t ever really perform to his best at Hampden but he absolutely loved scoring at Tynecastle and Ibrox, something duly noted by Mark Warburton.
Whatever his flaws, you don’t kiss goodbye to a 20-a-season man without any regret. For some fans, as they prepare to wave him off, there will be one last cheeky question in the manner of Cummings himself: “That song about Warbs’ hat not being so magic after all. About it being a different type of headgear altogether. How many times did you sing it, Jase?”