Ivan Sproule is confirmed as Hibs' first close-season signing

IVAN Sproule has become Hibernian manager Colin Calderwood's first signing of the close season after agreeing a pre-contract deal to return to Easter Road. The 30-year-old will officially join Hibs at the start of July once his current contract with Bristol City expires, but he will be available for pre-season training at East Mains on 20 June.

Sproule, a lightning-quick winger, was a part-time footballer with Institute in his native Northern Ireland when then Hibs manager Tony Mowbray offered him a trial at the start of 2005. He impressed, Hibs signed him for 5,000 and he went on to become a favourite with the supporters in his two-and-a-half years with the club.

The highlight of that spell was his hat-trick in a 3-0 league win at Ibrox, which led to his being called up to make his international debut. Later in that 2005-6 season he scored again at Rangers' ground as Hibs won by the same score in the Scottish Cup.

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Hibs made a handsome profit when Bristol City signed Sproule in the summer of 2007 - the fee was undisclosed, but is understood to have been around 500,000. He made over 100 appearances for the West Country club in his first three years there, but last year he was loaned out to Yeovil Town and this year he spent some time at Notts County.

His return to Easter Road will give him the opportunity to play regular football again, and will add some experience to a squad which has steadily become younger as Calderwood tries to rebuild it.

"There is nobody happier than me at the minute," Sproule said on Hibs' official website. "I feel that I'm returning in order to give something back to Hibs, and that I'm coming home. Even when I was playing for Bristol City I would get more fan mail from Hibs supporters than from Bristol City supporters."

Sproule had initial talks with Calderwood late last month at East Mains, having left the club before the training facility was opened. It quickly became clear that both parties were keen on a deal, and yesterday the manager expressed his delight at having completed the signing.

"Ivan gives us genuine pace and personality, plus he adds another experienced voice in the dressing room," Calderwood said. "I've been impressed with his performances the last few years down in England and I'm sure he'll prove to be an asset to the squad."

Sproule's first outing of his second spell at Easter Road could come in just the second official day of his return, when Hibs visit Berwick Rangers in the first of four pre-season friendlies announced yesterday. The game at Shielfield Park will kick off at 3pm on Saturday 2 July, and will be followed three days later by a 7.45pm match at Livingston. East Fife will be the hosts on Saturday 9th, again at 3pm, and the final match of the quartet will come ten days later, when Hibs visit Falkirk for a 7.30pm game.

"We believe the friendly fixtures will provide us with ideal preparation for the new season," Calderwood said. "It will be a case of ensuring we're up to speed for the challenges of the new season and making sure that every member of the squad gets some game time under their belts."