Alan Pattullo: Farmer succession is now ripe for discussion at Hibs

Sir Tom Farmer, centre, with Rod Petrie, at Hampden in 2015. Picture: Michael Gillen
Sir Tom Farmer, centre, with Rod Petrie, at Hampden in 2015. Picture: Michael Gillen
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Succession planning is often a tricky task. It can result in enough drama to drive a highly-rated HBO series. In Succession, Brian Cox plays the head of a family-run media empire that is threatened by the conniving of his children as they jostle to succeed him.

That is not Sir Tom Farmer’s problem. His intention seems to be to hand Hibs to someone – or a group, possibly fans – outwith his family. He has spoken many times about being simply a custodian of the club, albeit an increasingly long-standing one. His is the lengthiest tenure in Scottish football’s top-flight.

When Geoff Brown stepped down in 2011, he had just celebrated 25 years as chairman/owner at St Johnstone. It is now 29 years since Farmer stepped in at Easter Road with the club in dire straits and 28 years since he became a somewhat reluctant owner.

Compare that to a lot of other clubs, including rivals Hearts. In the same period the Tynecastle club have been in the hands of four not-always-careful owners (including the Chris Robinson/Leslie Deans double act).

Stewart Milne at Aberdeen is 
giving Farmer a run for his money in terms of longevity. He became a Pittodrie director in 1994 and chairman in 1998. But he is ten years younger than Farmer, who was only 49 when he answered the call to save Hibs after Hearts owner Wallace Mercer’s move to purchase the club and form an amalgamated Edinburgh team. Farmer was 50 when he took a controlling interest.

While always careful to keep his distance, reasoning he was too wrapped up in his car-fitting business interests to ever commit to following football, he has overseen two League Cup wins, the opening of a new training centre and, most satisfyingly of all, a longed-for Scottish Cup win in 2016. There has also been the undoubted setback of two relegations, in 1998 and 2014.

With Farmer entering his 80th year next month (he turns 79 on 
10 July), it is reasonable to ask what’s next for the club? How will Farmer deal with the question of inheritance, of passing on an enterprise that is so vital to so many people’s lives.

He presumably wants to avoid the venal behaviour the 80-year-old Logan Roy, played by Cox, encounters from his four children. In a way, Farmer’s legacy is an even trickier one to bequeath. He has several thousand Hibs fans currently on tenterhooks as they wait to hear his plans.

It is why rumours of American investors caused a stir on social media last weekend. There was also talk of newspaper magnates the Barclay Brothers getting involved. That’s the trouble when there is little information of substance around; rumours end up filling the void. While there might not have been any truth in these stories, it seems likely there could be some change or at least new investment in the months ahead. Rod Petrie, who owns 10 per cent of HFC Holdings, the club’s parent company, recently took over as president of the SFA. It is natural his gaze might not be as firmly fixed on Hibs as a consequence.

The fans are continuing to do their part although perhaps more is needed. Hibernian Supporters, the company created to acquire new shares in the club and which recently dropped the “Limited” from their name, is still going strong. They hope to reach a 20 per cent stake in the club by later this month after raising £800,000 to date. Hibs’ stated desire at the time of the launch of the scheme four years ago was for fans to have an eventual 51 per cent holding.

Whatever happens, it is unlikely to involve the scheming that makes Succession such an enjoyable watch. “Times have changed, there are no rules,” Cox – or at least his character – warns at one point. It is hard to imagine Farmer being injudicious when the time eventually comes to transfer Hibs into new hands.