Aidan Smith: To all Hibs newbies, be like Doidge - it's the Christian thing to do
What do fans want? A team that wins games. Good football? That’s important, more so for some than others, but winning usually trumps flair. What, though, about connection?
Maybe at elite level Manchester City’s supporters don’t feel a connection with the club’s Middle East owners or the multi-millionaire superstars on the pitch but isn’t that okay when they win everything? After all, some in the stands didn’t themselves have a connection to Man City until fairly recently. They weren’t on the terraces of old Maine Road when it was the old third tier in the rain. They’re representative of what The Fast Show sent up as Roger Nouveau Football Fan, but won’t be bothered by that jibe. Another Treble, please, if you will.
What, though, of a club like Hibs - how important is connection there? I’d say very. When the Hibees haven’t been winning or playing good football, connection has been the consolation prize. These lads may not be world-class but they give everything and get our club.
Christian Doidge, recently departed, got Hibs. Every fan who paid him warm tribute and a fond farewell mentioned this on X. Captain Joe Newell messaged: “We both came here together unfit fat and rubbish. And I know that you’ve loved every second since. Gonna miss you my friend.”
Newell and Doidge were among half a new team signed by Paul Heckingbottom - who didn’t get Hibs - for the start of 2019-20. They couldn’t win and Doidge couldn’t score and the manager was gone by the November. Next game Doidge scored a hat-trick. I may be embellishing slightly but one goal came off his knee, another his backside and the third while he was leaning against the far post, deep in a history of Hibs. The ball struck the book - not his hand - and so was awarded. The caterpillar had been transformed into, well, a caterpillar who couldn’t stop scoring lucky goals, laughable goals, but goals all the same.
There might have been a comedy element to the amiable Welshman but while not everything came off for him he was a trier - and God and fans with not much else happening for them love that. He lived near me in Newhaven and during lockdown when I took my Hibs-daft son for our government-regulated exercise walk we’d see him sunning himself on his balcony and he’d always wave at us. Young boys love that.
Last week, as Doidge was driving away from Hibs’ East Mains for the last time, he might have passed the beginnings of a convoy heading towards the training complex. Perhaps some of the cars had English south-coast number-plates and some Hibbies might be wondering if there can be any fit, young men left down there with so many players coming from Bournemouth as part of the tie-up with Bill Foley.
Hibs, yet again, have recruited half a team in one fell swoop. That has excited some fans while for others the attitude is: “Go on, impress us.” Nothing against the newbies; if they do well everyone will be happy. But Hibs’ recruitment going back a number of seasons has been dismal. Only two of Heckingbottom’s half-dozen proved up to the task. Since then, how many have sat at a desk with a Biro before holding a scarf aloft only to hardly feature or disappear completely? Far too many.
Nick Montgomery is pinning his hopes on this splurge in the January sales. What he had at his disposal wasn’t doing it for him. He asked for new players and he’s got them. Now he can virtually field an entirely different team although there’s a caveat: the excuse of having to work with an inherited one would no longer be valid.
High stakes, then, in a hectic league where, Monty must know by now, there’s no time to catch your breath before the latest unequivocal verdict.
Two outcomes the fans will not want to see this week: a meek defeat to Celtic similar to the one against Rangers and any kind of defeat at Inverness in the Scottish Cup. Welcome to Hibs - now get on with it.
“Sales” is a bit of a misnomer. Most who’ve come are loans and the SPFL is full of this type. Unfortunately for every Owen Beck at Dundee - who seems to play each game with maximum exuberance as if it could be his last, which is rather like Liam Henderson when he was at Hibs - there are others who make little impression and appear to be simply going through the motions while awaiting the next posting.
The Hibees went into the 2012 Scottish Cup final with half a team just passing through and we all know what happened. Conversely, though, the club would never have won the trophy four years later without Henderson, Conrad Logan and Anthony Stokes.
It’s not always wholly the loan guys’ fault. Some can be left in limbo by regime change. The system, then, probably isn’t best suited to a turbulent scene such as ours but many clubs feel they have no option while others simply copy.
Hibs must hope that the partnership with their new best friends at Bournemouth, given that it will be ongoing, will change the way loanees feel about pitching up in Leith. Also the way the Easter Road faithful feel about loanees.
Some from other places have been good, a few became legends, but too many are best not talked about and have already been forgotten. But loan or not, and Doidge wasn’t, the new intake would do well to follow the big man’s example: make a connection, get Hibs. It’s the Christian thing to do.
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