Rod PETRIE and praise have rarely gone hand in hand throughout his time as Hibs chairman, but the man renowned for his perceived frugality is currently having his approach vindicated in emphatic fashion.
It was only a year ago that fans called for the chairman’s head just after the dismissal of Colin Calderwood. One banner outside Easter Road on the night of their last AGM read: “Eight managers in ten years can’t all be wrong Mr Farmer. GET PETRIE OUT NOW.”
For starters, this completely ignored the fact that two of these, Alex McLeish and Tony Mowbray, were headhunted by bigger clubs. Another, Mixu Paatelainen, told me two years ago: “Working with Rod Petrie was really enjoyable. People say he is a monster, but he is a fantastic person.” And he meant it.
The fact that, since the heady Tony Mowbray era, Hibs appeared to be getting worse saw the pressure cranked up on the chairman. After all, he was the one constant through a period of perceived Hibs failure, and was seen as the man choosing to invest in the stadium and training ground rather than the first team.
When John Collins, Paatelainen, John Hughes and Calderwood all failed to reach the heights of Mowbray, it was Petrie who became the easy target. He came under fire for being unable to identify the right manager for the club, an accusation that always looked extremely harsh to me.
After all, I don’t recall any Hibs fans, at the time of their appointments, being opposed to Collins, Hughes or Paatelainen being given a crack at the Hibs manager’s job. Even Calderwood, despite his dire year in charge, had decent credentials for the job, and remains highly regarded in football.
Of course, Petrie has not been flawless throughout his reign – he should have taken Nottingham Forest’s cash for Calderwood in summer 2011, for instance – but the notion peddled by many that he was responsible for leading Hibs to some kind of abyss was ridiculous. Last November, as Petrie’s stock was at its lowest, I wrote that Hibs were nowhere near crisis point and were merely going through an extended slump. I also suggested that, given the infrastructure and relative financial security at Hibs, they were only the right manager away from moving forward.
Pat Fenlon looks to be that man, and he hasn’t exactly been given millions to spend. Contrary to popular belief, Hibs managers have always had a competitive budget, though. The likes of Ian Murray, Derek Riordan, Garry O’Connor, Liam Miller, Anthony Stokes and Junior Agogo all came as reputable players and were not at Easter Road for shirt buttons.
The folly of fans calling for Petrie and his board to push the boat out further has been highlighted by the financial struggles which have gripped those rival clubs who overspent.
Indeed, the fact little more than 10,000 people turned out to watch Hibs hit the top of the SPL in mid-November proves that a winning team does not guarantee significant crowd increases, so Petrie would have been taking a dangerous risk in splashing the cash.
With Hibs now riding the crest of a wave, it is worth remembering what Sir Tom Farmer said at last year’s AGM. “Rod Petrie is the finest chairman this club could have. In the years since 1964 when I opened a shop in Buccleuch Street I wish I had had a team of people filled with Rod Petries.”
It might not be a fashionable train of thought, but Hibs should treasure Rod Petrie. He’s a safe pair of hands.