If beleaguered Hibs fans want to start enjoying their football again, they need to apply some perspective and reduce expectations of their team.
The way some talk, you would think the Hibees were perennial top-four finishers renowned for playing mesmerising football in front of 13,000-plus crowds. Former player Dean Shiels, understandably given the success Hibs enjoyed in his time, suggested as much in today’s papers. But until this notion is trashed, no manager is ever going to be given a fair crack of the whip by fans and the negativity will continue.
“The manager’s a dud, the players are underachieving, the football’s rubbish, crowds are down, the chairman’s tight and keeps changing the manager.” We’ve heard it all over the past few years from the fed-up Hibs faithful, who insist their club has been in a malaise ever since the 2007 League Cup win.
It’s all left me a bit flummoxed because, although the last two years have been a struggle, the past five years as a whole have been in keeping with the Hibernian we’ve known for 30-odd years. Since the break-up of Turnbull’s Tornadoes in the 70s, Hibs have generally been an unspectacular mid-table side who have had sporadic bursts of relative success under Alex McLeish and Tony Mowbray, each lasting little more than two years. In the 80s, they only finished in the top half of the Premier Division twice.
The 1991 Skol Cup win lifted the general gloom of the 90s under Alex Miller, Jocky Scott and Jim Duffy before relegation under McLeish in 1998. So, Skol Cup win apart, it was almost two decades of mediocrity for Hibs before McLeish raised spirits with the aid of Franck Sauzee and Russell Latapy around the turn of the Millennium. Then it was back to normality under Sauzee and Bobby Williamson before Mowbray’s Golden Generation bucked the trend by flourishing to sensational effect. John Collins caught the tail end of this special period in the club’s recent history when he led Hibs to League Cup glory in 2007. But since then fans have become frustrated at what they see as an alarming decline on the pitch under Mixu Paatelainen, John Hughes and most recently Colin Calderwood.
The last-named never looked a good fit for the job, but, in hindsight, Paatelainen and Hughes appear to have been the victims of inflated expectations from Hibs fans. These two had Hibs comfortably in the top six and, although Hughes left with the club toiling in the bottom half, there’s an argument, strengthened in hindsight, that he should have been allowed more time to try and turn the tide.
Yes, the football was rarely scintillating under those two and that seems to have been the problem for many fans underwhelmed by what they had seen, but, McLeish and Mowbray reigns apart, it has rarely been sensational at Easter Road since the 70s. There’s nothing wrong with fans having high hopes for their team. However, this romantic but mythical notion that Hibs always play with flair is partly to blame for decent managers like Mixu and Yogi coming under pressure even though they battled it out in the upper echelons of the SPL.
Only a handful of Scottish teams in recent times have managed to play genuine easy-on-the-eye football on a consistent basis – the Golden Generation being one. On the whole, most clubs, including those of a similar standing to Hibs, such as Aberdeen, Hearts and Dundee United, have spent the best part of the 21st century being efficient rather than exhilarating. Fans will argue, rightly, that they pay over the odds for the standard on offer, but, as a result of the monster created by modern-day football, that is, sadly, the case throughout Scotland – not just at Hibs. Hibs fans are right to wish for improvement, but they have to be realistic – the prospect of having a team perform anywhere near the standard of Mowbray’s Mavericks any time soon is remote. Hibs thrilled the nation from 2004-06 mainly because Mogga inherited an exceptional crop of emerging youngsters, with ‘exceptional’ being the key word – it was always going to be a case of “enjoy it while it lasts”. For all the money Hibs made by selling “the crown jewels”, there was no way they’d be able to buy the quality of player that would see them replicate that period while also upgrading the stadium.
The ‘Petrie Out’ Brigade paint a picture of gloom ever since Mowbray left over five years ago but the fact Hibs were spoken of as top-two contenders just two years ago suggests they actually did a decent job of recovering from the break-up of the Golden Generation and are not in as deep a malaise as some would have you believe. For whatever reason, it’s been downhill since the start of last season, but the current situation is nothing that can’t be sorted by the galvanising effect of a good managerial appointment. Hibs are merely going through the type of slump that befalls most clubs at one point or another – the fans would do well to remember that Aberdeen and United have had to endure their own fair share of wretched seasons of late.
The foundations are in place for Hibs, but, for the new man to have a chance, the fans must accept the Mowbray era was a one-off and reduce expectations. For example, if the new man performs to the same level as Mixu did, that has to be considered a relative success rather than the disaster many branded it. In comparison to the relegations, play-off frolics and takeover bids of the past 30-odd years, Hibs are merely in a slump and nowhere near crisis point. Hibees at their wit’s end should speak to fans of Dundee, Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday to find out what really constitutes a football club’s demise.
Wha’s like us in the English Premier League?
WHAT an eventful weekend it was for Scotland players in England. We had QPR’s Jamie Mackie brilliantly setting up a goal and looking the part. Then there was Norwich’s Russell Martin making an audacious goal-line clearances before undoing his good work at Arsenal’s winner. And Wigan’s Gary Caldwell couldn’t have been more in the thick of it as he sold a goal, scored one and set one up. Give me Scots making the odd cock-up in the fastest league in the world over not being there at all, though. Doubles for the burgeoning Jordan Rhodes and Robert Snodgrass in the Football League suggest the quota of EPL Scots could soon be swelled further.
Not a fan of . . .
. . . The lack of Scottish Cup third-round upsets at the weekend, with all the minnows bar Culter crashing out.
Hats off to . . .
. . . Motherwell. While the rest of the SPL toil to inspire, Stuart McCall’s side are bucking the trend emphatically.
WHAT the footballers have been tweeting . .
“Think I have forgotten boxers for tomorrow. Commando.” – Partick’s on-loan Hearts player Conrad Balatoni reveals his underwear issues ahead of his team’s clash at Culter.
“Anyone ever went on a shopping trip with their girlfriend, her sister, her mum and her wee cuddly granny?” – Ex- Hibee John Rankin finds himself overrun with women.