Terry Butcher’s ill-fated seven-month tenure at Hibs came to an end yesterday, paving the way for yet another new manager to come in and try to haul the Easter Road club free from a long-running malaise.
The Englishman was axed with two years remaining on his contract after being unable to convince new chief executive Leeann Dempster in a meeting on Monday that he could turn the tide following an utterly disastrous period at the helm which culminated in relegation from the Premiership last month.
With his stock high after an impressive reign of nearly five years at Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Butcher, when he arrived to replace Pat Fenlon in November with Hibs hovering in mid-table, was supposed to be the man to finally hoist them back into the upper reaches of Scotland’s top flight after three consecutive seasons in the doldrums of the bottom six.
Yet, remarkably, he exceeded all his recent predecessors in the calamity stakes by presiding over a disastrous slump which saw Hibs slip from sixth place in the Premiership in early January all the way to the Championship by the end of May. With fans in revolt, and Butcher and chairman Rod Petrie the main targets of their ire, it came as little surprise when the manager eventually was sacked following a meeting with Petrie and Dempster upon returning from a near two-week holiday.
“I said at the weekend we were going to have a conversation with the manager and we had that on Monday,” said Dempster, explaining the process that led to the manager’s dismissal. “I spent some time with Terry – quite a lot of time – and we had a very honest and pretty direct conversation, and we decided to leave it at that on Monday night.
“We had a board meeting yesterday morning and we took a unanimous decision that Terry would leave the club. The reason for that was we felt it was time for a fresh approach. We’ve got a big challenge ahead and we debated, we had a discussion, as boards do. I reflected the nature of the discussions Terry and I had, and we took a decision – and it was a unanimous one.
“It was a board decision, but it was myself that led most of the meeting on Monday with Terry. If you like, I took the recommendation to the board. We discussed it and debated it and as any board does, we had a decision to make and we made it.”
With Petrie having come under fire for his perceived meddling in the past, Dempster was adamant that it was she who was most prominent in the call to dispense with Butcher.
Asked to clarify that it was her decision and the board rubber-stamped it, she replied: “That’s right. It’s very unfortunate and I’m very saddened by it, if I’m perfectly honest. It absolutely was not one of the first tasks I had in mind when I came to the football club, but I can’t look back, I have to look forward. We need to recruit a new manager and that task starts now.”
Dempster and the rest of the Hibs board are now in a race against time to get a new manager in place before the squad, decimated by 15 close-season departures, returns to pre-season training a week on Monday.
She insists there was never any chance of her axing Butcher in the immediate aftermath of relegation as she wasn’t officially an employee of the club when she first met him a fortnight past Monday before he went off on holiday.
“Directly after relegation, Terry and I met briefly, but we had no opportunity to have an in-depth discussion,” she explained. “The time for that was Monday. We spent a good deal of time together. But it hasn’t been bubbling on.
“We went into the meeting on Monday very open-minded. We had a range of discussions with Terry which related to the opportunity that was there, but I’m not going to tell anybody the specific nature of those. Terry is a real professional. He took it very well – as you would expect, very professionally. Obviously, he’s disappointed. We’re disappointed, but you’ve got to give him credit because he took the news as well as some would expect.”
Dempster was adamant that the decision to sack Butcher was not taken solely on the basis of relegation. “The decision was taken all-encompassing,” she said. “The perspective I’m taking on it are from the conversations I had with Terry directly and the conversations related to this up-and-coming campaign rather than the last one. I’m not going to talk about the specifics of the conversation we had because that’s confidential between myself and Terry.
“Terry has indicated since relegation that he wanted to stay on and was up for it and, certainly I think, if he had been presented with that opportunity, he would have done. He did not offer his resignation.”
The search now begins for Hibs’ eighth manager since Tony Mowbray, the last genuinely successful Easter Road appointment, kicked off his invigorating reign a decade ago.
“It has been called a poisoned chalice, but my take on it is I hope to be involved as an individual in turning that around. I do have a history when it comes to managers of them being around a little bit longer.
“We cannot continue to look back all the time. I know people want us to reflect all the time, but we can’t continue to do that, we need to look forward now.”
Dempster is confident that there will be a high level of interest in the vacancy despite Hibs’ relegation and the club’s reputation for turning over managers at an almost annual rate. “It’s a great club and a great opportunity,” she said. “Yes, there have been a number of managers in recent years, but we need to look forward. There has been this element of change within Hibernian Football Club. My recruitment is part of that and there are some announcements we’ve been wanting to make in the last few weeks, but because of the flux following relegation we’ve been unable to make them. But there is some positive news for the supporters when the time is right, but the focus now must be on football and getting the right person in place and recruiting players.”
Dempster, who only officially started work at Easter Road a week past Monday, admits she is still learning about the history of the club, but she is keen to recruit a new manager will embrace the club’s traditions and the fans’ long-standing desire to see entertaining football like that showcased by Mowbray’s team.
“I definitely know what type of football they want to see. The supporters have told me, they’ve given me lots of advice and I’ve been getting almost daily contact,” she explained. “I’ve been inundated in that regard when it comes to style of play etc.
“I have had many books posted to me in terms of what the Hibernian way is. It’s fair to say people are very keen that the history of the club is taken forward. These are the challenges and these are the things that I find out day to day.”