IVAN SPROULE knows there’s one thing Hibs fans want from their team – and that’s entertainment.
The former Easter Road winger reckons the brand of football Terry Butcher has his side playing right now should ensure exactly that.
Since his arrival at Hibs in November, the Englishman has given Lewis Stevenson and Paul Cairney a position to call their own on either wing.
The duo have grasped their opportunity as Butcher’s tactic of getting as many balls into the box from wide areas as possible has borne fruit. Hibs fans have enjoyed the new manager’s approach after many accused predecessor Pat Fenlon of fielding sides which lacked width.
Sproule, who filled a wide role during two spells with Hibs, reckons the use of two wingers can only be a benefit. The 32-year-old Irishman said: “If you want entertaining football, then you definitely have to play with wingers and I think that both boys have done a great job since Terry Butcher came in.
“I was still with Hibs when Paul came in and he was on fire in that first season, but then he got injured and that set him back a bit. He has come back really strong, though, and he seems to really be thriving now.
“I obviously know Lewis really well and he is a close personal friend of mine, but I never saw him as an out-and-out winger. He’s a heart-on-your-sleeve kind of guy. He has got huge heart, a lot of honesty and massive workrate.
“But he’s also got a great delivery with that left peg of his and I think that people sometimes forget how good a football player he actually is.
“He’s been shifted about a lot and for a player it can be hard to keep any kind of consistency going under those circumstances. It’s nice for a manager to have a player who has a few strings to his bow. Same with me, sometimes through middle or out wide. Personally, though, it is nice to find that one position.
“I’m glad to see Lewis playing and playing well and I think he is probably reaping the rewards of Terry showing him a little bit of love.
“They’ve got options too, because Alex Harris is also back in there and he looks like a real talent so it is certainly going to be interesting times at the club over the next few seasons.
“No-one is more pleased to see those boys and Hibs going well than me and I am convinced that Terry Butcher will get it right.”
Sproule, who was on Hibs’ books between 2005 and 2007 and then again from 2011 until last summer, quit Ross County at the end of the year in favour of a move back home to Northern Ireland and is now plying his trade with the country’s most successful side Linfield.
While he admits that he misses getting up for training every day now that he’s with a part-time club, Sproule reckons that the benefits to his family life far outweigh that.
With three young boys, Sam, Alfie and Joey to bring up, Sproule and his wife Janet are pleased to be nearer to friends and family after more than a decade on the road in football.
“It was a move that a lot of people maybe raised their eyebrows at,” Sproule conceded. “I was playing regularly in the SPFL with Ross County and things were going really well.
“But the reason that I wanted the move was to come back home and be closer to my family. I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing and when that happens it starts to affect you away from football.
“I’ve always been honest to myself and, more importantly, to my family, and since we have come back home the kids have gained so much through being closer to their aunties, uncles, grannies and the rest of the family.
“I’m not going to lie. Sometimes I wake up and miss going to training every day, but coming back home has been worth it in so many other ways.
“My family have moved around with me for the best part of ten years. We didn’t have help from family because we didn’t have anyone close enough to us and I just felt that it was time to give them something back.”
Sproule’s return has caused something of a stir in the Irish media, not least for the fact that one of his first games back was in the cup against his old team Dergview. The squad for last week’s match, which Linfield won 5-0, included a sprinkling of Sproule’s family and some friends. “It was unbelievable”, Sproule added. “I started out at Dergview and on the day that I signed for Linfield, we were drawn against them in the Irish Cup. Not only does my brother, Andrew, play for them, so does my cousin and a few of my friends. Because of the family ties and the publicity that came with it, I think that every man and his dog from Castlederg [his hometown] was there.
“There was certainly a bit of spice to the game and I think most people were there to cheer on my brother and friends instead of me! But I was delighted to be able to play my part in the first two goals and to eventually get the win. I just had to keep my professional head on for the 50 minutes that I was on the park.”