Terry Butcher saw Easter Road at its soulless, disenchanted worst as his old club Inverness took his new Hibs team apart with relative ease in front of a little over 8,000 people last Saturday. He’s also seen the 20,000-seat stadium at its raucous, rabble-rousing best, albeit on the day Hearts saw off his Caley Thistle side in last season’s League Cup semi-final.
Needless to say, the ebullient Englishman knows how he’d prefer the old place to be on a match-day. And it’s not more than half-empty.
Beaming with pride at finally landing the type of big-club job he’s “worked hard for”, Butcher sees no reason why he and trusty lieutenant Maurice Malpas can’t oversee a brand of swashbuckling but successful football that will bring Hibs fans flocking back to Easter Road in double the numbers that turned out at the weekend.
The new manager’s ultimate vision is to have Hibs playing in front of full-house crowds for the first time since the East Stand opened over three years ago, while giving the fans a team they can feel genuinely proud of and look forward to watching. Crucially, Butcher is adamant that he knows exactly what is required to make his dream become reality.
“Fans want to see a winning team, but they want to see a team that’s committed and passionate and giving everything they can for the jersey,” he told the Evening News. “They want to see them playing at a tempo that they can enjoy and that takes a bit of time to get it over to the players, but once they get that belief, we believe it can happen.
“I’d love to see the fans come back and give them a winning Hibs team playing lovely football. The ultimate vision is to see the ground rocking and I’m very confident that will come. When we were here for the semi-final last year, the stadium was rocking. The majority of the crowd were Hearts fans, but it was an incredible atmosphere. That’s what you want here. This is a proud club and we want to make the fans proud of their team.”
Butcher, for one, is certainly proud to be wearing Hibs colours. After an emotionally-draining week of negotiations before his move from the Highlands to Edinburgh was sealed earlier this week, he finally got down to the serious business yesterday of attempting to reawaken this sleeping giant of Scottish football. He worked with his new players for the first time yesterday and saw plenty reason for optimism in the way they went about their business on the fields of East Mains.
Upon meeting the media yesterday afternoon for the first time since signing a three-year deal at Easter Road, he waxed lyrical about the size of the club in comparison to what he has left behind following his five fruitful years in Inverness. Butcher, who has had the honour of captaining England at a World Cup, seems genuinely privileged to have been handed stewardship of Hibs’ fortunes.
“Once I was taken around the training centre, that’s a superb facility, something you dream of as a coach and a manager,” he explained. “It is exceptional. We don’t quite come close to that at Caley Thistle, which makes it even more remarkable what the boys did up there and how well the team did with what we had – or what we didn’t have.
“When you see all that, the training ground and facilities, you think that this is what you’ve worked hard for – this is what any manager is looking for. Allied to the stadium, the fans, the history, the potential of the club – it’s all there. The thing we have to get right now is the team, because all the blocks are in place.
“We’ve talked to the team and we’ll talk over the next few days, the boys away on international duty will be back on Monday – that’s when the really hard work starts.
“I said to Maurice that it’s like I’m looking down a tunnel – and everything is rushing towards me. There are so many different problems in front of us that we didn’t have at Caley Thistle. We’ve got a fitness coach here. At Caley Thistle, that was Maurice. We’ve got a running coach. That was Maurice. Maurice did everything. We’ve now got people to do all those jobs. I don’t know if Maurice is happy about that or not!
“At the training centre, we don’t even know what room to have as an office. The first thing I said to Maurice after visiting was: ‘They’ve got a window, Maurice, they’ve got a window!’ He said to me: ‘I’m going to board that up, because we’re not used to it!’ Our old office was really cramped, with two desks and no room for anything else. We’ve found a room here with three desks, ample room for sofas and everything else. And you’re thinking: ‘Wow!’ There are other rooms. If I wanted, I could have an office of my own. Luxury.”
Butcher has been around Scottish football long enough to know that having the best facilities counts for little unless those using them are applying themselves in the proper manner. He and Malpas have a tried-and-tested formula for galvanising beleaguered Scottish teams, as they have previously done at Motherwell and Inverness.
The philosophy is “not rocket science”, as Butcher puts it. Fundamentally, their ethos revolves around hard work and fitness, and incorporates, the three S’s: “stamina, style and steel”. “If you looked at Saturday’s Caley Thistle team, you would say they had that in abundance and it is something we want to instil in our players here,” said Butcher. “The first thing we said to the players was that we want them to work harder than any other team in the Premiership. And to do that you’ve got to be fit and you’ve got to be strong.
“It’s not rocket science, if you work harder than the opposition, then you’ve got a chance. That was the philosophy we worked on at Caley Thistle – their fitness levels were extraordinary, and they had some ability as well, the same as the boys at Hibs.”
Butcher has maximum confidence that one day in the not-too-distant future Hibs will play with the same vibrancy as his high-flying Inverness side, but he warned supporters not to expect an overnight transition. While he has been impressed with the attitude of his new charges, he knows that, in order to get the team moving forward, he will have to mend the players’ battered confidence, get them to buy into his way of thinking and work out the best way to deploy them on the pitch. In short, there will be plenty tinkering until he gets Hibs anywhere near the level he wants.
“The players here are slightly different to the group at Inverness,” he said. “We can’t turn Hibs into Caley Thistle straight away. We need time to do that. If you look at Saturday’s team, that was 18 months of a project for Caley Thistle to get to that stage. I’m not saying it will take 18 months here. I’m optimistic it will take a much shorter time, but it requires hard work.
“We can’t add to the players we’ve got until the transfer window, so we’ll work with the players we’ve got and we’re quite happy to do that. We’re looking already at changing the mindset of the players and also trying to bring the strikers into play a lot sooner. We want to get the ball forward quicker and play with a passion that we know these players have. They’re hurting at the moment because of the league position and the losses they’ve had in the last few games, and they want to rectify that.
“They really are a good bunch of lads. Yesterday’s training was intense, sharp and fierce at times. James McPake was loving it, he was diving into tackles left, right and centre, and it was good. The players showed me that they want to be in my first team for the game at St Mirren next week.”
The Butcher-Malpas revolution is officially under way.