As he gives a farewell interview to the Evening News on an overcast and breezy day in South Yorkshire, the sense of serenity around the home of his new club Rotherham United is a far cry from the wild, unbridled scenes of euphoria he and his old team sparked less than a fortnight ago.
Although enthused by his new role in England’s Championship, Stubbs admits he’s still trying to get his head round the fact that he will forever be known as the manager who finally brought the Scottish Cup – Hibs’ Holy Grail – back to Leith after an infamous 114-year wait.
“You know what, I actually don’t think it’s really sunk in yet because it was such an enormous feat to achieve,” he said. “It’s been a bit surreal, to be honest. I’m just so proud that me and my staff were the ones to do it. I’ve said all along that one day it would happen. Some people laughed at that, but I fully believed it. I was always hoping it was going to be me that won it. I couldn’t be confident it would be me, but I’m very proud that it was me.
“For a long time, I had a gut feeling we’d win the Scottish Cup this year no matter what happened. I was so pleased for the players, more than anything, because they put so much effort into the season. It would have been a total injustice if they hadn’t achieved anything at the end of it. I was also thrilled for the fans because they had waited so long to be in that position, to win the Scottish Cup. For me and my staff to have been able to provide that was something I’ll never, ever forget. It’s something I don’t want to forget either.
“I’ve been getting sent all sorts of links and video clips of the game, goals, celebrations and all different things from the weekend. They are so touching. Watching Sunshine On Leith get sung at Hampden, if that doesn’t tug on your heartstrings then I don’t know what will. It is an unbelievable anthem. To see and hear it sung after winning a Scottish Cup final at Hampden, it just doesn’t get any better than that. Whatever else I did at Hibs, I could never cap winning the Scottish Cup. I don’t think winning the league, even though it’s hugely important for the club, would have had the same impact.”
Stubbs knows he and his players have etched their name into Hibs folklore. He is eager to return to Edinburgh for any gatherings to celebrate landmark anniversaries of May 21, 2016. “I’d like to think there’ll be some sort of reunion in the future for the team that finally won the Scottish Cup,” he said. “Because it was such a momentous occasion, I think it’s inevitable that there will be events to commemorate it. If that’s the case, I’ll certainly be back.”
Stubbs will return to Edinburgh before then as he has a visit planned for next week to say his farewells to a group of colleagues he has the utmost respect for. “I’ll be up next week, probably on Monday or Tuesday to speak to all the staff and say all my goodbyes,” he said. “I would never do that over the phone. I want to go up there and see everybody face to face. If there are any players about, I’ll meet them but that may be more difficult with them being on holiday. I’ve had lots of texts from players wishing me all the best. Liam Fontaine has just text me from Las Vegas actually. I’ve had hundreds of texts but I’ve replied to the players first and told them I’ll ring them all individually over the next few days once things settle down.”
Stubbs has departed Edinburgh with a heavy heart but, after inheriting a mess from Terry Butcher two years ago, the Liverpudlian is content that he has left behind a club, and a group of players, equipped to flourish under his successor. He stressed that, out of respect to Hibs, he has no plans to try and bring any of his old charges with him to Yorkshire.
“The club’s in a great position,” he said. “When I walked in, there was virtually no structure. Right now, there’s a structure for success. There’s a blueprint there for continuity. Whoever comes in is lucky because he’s inheriting a very good group of players and he’s going to be working with some very, very good people. The likes of [chief executive] Leeann Dempster, [head of football operations] George Craig and [chief scout] Graeme Mathie are great people to work with. I had a really good working relationship and personal relationship with them all. Leeann’s a very professional individual and the club are very lucky to have her. After working closely with her for two years I’ve got every confidence she’ll make the right appointment and I fully believe Hibs will get promoted next season.”
Stubbs, who described the last few weeks as “an emotional rollercoaster”, regrets that he was unable to lead Hibs to promotion in two attempts but believes consistent form against Scotland’s best teams, notably in cup competitions, proved he had done a good job in improving the team. “Aside from winning the cup, the thing I take a lot of heart from is the fact we created a team that could go to places like Ibrox and Tynecastle and get results,” he said. “When you can do that, it just cements the belief that you’re doing the right things. To go on a regular basis and get good results against the top teams in the country shows it’s not a fluke. I think the thing that stopped us getting promoted this season was the cups. If we weren’t involved in the final of both competitions, I think we’d have gone up. The squad we had was very small in relation to the demands we had on us towards the end of the season.”
Stubbs seemed genuinely emotional at times as he reflected on his Easter Road reign. The Scouser insists the club that gave him his big chance to make a name for himself in management will forever hold a special place in his heart. “Whenever I look back on my career, I’ll always be proud to say I was the Hibs manager,” he said. “I’m sad to leave because the club has played a huge part in my managerial career. I’ll never, ever forget it. It’s a special club with fantastic people there. I could not be any more complimentary to Leeann, George, the chairman, the board, the players and ultimately the fans. A lot of them have said I’ve given them their club back – that’s the least I could have done for them because they were unbelievable with me from day one.”