At the end of May last year, Charlie Reid appeared in the Hibs Supporters Club at Sunnyside as a figurehead for the movement aimed at forcing chairman Rod Petrie out of the club.
Like many of his fellow supporters, Reid had grown increasingly disillusioned with the way his team had been allowed to sink meekly into the Scottish Championship and felt action had to be taken to try and revive the club. Seven and a half months on, Petrie remains in office, albeit with his influence diluted, but Hibs, led by forward-thinking chief executive Leeann Dempster, have come up with a plan which they hope will appease disenchanted supporters and inspire them to play a part in ensuring the long-term prosperity of their club.
Certainly Reid, the Hibs fan famed as one half of The Proclaimers, has been won over by plans for a share launch ultimately aimed at ensuring supporters take ownership of 51 per cent of their club, and therefore an increased responsibility for running it. The 52-year-old Leither has long been an advocate of such a venture and gave a compelling case for why all Hibees, regardless of how satisfied they are with the current running of their club, should embrace the proposals and stump up the minimum contribution of £18.75 in order to play a part in revitalising Hibs for the long term.
“I suppose I am surprised to be sitting here, given that just a few months ago there were fans protesting outside. I did take some persuading,” admitted Reid about being asked to become a board member for Hibs Supporters Limited, the company launched yesterday to hold shares in the club on the fans’ behalf and ultimately facilitate their increased ownership. “But I feel that there comes a point where, if you are going to stand on the sidelines and complain about what’s going on – and God knows I’ve done more complaining than almost anybody else – then if the opportunity arises to become more involved, it would be kind of perverse not to take it.
“This is what I’ve wanted for the last 20 years, really, community involvement and fan ownership of the club. If then, asked to get involved in that, I’d said no, I think I would be just another person on the sidelines complaining and doing nothing. You’ve got to be actively involved in change. We complain about the lack of investment, well, if you have got support who own the club, they are the investors and it is up to them to put more money up. And I would urge everyone to try and do that. But the number one thing for me is buy season tickets and pay your £18.75 a month and then contribute as much as you can.”
While genuinely reputable moneymen with a desire to take over Hibs remain conspicuous by their absence, Reid believes that fan ownership represents a far safer route forward than allowing any random bidder to get their hands on the club.
“I would be lying if I said I thought there was a perfect [fan ownership] model. What Hearts have done [with Foundation of Hearts] is very interesting but their circumstances were completely different from ours. I remember sitting with a board member about 18 years ago, discussing exactly this, progressively buying into the club. At the time, it was deemed unrealistic. I don’t know why because I think this has always been a good idea.
“I’m delighted that it’s come now. You can argue that it’s long overdue – but it’s here now, so let’s engage with it. The best thing would be if Hibs were playing to 20,000 every week and there was £20 million in the bank for new players. We don’t have that, so we’ve got to take it from where we are.
“It’s interesting if you look at the Vladimir Romanov case, how many clubs knocked him back before he bought Hearts. I don’t know, maybe Hearts fans feel it was all worth it, they got a couple of Scottish Cups. But the mess that was left at the end of it is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
“So the days of someone coming in and putting down millions and millions of quid, dictating how they’ll do things, I think they’re gone. I’m a collectivist. I believe Hibs is best run by the support. My ideal would be that the entire club, 100 per cent, is run by supporters. That isn’t on offer at the moment – but there is clearly a change underway. For the first time in a quarter of a century, Hibs is opening up. Supporters who are suspicious and maybe felt alienated from the club, they’ve got to take a serious look. They’ve got to ask: ‘If we’re serious people and we want to change it, how can we stand on the sidelines?’”
In the barren financial landscape that is Scottish football, Reid believes that the power of the people could make all the difference. “The finances are certainly not getting better in the Scottish game,” he continued. “I would hate to see Hibs shrink as a club. To be honest, I think the club has shrunk over the last couple of years. As much as there is that’s been put right, with a fantastic stadium and training facility, and as much as I think Rod and Sir Tom [Farmer] have done fantastic things with the club, I think the football ambition of the club has fallen backwards.
“If we want to change that and take the club forward – I would like to see Hibs competing for the Premiership title – then we need a very efficient club, but also a model where the fans willingly put in money every month. They’ll do that because it’s going to the football club. If we want better goalies, centre halves or strikers, there is no point in sitting on the sidelines moaning about it any more. Here is the opportunity.
“We buy into the club and ultimately we have the casting vote. Then it becomes the responsibility of supporters to raise more money and take the club forward. The days of someone coming in and doing it for you are gone. The question is what model comes next. Do we have a more egalitarian approach, so supporters have responsibility for acting in the best interests of the club? I feel this will bring the Hibernian family back together.”
Reid acknowledges that the Hibernian family has become fragmented, with many supporters having turned their backs on the club in light of their toils in recent years. Reid can empathise with lapsed fans, but believes there can still be a vibrant long-term future at Easter Road.
“Over the years I used to buy five season tickets for my kids when they were younger, for me, my missus and my three sons,” he said. “But the last couple of years I haven’t bought a season ticket. But I am a season ticket holder again. Any club needs fans, they need greater capital involvement in the club. They need people to turn up. I think there has been an alienation between the support and the board here that has to be put right. And when that is put right I think the other stuff will fall into place.”