Come rain or shine, disgruntled Hibs fans will gather at Easter Road tomorrow morning to demand the removal of Rod Petrie.
The ignominy of relegation last month has brought ongoing discord between supporters and chairman to a head. Action is now being taken.
Rightly or wrongly, the embattled Petrie has been fingered as the man most prominent in a demise which has led the club into the Championship at a time when they should have been capitalising on the financial implosion of Hearts and Rangers and re-establishing themselves at the top end of the Scottish Premiership.
“The honourable thing for Rod to do in this situation is to resign,” said Jackie McNamara Snr, a former Hibs player who still loves the club deeply and will attend tomorrow’s protest. “I’ve nothing personal against Rod. I actually have a good relationship with him. I don’t like seeing anybody lose their job but Rod’s sacked plenty people in the past. It shouldn’t come to supporters demanding your resignation. Rod should say ‘well, I’m culpable’ and resign like Lex Gold did after relegation in 1998.
“When I was assistant to Jim Duffy and he got sacked, I resigned. You’ve got to look at yourself in the mirror and say ‘I must have something to do with this’. The discontent among the support is massive. If Rod thinks he can hang on to his position, he’s p*****g into the wind.”
Aware that his stock has been low for some time in the eyes of the Hibs faithful after a series of on-field calamities, Petrie had already decided, long before relegation was assured last month, to step aside into a non-executive role and let the highly-regarded new chief executive, Leeann Dempster, take on full control of the running of the club.
Many fans, however, believe Petrie has to leave the premises entirely in order to allow the clouds of negativity which have hung over Easter Road in recent years to lift.
“Leeann’s come in having done a great job at Motherwell but, if Rod doesn’t intend to have any input, why is he still hanging about? I’m not saying Rod leaving will cure all the ills, but it will certainly help,” said McNamara.
Petrie is renowned as a shrewd but frugal guardian of the fortunes of Hibs, who are often lauded as a model football club in terms of how they are run off the field. They can, after all, boast the best stadium and training ground in the country outwith Rangers and Celtic and are in relatively good financial health.
However, the counter-argument to Petrie’s impressive work in developing the infrastructure at Hibs’ is that one of the five biggest clubs in the country has been in the lower reaches of the Premiership for the last four seasons before ultimately dropping out of the top flight altogether three weeks ago. There comes a time when the decline on the park, which is inviting ridicule and causing attendances to dwindle, leaves the club looking not quite so “well-run”. The tipping point for many has now arrived.
“The feeling among the Hibs supporters is that it’s their club and that their money is being invested in the club, but it has not been invested properly in the playing staff,” McNamara continued. “Surely there must have been more funds available to invest in the team and get someone in who scores goals.
“Look at Kris Boyd. If we had somebody like that at Hibs scoring 26 goals we’d have been in the top six fighting for Europe. Instead, he’s at Kilmarnock and we’ve been relegated. All it would have taken was a wee bit of investment – take a wee chance – and they didn’t do it. Rod must be culpable because he’s in charge of that side of things.”
Although it is difficult for the neutral observer to pinpoint any particular act by Petrie that has led Hibs from the highs of Tony Mowbray’s invigorating era almost a decade ago to the low of relegation, it is a steady build-up of negative experiences and uninspiring football which has taken its toll on the Hibs support and left them seeking a scapegoat. As the most prominent constant throughout Hibs’ on-field deterioration, Petrie is viewed as the man to carry the can.
It could be argued, with justification, that he has picked managers who, at the time of appointment, looked a good fit.
There were few arguments from fans when, for example, John Collins, Mixu Paatelainen, John Hughes and Terry Butcher were appointed. Even Colin Calderwood and Pat Fenlon had plenty of merit on paper and could be deemed imaginative, outside-the-box appointments. Yet most have left deemed as flops, or underwhelming at best, as they toiled to get near the heights of Mowbray, who delivered the club’s last top-three finish nine years ago. Yet, as each highly-regarded manager falls by the wayside and leaves with a blemish on his CV, increasingly the focus has been trained on the man picking them.
“Rod’s hired and fired lots of managers,” continued McNamara. “They’re not all bad managers, far from it, but, for whatever reason, Rod has been responsible for the hiring of so many people who haven’t done their jobs. It’s just not good enough. The supporters work hard and pay their money to go and see the club that they love attempt to play decent football and get results but that’s just not been happening the last few years. One of the most embarrassing things was in the last game against Hearts when the whole Hearts end was going “hoof” every time the ball came to one of our defenders because they didn’t have the confidence to put their foot on the ball and pass it. We had a player there in Kevin Thomson who’s proved he’s a smashing footballer but the ball was flying over his head. It’s not football we’ve been watching for the past few years. It’s just percentage football but even then I can hardly recall any of our strikers winning balls in the air for years.
“There’s a lack of confidence there and it’s definitely not all down to the players. It might not look like it, but I know the players are all giving 100 per cent. The problem is that the confidence has drained out of the team. Some of the blame for that has to lie at the manager’s door but it also has to lie at the door of Rod because he hires and fires these managers willy-nilly and he has contributed to the sense of negativity at the club. It’s a horrible situation. The supporters try to get behind them but it’s very difficult at times when they’ve been treated to good, exciting football like what we saw under Tony Mowbray eight or nine years ago.”
McNamara feels one of Petrie’s worst errors of judgement was not backing Collins when a group of players went into revolt over the manager’s methods.
“John Collins was a fitness fanatic and was a terrific footballer,” said McNamara. “He had ideas that he picked up in France that were alien to some of the players.
“John was head and shoulders above anything we’ve ever had and he would have made us even better if he had more time, but the players didn’t like his methods and Rod Petrie took the players’ side. I would have quit as well if my chairman did that. Maybe Rod isn’t really a football man and he saw the players as sellable assets and didn’t see John as an asset. At the minute, I don’t think we’d get any money for any of the boys at Hibs and that’s simply because there’s a distinct lack of confidence right throughout the club – and Rod is responsible for the lot. It’s not good enough.”
March 2007, when Collins led them to League Cup glory, was arguably the last time Hibs were genuinely able to feel good about themselves as a football club.
The last seven years, give or take the odd high point, have been something of a struggle for a group of increasingly-scunnered supporters. Those who consider themselves to be at breaking point will assemble behind Easter Road’s main stand at 11am tomorrow demanding change for a club they feel has been left to freewheel towards the abyss.