Hibs, renowned in the halcyon days for their swagger, may have started to look a soulless club in recent years, but there was no shortage of spirit among those impassioned supporters who gathered in the Leith sunshine late on Saturday morning to campaign for the removal of chairman Rod Petrie.
Somewhere in the region of 1500 to 2000 Petrie Out protesters packed into the car park behind Easter Road’s main stand – or, as Kenny McLean Jnr, one of the rally leaders, put it, “more people than Rod’s sold season tickets for next season.”
But, for all that, this was primarily a demonstration against what those in attendance believe to be a botched tenure of leadership by Petrie, it also turned into a passion-stirring celebration of Hibernian Football Club. Indeed, such has been the paucity of football on offer in these parts in the past few years, for those who felt strongly enough to turn up, Saturday was probably one of the most uplifting days out they had enjoyed at Easter Road for a long time.
Paul Kane, the campaign leader, had promised in the build-up to the event that it would be a dignified, respectful and family-friendly day out, and he was true to his word. For all that the overriding sentiment was to rid their club of Petrie, the rally never threatened to turn unsavoury. It was measured and focused on its goal, and conducted from the hearts of all those in attendance.
Supporters of all generations started to gather in the car park, some with anti-Petrie banners, and others sporting retro Hibs strips from better days of years gone by. By 11.30am, all eyes were trained firmly on the Chaplins Disco float, from where dance tunes had been keeping the early arrivals entertained.
As ex-players like Kane, Mickey Weir, Jackie McNamara and the legendary pair of Pat Stanton and Jimmy O’Rourke, as well as former goalkeeper Mike McDonald who travelled up from England especially for the rally, climbed aboard the truck, there was sustained applause from the crowd and it was clear that everyone was singing from the same hymn sheet. “We want Petrie out, we want Petrie out!” was very much the tune of the day.
Kane kicked things off by declaring that the turnout was to his satisfaction and that the campaign to oust the chairman was now in motion. The 48-year-old, who made almost 250 appearances for Hibs in the 1980s and owns the Four In Hand pub just round the corner from the stadium, led impressively from the front and was backed up by some heartfelt speeches by the others aboard the makeshift stage.
Punctuated by some rousing Hibs songs like Sunshine on Leith and Glory, Glory to Hibees, the emotional words of their old heroes were resonating with everyone in attendance.
After McLean had helped rekindle the spirit of the Hands off Hibs campaign in which his late father was prominently involved in 1990, he rued the dwindling of crowds since Tony Mowbray’s invigorating reign almost a decade ago.
“We had a fabulous team under Tony Mowbray and 11,000 season-ticket holders. Where have all these guys gone?” he roared. “They’re all sitting in pubs in Leith and Edinburgh because they’re scunnered with what’s happened at this club. They’re sick to the back teeth.”
McNamara was then invited to take the microphone, with Kane claiming that the respected former captain’s to-the-point interview in Friday’s Evening News had summed up the feeling of the majority of Hibs fans perfectly. For anyone who had not read it, the crux of McNamara’s sentiment was that Petrie was the most culpable in the demise and that he should “do the honourable thing”. “A lot of people have lost their jobs at the club and I don’t see why Mr Petrie shouldn’t lose his,” he told the crowd, to sustained applause.
Then it was time for the legendary and ever-dignified Pat Stanton to say his piece, with assembled supporters hanging on his every word. “This is my club and I’m very sad to see what’s happened. I was round the back of the stand looking at all the names on the wall and I wondered what [the late club legend] Lawrie Reilly would be thinking right now – he’d bloody well be standing up here with the rest of us!”
Stanton also lamented the number of “substandard players” at Hibs in recent years and noted that he felt “Hearts, despite all their misfortune, have displayed more passion than us. They’ve shown guts”.
The 69-year-old felt the rally was the right way for Hibs fans to register their anger at how their club has slipped away from the upper echelons of Scottish football. “What other way have supporters got of expressing their discontent than this? There’s plenty places we all could have been today. I could have been getting dragged round Asda, but I convinced the wife this was more important. It’s your club – stick with it and don’t let anybody put you off.”
Weir, a League Cup winner with Hibs in 1991, had the audience nodding in unanimous approval when he decried the collective slipping of standards at Hibs in recent times.
“When I was a young boy I walked into Easter Road and I was very fortunate to work alongside great Hibs people like Pat Stanton and Jimmy O’Rourke,” recalled the Evening News columnist. “They brought us up with the attitude that ‘you’re playing for Hibs now son, you need to learn that quickly’.
“They taught me that when you play for this club there are standards that have to be met. It might have made us the grumpiest bad losers you ever met in your life, but it stood me in great stead. I’ve known Paul Kane since he was 14 years old and, to be honest, he took a lot of money off me. He always got me the bad duties like cleaning out the main stand. But it was a privilege and something I always looked forward to at the time. Now I look at the mess this club is in and it breaks my heart.
“But Paul Kane will do what’s right for Hibs. Kenny McLean and his father before him did what was right for Hibs. It becomes emotional when you see so many people turning up with so much love for the club. It’s not about getting certain people out of the club, it’s about getting things right. The way Hibernian should be run.
“To go into a Scottish Cup final with six or seven trialists, free transfers, loan deals, that’s not good enough for Hibs. I was brought up in the Hibs tradition, that’s the way I’ll always be. This club deserves the best. When I walked in here, I was taught that very quickly.
“We’re not expected to win Premier Leagues every year. But we are expected to be up there challenging for Europe. That’s what this club deserves. Hopefully, we can move things on now. We need the fans to stay strong and hopefully we can get this club back to where it should be.”
The rally finished with the Proclaimers song I’m On My Way, with Kane declaring that the lyrics “from misery to happiness today” epitomised what everyone present was trying to achieve for Hibs. The Petrie Out movement has certainly signalled its intent.