Rod Petrie: Change will do Hibs good

Hibs chairman Rod Petrie is likely to be criticised during the club's annual general meeting. Fans demonstrate, below

Hibs chairman Rod Petrie is likely to be criticised during the club's annual general meeting. Fans demonstrate, below

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Rod Petrie knows he may face a difficult time tomorrow night.

As chairman of a side relegated in so ignominious a manner as Hibs, he’ll be in the firing line for those of the club’s 1700 shareholders who attend the annual general meeting.

Given the level of opprobrium which has already been directed at him since that embarrassing play-off defeat – on penalties to rub salt into the wounds – by Hamilton at the end of May, he realises it’s likely to be a highly-uncomfortable evening for the club’s directors – and for himself in particular.

Petrie has been over the course many times before both as a director and then the lead figure on such occasions since becoming chairman at the end of 2004. There have been times when agms have been less tempestuous than others, the atmosphere invariably reflecting the fortunes of the team.

By that barometer, the latest gathering promises to be one of the more highly-charged, feelings remaining high six months into Hibs’ bid to escape the Championship at the first time of asking and answers to many questions still being sought.

But, amid all that, Petrie will be keen that the message things are changing for the better is heard; the arrival of Leeann Dempster as chief executive, the move towards 51 per cent fan ownership, supporter representation on the board, a landmark deal with the Bank of Scotland which saw the club’s debt halved with the remainder set to be eliminated under a structured plan while all proceeds, up to £2.5 million, raised by the new share issue will go straight to the football club.

Those points have been made repeatedly over the past couple of weeks and yet there remain dissenting voices, most notably from Hands on Hibs, BuyHibs and Mike Riley, chairman of the Hibernian Supporters Association – although he made it clear he was speaking in a personal capacity.

Petrie, however, is adamant the club has been totally transparent in disclosing plans which have been worked upon for some 12 months rather than be perceived as a knee-jerk reaction to relegation and firmly believes that the moves, for which the club itself has a great appetite, have been broadly welcomed with some 700 having already expressed an interest in investing via the newly-created Hibernian Supporters Limited.

Speaking exclusively to the Evening News, he said: “It’s the first time in a generation there’s been a significant change, a change that’s been looked at and discussed for some time.

“The background to football is changing, the environment we are living in is changing and this is the right time to widen that share ownership, as I think you have seen by the number of people who are supporting it.

“Obviously there are some groups who are having difficulty with it, but it’s important we maintain a dialogue and hopefully everyone can see the benefit for the football club of what we can achieve if everybody gets behind it.

“Everything is being reinvested back to make our club better.

“Why? Because we care about it ourselves. Being passionate and having a love for the club is not the preserve of one or two people out there, the directors here care deeply.

“We challenge ourselves and question ourselves. Executive directors get paid to do a job. Does that mean they don’t care? Absolutely not. It’s in our blood. It’s in everyone’s blood. It’s in my blood. Once you have contact with the club, it’s part of your life. It’s under your skin. The executive directors go miles beyond because they care and it matters, the non-execs do it for nothing because they are passionate about it.

“We have two elected fans’ representatives who are coming on board. At every level within the football club the objective is to have greater supporter engagement.

“It’s all about getting behind a common goal, a common plan and taking the club forward.” As keen as he will be to accentuate the positives he sees, Petrie insisted he won’t shirk from facing the tough questions having admitted relegation was not only disappointing but “humiliating and embarrassing.”

He said: “It’s an important part of our calendar – it’s the occasion when the board is answerable to the shareholders, an important part of the governance that’s been put in place.

“Anything to do with a football club is reflected by what happens on the pitch. If things are going well, the team is playing well, then everything the club does is that much easier. When things haven’t gone particularly well then there are more questions to be answered because supporters are passionate about their football club.

“They are not shy about expressing their views and telling you what they think about the situation, what they would do to change it, what improvements they want made. Sometimes that can be very direct, but it is very direct because people care passionately.

“That’s the power of a football club – it’s place in the community, it’s place in the lives of everybody from high court judges to guys doing straightforward jobs in factories and elsewhere.

“The football club is hugely valued and hugely important to thousands and thousands of people, not just in Edinburgh but worldwide.”

Again stressing the move for change was well underway before the spectre of relegation struck, Petrie went on: “There are questions to answer, undoubtedly. But there’s also a story to tell. The season 2013/14 was a real low point and the sporting outcome was not what anyone wanted.

“Being relegated was deeply disappointing – in some ways it was humiliating and embarrassing and we have apologised for it. It’s important the reaction to what happened was to face up to the responsibilities and move quickly to implement a number of things that had been planned including Leeann coming in. But she was doing so to a plan which involved continuing to make change in restructuring – a lot of which had been in place for months.

“Things can go wrong – things can go badly wrong – but often in these situations it’s about how you react to them and what you do about it. And what you do is try to put it right.”