Rod Petrie has insisted Hibs are not as bad as people think, claiming the Easter Road outfit have proved to be the second best in the history of the SPL “of all the clubs which lived within their means and paid their creditors in full”.
Petrie took a clear swipe at Capital rivals Hearts and Rangers – although he mentioned neither by name – claiming “the tax man and a range of unsuspecting creditors” had paid for their successes.
The Hibs chairman hit out as he addressed the annual meeting of the club’s shareholders during which he admitted that while last season’s seventh-place finish was by no means satisfactory, progress was being made.
The chairman took the opportunity to hit the 200 or so in the audience with a blizzard of facts and figures to prove, in his estimation, that if success on the pitch wasn’t quite as evident as the club returning to the black with a profit of £100,000 following two years of losses, then it wasn’t quite the story of gloom and doom which many have portrayed.
Although he admitted the mauling by Swedish outfit Malmo, Hibs’ worst result in Europe, had cut fans “to the quick”, Petrie insisted that eight matches into the domestic season Pat Fenlon’s side were just one point adrift of where they were last season and this time round had a quarter-final of the Scottish Communities League Cup – against Hearts at the end of this month – to look forward to.
The Europa League debacle had, however, cast a dark cloud over the club but, Petrie claimed, an analysis of how Hibs had fared over almost 50 years bore comparison with today’s side.
He said: “I attended a meeting of the ‘Let’s Work Together’ group and some choice words were spoken. A man who looked barely old enough to have seen 47 seasons said ‘Hey Mr Petrie, that’s the worst Hibs team I’ve seen in 47 years.
“So I checked up. Hibernian’s average league position over all of the last 47 seasons since 1966 is halfway between sixth and seventh place in whatever league was operating at the time. For over one third of those 47 years we have finished fifth, sixth or seventh.”
And when narrowed down to Hibs’ 14 years in the SPL, replaced this season with the Scottish Premiership, Petrie claimed the statistics were equally revealing, showing the average league position of the top four clubs was Celtic 1.5; Rangers 1.6 and Hearts 4.7.
Hibs came fourth with an average position of 6.5 with Petrie adding: “Or should I say the second-best team in the history of the SPL of all the clubs which lived within their means and paid their creditors in full.”
Therefore, he said, last season’s seventh place was “about average” but with an above-average haul of 51 points although, he insisted, seventh was well below expectations as he observed: “The only point I am making is that season 2012-13 was not as bad on the field as some would want us to believe.”
And, he claimed, the same applied to cup competitions with only three clubs, Celtic, Rangers and Hearts, winning more than three domestic trophies in the 22 years since Sir Tom Farmer saved Hibs with “two of the three” having gone through, or were still going through insolvency events because “they were spending more money on football players than they could afford”.
“The tax man and a range of unsuspecting creditors have paid for their successes,” he insisted, “And all of Scottish football has had to deal with the consequences of their financial mismanagement.” In contrast, he said, the future financial stability of Hibs was the first objective of the Hibs board of directors, adamant the club will continue to live within its means, adding: “We do not want you, or your children, or your children’s children to have to suffer the anguish of whether your football club will survive.”
Petrie, however, was challenged by one shareholder who described his statement as “totally condescending”, as he condemned the tenth, 11th and seventh place finishes of the past three seasons and the humiliation of Malmo and that he wasn’t interested in hearing repeated mentions of Hearts downfall.
The chairman countered by saying: “I’m sorry if you find comparisons disappointing. There is no lack of passion, commitment or determination on the board to be the best football club we can be but we can only do that with the contribution and resources that are given to us by supporters.
“The point I was trying to make was that 2012-13, while disappointing and not satisfactory, there was progress from the season before.”
Petrie’s comments came after the formal business of the meeting – approving the directors’ report and financial statements all signed off by the club’s auditors within a month of the end of the accounting year – took only four minutes.
On the day League One Rangers announced losses of £14 million for the 13 months to June, Petrie said: “Given the major uncertainty over the SPL’s finances in the summer of 2012, our financial results are probably better than anyone expected including – I’m told – some fans of another club who were confidently predicting that we would follow them like lemmings over the cliff.”
Increased season ticket sales, up from 7000 to 8000 for the current season, had, he said, allowed Fenlon to assemble a squad of talented players although he conceded they hadn’t shown it in all matches so far. The cost base “commensurate with that larger core level of income” had, he revealed, allowed Fenlon to dip into the transfer market and pay a fee for a striker [a reported £200,000 to Swindon Town for James Collins], asking: “Which other club in Scotland has done that?” In what became quite a heated debate, Petrie also found himself under pressure from another shareholder who demanded he define what he meant by success and set a “specific, quantifiable” goal, his answer being described as “woolly and ambiguous” when he replied: “Winning football matches.
“We are a professional football club, our only objective is to go out and win every game whether it is in the league, the cups or Europe. At the start of any season 12 teams in the league all have the same objective, to win the league. At the end of the season there’s a table, one team has achieved its objective and the other 11 teams have failed.”
Challenged again as to where he felt Hibs should be finishing each season with dissenting voices claiming a minimum top three place and second itself should be the target, Petrie replied: “Our first objective is not to put it in peril or jeopardy, the second is to win games with whatever resources we have. We use them to the maximum and we spend them as wisely as we can.
“You can play fantasy football in your mind, you can sign players and you never lose a game but we have to deal with reality.”