Rod Petrie today lifted the lid on Hibs’ bid to bring Scotland striker Leigh Griffiths to Easter Road on a permanent basis, revealing their attempts failed because “there was no sum of money Wolves would accept”.
Petrie made strenuous efforts to prise Griffiths, who scored a stunning 28 goals for Hibs last season, from the grasp of the Midlands club, even going face-to-face with Molineux chief executive Jed Moxley in the hope of persuading him to part with the striker who had spent the previous two seasons on loan in Edinburgh.
However, the Hibs chairman found himself rebuffed at every turn, told he was wasting his time by Moxley who underlined Wolves’ determination to have Griffiths see out the final year of his contract at the newly-relegated League One outfit.
Hibs’ pursuit of Griffiths dominated Pat Fenlon’s summer dealings, the Hibs boss turning to striker James Collins to fill the void when Wolves dug in their heels, the Swindon Town hitman one of ten signings made in preparation for the season which has just got underway. Petrie has, of course, been well aware of the mutterings among some fans that penny-pinching on his part wrecked any hope of a deal, gossip he point-blank refutes along with the claim that if he’d been prepared to fork out £150,000 in the January transfer window Griffiths would have been his.
Speaking as he revealed the Easter Road club have moved back into the black posting a modest profit of £100,000 after two years of losses which amounted to almost £2 million, Petrie said: “It was quite simple and straight-forward, there was no sum of money Wolves would accept for Leigh Griffiths.
“In simple terms, they were jealous of what we had got from the player and they wanted to get for their club what we had had. Leigh, when he was playing with us, was a talented player scoring goals, all kinds of goals. The chairman [Steve Morgan] and chief executive of Wolves had brought Leigh to their club but they had gone through three changes of manager and they felt he had never really had his chance to establish himself and show what he could do, so they were very keen to have him back.
“We made an offer then an improved offer but there was no prospect a deal would be done because they just did not want to do a deal. It’s easy to play the game in your head and think all things will fall into place but you are actually dealing with other people at other clubs. You can try as hard as you like but, if the other party is not willing to do a deal, then you cannot do a deal.
“I’d had regular contact with Jed Moxley and I went down, met him face-to-face and talked it all through but it was never going to happen.”
Petrie revealed other attempts had been made to sign Griffiths, a lifelong Hibs fan, during his extensive stay at Easter Road and disclosed Hibs were, in fact, lucky to have him for the second half of last season. He said: “Wolves were gearing themselves up to take him back in January but, at that point, a number of things happened and the simplest thing for them was just to leave him on loan and we benefited from that.
“We’d looked to do a permanent deal at each of the various stages but the only deals Wolves would do was from one window to the next because, fundamentally, the chairman and chief executive wanted to get the best out of Leigh for Wolves and we have to respect that.
“It’s common currency that I would not pay £150,000 in January but that is totally untrue.”
Wolves’ eagerness to have Griffiths back was, Petrie believes, underlined by the alacrity with which they offered him a new two-year contract on his return to Molineux, a deal which ensures a tidy profit on the £150,000 they paid Dundee should the 23-year-old continue scoring goals at his current rate, four in six matches, so as to attract the attention of other clubs.
Petrie, however, insisted Hibs only found themselves in the position of being able to bid for Griffiths, and then Collins, thanks to an increase in the sale of season tickets, rising from 7000 to 8000, a figure which had allowed the Easter Road board to “build a cost base commensurate with that larger core level of income”.
Although expenditure has again been driven down – staff costs dropping by £200,000 during the course of the last financial year – turnover was £8m, £1.1m up on the previous year, leaving Petrie to insist everyone at the club should be satisfied with the figures – £900,000 was also wiped off Hibs’ debt – particularly against a backdrop of recession and the turmoil with which Scottish football was confronted with last summer as Rangers were relegated to the “old” Third Division.
Pointing out that it has become almost unheard of for a Scottish club to pay a transfer fee in recent years, Hibs having put up a reputed £200,000 for Collins and a much smaller sum to Bradford City to secure the signing of Michael Nelson, Petrie said: “The success we have on the pitch is defined by the contribution supporters make from attending games and particularly by season ticket memberships which give that guaranteed core level of income that enables us to plan with a greater degree of certainty.
“We are very grateful we had a higher number of season ticket holders at the start of the season which enabled us to go on and do some other things that we might not have been able to do had levels remained static.
“We genuinely tried to get an arrangement with Wolves to take Leigh on a permanent basis and that would have involved a transfer fee which is kind of unheard of in the last few years and when that proved impossible to do the funds we’d put in place were transferred to the James Collins deal.
“I have not seen many other clubs in Scotland go out and spend a transfer fee in the last two or three years. We were able to do that because of the incremental improvements that have been achieved, first and foremost, by getting back to break-even, and by a greater engagement of supporters in buying season tickets to give us that strong platform to go forward.
“Turnover is up, costs are down, we’ve repaid mortgages on the due date and made a small cash surplus on top of that. All these things are positive indicators of the good work of our finance director Jamie Marwick, club secretary Garry O’Hagan and the team of largely unsung heroes behind the scenes.
“Sacrifices have been made, some people have left the club and we’ve taken the savings that have come from that to try to maintain the amount of money we invest on the player squad.
“The first objective is to achieve break-even to ensure the safety and security of the club so that future generations do not have to suffer the anguish and torment of whether their football club would fold and die.
“The ambition is to win but the resource you have got will determine what you are able to put on the pitch and what you cannot.
“If we have more resource we will invest that resource.”