BILL HENDRY hopes that Hibs’ participation in the East of Scotland League will help encourage more talented youngsters than ever before to join the Edinburgh club.
All 26 East of Scotland League clubs unanimously voted for Hibs to join the set-up at their AGM earlier this month, although the move has still to be officially rubber stamped by the Scottish Premier League.
The Easter Road side will start in the League’s bottom tier, the 14-team First Division, which already includes a Berwick Rangers reserves team and sides like Peebles Rovers, Ormiston and Leith Athletic.
Not only will their participation in the East of Scotland League allow Hibs to offer younger players the chance to play football more regularly, it will also give them a competitive platform to hone their skills and play against more physical opponents than the under-17s or under-20s could offer them.
Hendry, Head of Youth Development for Hibs, believes that last factor alone could massively speed up the development of the Academy’s younger players.
He is delighted to have seen the process of joining the league reach its final stages and said: “It’s great to get to this point and, when everything is done and dusted, I think that playing in this league will benefit everyone involved with the club.
“Over the last week or so we have been tying up our Academy players on professional contracts and the fact that it looks like we are going to be involved with this league, and that it would almost guarantee these boys more regular football, is a huge incentive.
“The idea is that we want to ensure that every player within the Academy, every full-time player, has the opportunity to play football regularly.”
Not only does Hendry think that the younger players at the Hibs Academy would feel the benefit of more football under their belts, he says that the set-up would also help senior players who have been ruled out for a period of time through suspension or injury.
Crucially, there are no age restrictions in the East of Scotland League, allowing first-team boss Pat Fenlon to give vital game time to key players, something that he found increasingly difficult to do during the last campaign.
“One of the main benefits for the first team would be the opportunity to give players who have been out of the first team through injury a competitive game and it would also give some of the Academy players the chance to play regular football, which is obviously the main aim.
“We found it difficult last season to arrange bounce games in order to accommodate players who were needing games after being out of the side for a while, either injured or on the bench, or whatever. We see this as a perfect opportunity to get them competitive matches in order to get them prepared for competitive football in the first team.
“The inception of the under-20s, whilst it has been a huge success, has given us cause to look at a few different things, based on the timing of the games and the fact that it allows for overage players to be involved. That’s really a key factor. The under-20s games are played on a Tuesday, and that means you want to try to get a bounce game organised for a Friday but by that stage, a lot of players are down to be involved in an SPL squad for the Saturday.”
More teams could follow Hibs’ example, if the move proves to be a success, and Hendry continued: “I think it is for every club to look at their own circumstances and decide whether this route is for them.
“Hopefully it will work out in our favour and for the longer-term development of our under-17 schoolboy players who, at the moment are involved in the Club Academy Scotland programme. In the Academy Scotland programme, there is no league table or anything like that, it’s more about a development process.
“The East of Scotland League gives us an opportunity for them to be involved regularly and we think it would be more at the sharp end of football.
“The other East of Scotland clubs have been very supportive and I think that everyone is looking forward to us participating, all being well.”
Just last week former Grade One referee, Andrew Waddell, who is now vice-chairman of the Seniors’ set-up, revealed that Hibs’ application had been enthusiastically welcomed, saying: “The motion was put to the meeting and it would be fair to say it was a unanimous decision of the league. All the clubs were very happy to embrace Hibs’ inclusion and are looking forward to their participation.
“Berwick Rangers reserves have done very well this year, getting to a cup final with us. They appear to have enjoyed it and hopefully Hibs will do so as well.”
Although there had been rumours that Hearts were keen to join the East of Scotland League, Waddell revealed that Hibs were the only team to apply for a place.