A WEEK ago, Rod Petrie told Hibs’ annual shareholders meeting the Easter Road club had already received 40 applications for the post of manager vacated by Colin Calderwood barely 48 hours earlier.
Since then the chairman’s postbag has presumably grown by a few more with some of those notes of interest having come from an unlikely direction – Gorgie.
Former Hearts managers Jim Jefferies, John Robertson and Csaba Laszlo have all found their names linked with the post while, of course, Billy Brown, long time assistant at Tynecastle, is currently in charge of Hibs on a caretaker basis having become Calderwood’s assistant only a few weeks ago.
The fact Calderwood’s sacking – on the back of a record of 26 defeats in his 49 matches in charge and precipitated by the previous day’s loss to Dunfermline – left Hibs seeking a fifth manager in just four years doesn’t appear to have put off would-be successors in the slightest.
In such situations many of those hoping to take up the reins become coy when asked the direct question as to whether or not they have applied, Jefferies responding in positive terms to Hibs legend Pat Stanton’s declaration he’d have no problems in seeing the dyed-in-the-wool Jambo appointed when asked if the Easter Road club should think the unthinkable.
Current East Fife boss Robbo claimed not to have applied officially but admitted his name “had been put forward by someone.”
Laszlo, a conspicuous figure in the directors box at Easter Road for Calderwood’s last match, was equally reluctant to nail his colours to the mast. But the Hungarian did concede “I don’t want to come out and say ‘I am here’ but if someone is looking for my services then it would not be too hard to get my phone number.”
Although he has previously said he’d like to become a manager in his own right one day, Brown has also kept his cards close to his chest, insisting his entire focus is on preparing the team for Saturday’s visit from Kilmarnock.
However, Scott Lindsay and Fife Hyland, the directors who are heading up the recruitment process, will undoubtedly be well capable of interpreting the Chinese whispers coming their way – not just in regard to this particular quartet but of the interest of many others, some of whom have gone about things in a much more public manner.
As always a host of names have been linked with the post, ranging from former Hibs star Michael O’Neill through to ex-Dunfermline, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock boss Jimmy Calderwood and onto Henning Berg, the Norwegian star who once played for Rangers.
Each and every one of the potential candidates will have plus and minus points against their names, Lindsay and Hyland left with the unenviable task of weighing up those pros and cons before making their recommendations to their fellow directors.
Whatever the merits, though, of Jefferies, Robertson, Laszlo and Brown, there is that one factor they just won’t be able to get away from, their close ties with Hearts.
It’s a debate which has already divided the Hibs support, one shareholder telling Petrie and Co – to a round of applause – at last Tuesday’s meeting that Jefferies and Laszlo [Robertson’s interest not being known at that time] should in no way be considered.
Others have adopted a more conciliatory opinion such as that of Stanton but, nevertheless, it would take a brave board to go down that route and probably as much courage from either one of the four to take the job should it be offered knowing full well the flak which would be likely to come their way should things not go well. Much to consider, then, with Hyland on the record as saying the club are seeking someone who can “unify” their support.
Numerous players, of course, have criss-crossed Edinburgh moving between the Capital’s big two without much being made of it stretching back to Bobby Atherton in 1876 and on through the likes of Gordon Smith, Willie Hamilton, Alan Gordon, Eric Stevenson, Brian Hamilton and, more recently, Michael Stewart.
But before Hibs fans totally dismiss the thought of their next manager being an ex-Jambo, there is a precedent for them to consider one thing; Willie McCartney, the manager who ushered in the greatest era in the club’s history, that of the Famous Five, who crossed that self-same divide.
McCartney, who succeeded his father John at Tynecastle in 1919 to rebuild a side which had been ravaged by World War 1, moved across the Capital in 1936 a year after quitting Hearts and, despite the intervention of the Second World War, set about transforming Hibs. It was McCartney, blessed with a silver tongue, who signed Gordon Smith from under the noses of Hearts in 1941, later recruiting Willie Ormond, Eddie Turnbull and the teenage Lawrie Reilly, leaving Hibs, having enjoyed a fair measure of success on the pitch during the war years, well placed when peacetime competition resumed.
Nine goals against Queen of the South in the first match signalled Hibs’ intent but although they were to take three points out of four against Rangers, the Edinburgh club were unable to prevent the Ibrox club from taking the League. Hibs were second and also reached the Scottish Cup final only to be beaten 2-1 by Aberdeen.
McCartney, sadly, was never to see the glory days of the Famous Five, when, with Hibs leading the old First Division in season 1947-48, he collapsed during a Cup tie with Albion Rovers in Coatbridge and died that night.
Hibs wrested the title from Bill Struth’s Rangers and with the acquisition of Bobby Johnstone completing the Famous Five, they won the league again in 1951 and 1952 under Hugh Shaw.
Those were more genteel days, of course, with the rivalry between clubs much less bitter than it is today, a time when managers tended to enjoy the sort of longevity their modern day equivalent can only dream of, but, nevertheless, McCartney’s arrival at Easter Road caused something of a stir. As Reilly recalled in his autobiography: “The ‘Buttonhole Boss’ was a larger-than-life character. Like Jock Stein in later years, his presence dominated any room he entered.
“He had managed Hearts for 16 years and has signed two of their greatest-ever players in Tommy Walker and Alec Massie. It was considered sensational when he resigned his post at Tynecastle and even more of a sensation when he moved across the city to Easter Road.
“It was a bit like the Maurice Johnston move in later years, but without the religious connotations.”
One thing can be assured, however. Should any of those so closely connected with Hearts become Hibs’ next manager their arrival won’t be greeted with quite the same degree of equanimity afforded McCartney all those years ago.