Alex Miller today led the tributes to the popular former Hibs chairman Douglas Cromb, who died aged 84 in the early hours of yesterday morning after a short battle with illness.
Cromb, a boyhood supporter of the club, served as chairman for six years immediately after Sir Tom Farmer’s takeover of the club in 1991. His tenure took in the Skol Cup success in October of that year before he stepped down in 1997 after Hibs survived relegation following a play-off victory over Airdrie, albeit remaining at the club as a director.
He is remembered as a warm presence at Easter Road and a man who was simply honoured to hold office at the club he had loved since boyhood. “Anybody that came to Easter Road in his time, he made them feel welcome,” said Miller, who was already in place as manager when Cromb was appointed chairman by Farmer. “He was very personable and would go the extra mile for people. I recall him scrambling about trying to get tickets for fans who had written to him and said they couldn’t get a ticket. He would always do his utmost to help. He was very well liked by a lot of people, including the staff and the players, because he was very approachable.
“He was very Hibs-orientated, that was his love. He and Kenny McLean [Snr] used to go to all the games together for years as supporters and then they both came on the board together. He had supported the club since he was a young boy, so it was a dream for him to become chairman. He was in his element when he was with the team. In pre-season when we went away to places like Germany, he loved that, being around the players and seeing new places. He was just a real football-minded man.”
Cromb was loyal to Miller when the manager came under fire from supporters, and was renowned for inviting any dissenters into Easter Road to discuss their grievances with him in person.
“As a chairman he was excellent,” recalls Miller. “He never gave you any problems and was always there if you needed him. He also put his own money into the club.
“He should be remembered as a great Hibs chairman because that’s what he was.”
Miller formed such a strong bond with his former boss and his family that his wife is godmother to Cromb’s granddaughter, Kristina.
Cromb’s German wife Lotti passed away some five years ago. “Dougie wasn’t just my chairman, he was a personal friend,” said Miller. “My wife and his daughter [Nicola] are still very, very close to this day.”
Cromb’s people skills are a recurring theme when recalling memories of his time at Hibs. “The first time I met Mr Cromb was in July 1991 when he, Kenny McLean and Alex Miller came up to Dundee to speak to me about moving to Hibs,” says Keith Wright, the man who would fire Hibs to Skol Cup glory. “From the moment I first met him I had a great relationship with him. He was just such a passionate Hibs man and such a nice man in general. In my whole time at Hibs, he made me feel really welcome. He was just like one of the boys and would come on the team bus to away games and chat away to us, although he was always known as Mr Cromb to me and the rest of the boys.
“He felt so privileged to be chairman of Hibs because he was a supporter first and foremost, and he was really proud at helping the club survive and then win the Skol Cup.”
Cromb lived in Colinton with his wife Lotti. He served in the army after leaving school and would go on to earn a living through an import and export business, Innes and Cromb Ltd.
This incorporated importing tartan merchandise from the Far East to sell to tourists on the Royal Mile.
The business remains to this day, run by his daughter from headquarters in Gorgie, of all places.
Cromb and his daughter also had a spell in business with Kenny McLean junior after developing a friendship with he and his father, Kenny senior, when they met at the old Hibernian 50 Club [a supporters club opposite the main stand] in the 1970s. Back then they were merely supporters, but some two decades later, Cromb and McLean senior found themselves leading the club as chairman and vice-chairman respectively after the latter led the campaign to keep the club out of the clutches of then-Hearts owner Wallace Mercer.
“He was a tremendous figurehead for the club,” says McLean junior. “He was a really nice guy, straight up, genuine and honest. He would help you out if you got into any trouble. Just an all-round nice person. He and my dad and the rest of the directors made a point of going to every single supporters’ club function and player-of-the-year dance. Anybody that had a problem with Hibs, you could just go and knock on his door and he would help. He was a warm person but he was strong as well. He was a great man to lead a football club.”