Anthony Brown: Dempster’s problem players are not on pitch

Leeann Dempster has a massive task ahead
Leeann Dempster has a massive task ahead
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What a wretched mess Leeann Dempster has inherited since swapping the relative serenity of life at Motherwell for Hibs.

It would have been a formidable enough task for the new chief executive to come in and attempt to breathe some life into the stagnant Capital club even if they had finished tenth or held on to seventh place in the Premiership – a position they were in when she first agreed to take the Hibs post and one they remained in until little more than a month ago.

If they had stayed in the top flight, though, there would have been none of the toxic atmosphere that is currently engulfing Hibs, and most supporters would probably have cast aside any grievances towards manager Terry Butcher and chairman Rod Petrie and let Dempster use her drive and expertise to set about trying to galvanise the club and capitalise on the excellent facilities and infrastructure in place.

The failure to remain in the top flight, however, has opened up a whole can of chaos for poor Dempster to contend with in her first days in the job. Instead of coming into a Premiership club which might just have needed a touch of TLC to get it motoring back towards the top six next season, she is now having to carry out some serious firefighting, almost single-handedly, in order to prevent any hopes of an instant return to the top flight going up in flames before the season has even started.

She was bang on the money on Saturday afternoon when she said in the aftermath of the Petrie Out rally that, “in a funny kind of way, relegation had presented the club with an opportunity to recreate itself”.

If emotions weren’t running quite so high, the Hibs fans, having seen their team stumble along aimlessly for the past few years, might have been able to buy into this notion and view the onset of life in the Championship as a chance to make a fresh start in the same way that city rivals Hearts are embracing the second-tier adventure following their own demise over the past few years.

The major difference between the two Edinburgh clubs, however, is that Hearts have already had an enforced clear out of the regime that led them towards oblivion. They are cleansed of the tarnished ones.

Fundamentally, the main stumbling block to Hibs and their support moving forward with any semblance of hope and positivity is that Petrie and – at the time of writing – Butcher remain part of the club. While there are many different opinions among supporters about whether Petrie, Butcher or the players – many of whom have already been emptied – should carry the can for what’s happened, it seems fair to assume that a majority would now be happy for both the chairman and the manager to vacate the premises.

Until at least one of them departs, there will remain a dark cloud over Easter Road which is sure to hinder the recovery process under the impressive Dempster. Jackie McNamara, the former Hibs captain, said in last week’s Evening News that Petrie’s mere presence was the cause of a long-standing loss of confidence right throughout the club which was having a detrimental effect on supporters, managers and players. In the same pages the previous day, Rowan Vine, one of those players who had struggled amid the negative atmosphere, claimed that Butcher’s management had sapped the life out of the players. These are, of course, merely opinions and can’t be taken as gospel, but anyone looking in from the outside would say that there was merit in both observations.

Dempster, of course, can do nothing with regards to Petrie’s situation. Only the chairman himself or club owner Sir Tom Farmer can take the decision to remove him from the club. As she rightly said at the weekend, she needs to focus firmly on football matters. The biggest decision she will take on that front is the one currently being undertaken concerning Butcher.

If she axes him, there will be few complaints, as most people are of the mind that it was inexcusable to lead a group of reasonably-reputable players from mid-table to relegation.

However, she will also have had to weigh up the financial connotations of paying the Englishman off, as well as the logistics of bringing in a new manager, who will have his own list of signing targets, just a few weeks before the players return for pre-season. Ousting Butcher will also give the Petrie Out campaign fresh ammo as, regardless of whether or not they back the manager, they will be sure to ask why yet another boss has been sacrificed while the chairman keeps his position.

There is, of course, still a chance that, if he is given a stay of execution, Butcher, with his own players, could lead Hibs back up, as he did in his successful reign at Inverness. However, the big concern is that Dempster and any new players, no matter how good they are, get engulfed by the frustration which is sure to cling to Easter Road for as long as two of the most prominent men in Hibs’ calamitous demise remain. The ambitious Glaswegian could never have envisaged that she’d be walking into such a maelstrom. If she has enough resolve and focus to guide Hibs through these choppy waters, she’ll deserve all the accolades going.