Leeann Dempster arrived at Easter Road just before Hibs were pitched into one of the darkest periods in their recent history, the shock relegation threatening to tear the club apart as supporters made their anger clear for all to see.
It may have been a long hard, road since, but now, some 28 months later, the chief executive finally feels she can see some light at the end of the tunnel.
The pessimism and gloom which descended upon Hibs has lifted and it is now, truly, a case of Sunshine on Leith. Season ticket sales are touching 11,000, the second highest on record, and the club’s first two home games in the Championship against Dunfermline and Morton attracted crowds of 16,477 and 14,508 respectively.
But almost as importantly for Dempster is the fact she can see Hibs supporters enjoying themselves again, a promising start of four successive wins taking the club to the top of the table obviously helping that feelgood factor.
“There is an energy about the place we have not felt for a long time,” she said. “And a happiness I would think we have not felt for a long time. That’s mainly due to the fact it takes supporters time to buy into your plans, what you are doing and coming to a match and enjoying your day.
“I said to the board at the first home league game against Dunfermline that I felt for the first time since I arrived we’d delivered. I wasn’t talking about results, but the match-ay experience. We delivered a really super game for people, a really enjoyable game. It felt different, even to me.”
Dempster makes no secret that the long-awaited arrival of the Scottish Cup has been a massive boon for the club who are now determined to make every minute of having it in their possession for the first time in 114 years work to their benefit.
Around 40,000 children, students and fans across 114 venues will enjoy the “Persevered Trophy Tour” in the coming months, the adventurous project, the most extensive of its kind in the country, taking the cup around Edinburgh, East Lothian, the Borders, Midlothian, West Lothian, Falkirk and Fife and finally arriving back in the Capital in December.
The core message to ‘persevere’ – to never give up, to go the distance and stop at nothing – began at Hermitage Park Primary, not much more than a corner kick from Easter Road itself with Martin Boyle, a member of that Hampden squad taking questions from the kids ranging from what if felt like to be a Hibs legend to who is his best mate in the dressing room, revealing, when pushed, it’s Sam Stanton.
Dempster hopes the visits, which will also include juvenile football clubs, businesses, local employers and Edinburgh’s four major universities with their respective freshers’ weeks almost upon us, will entice people to become football fans and, unashamedly, that Hibs will be their club of choice.
She said: “For us it’s a celebration about winning the Scottish Cup and taking it on the road to try, if you like, to build a pathway for new Hibs supporters and getting people interested in football in general.
“We know everybody is not a football supporter, but we’d like them to be and, in particular, like them to be a Hibs fan. Persevere is a nice take for them and us, it works well and we’re planning three or four of these a week to work the trophy as hard as we can while it’s in our possession.
“You know the history and the events of the past two years and, let’s be absolutely honest, the Scottish Cup win has tremendously helped us. The feeling for those who are Hibs fans in Edinburgh, the Lothians and beyond, winning that cup was enormous – and it’s not disappeared.
“Season tickets are not quite at 11,000, we are less than 100 away, and that’s allowed us to put some of the events of the past behind us and to now look to the future,”
The arrival of Neil Lennon and his assistant Garry Parker, seen as something of a coup for Hibs, following the surprise departure of Alan Stubbs and his coaching staff, appears to have caught the imagination of fans with Dempster insisting the club’s determination to hold on to it’s best players while further strengthening the squad has underpinned the new found self-belief among supporters.
And that, said Dempster, has given Hibs a greater financial security. She said: “We have 3500 more season tickets holders than last year which is great credit to the support, they have paid their money up front and that means that as a club it puts us in good shape to the end of the season.
“Everyone would want to be in better shape, the finances in Scottish football, as everyone knows, are not the best – but they are improving and for the first time in some time all of the competitions are sponsored. which sees revenue coming into the clubs.”
But as far as Hibs are concerned, Dempster believes fans can see a club confidently moving forward with defender Paul Hanlon signing a new deal within weeks of the cup win and hotshot Jason Cummings agreeing a four-year contract, although that didn’t stop Peterborough tabling a £1.7 million bid – one which was immediately rejected by the Easter Road board.
Not only have they been retained, but Lennon has brought in strikers Grant Holt and Brian Graham, midfielder Andrew Shinnie and Israeli international goalkeeper Ofir Marciano.
Dempster said: “I feel the squad has been important, building it, but the continuity of the squad as well.
“We’ve done a number of things in this transfer window, we have managed to hold on to the players we wanted to hold on to. That’s saying to supporters we are genuinely trying to build a team you will love and we won’t be forced into doing anything. I think the supporters are enjoying what they are seeing on the pitch at the minute.”