Exclusive: Monty on his Hibs future, fan hurt - and need for quick fix

‘I signed a three-year contract knowing it would take time to build success ....’
Montgomery signs autographs for young fans at Monday night’s open training session. Montgomery signs autographs for young fans at Monday night’s open training session.
Montgomery signs autographs for young fans at Monday night’s open training session.

Nick Montgomery knows that the sound and fury isn’t all about him. The Hibs boss also understands that following every cough, spit, namecheck and post-defeat rage Tweet on social media would be the very definition of managerial madness.

But Montgomery is hardly ignorant to the mood of supporters. And, having spent a lifetime being judged by the paying public, as a player and then coach, he isn’t overly shocked to be facing questions about his future at Easter Road.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I’ve got big plans moving forward, obviously,” says Monty, the straight-talking Yorkshireman barely pausing for breath before adding: “But what you can’t do is forget about the present. You can’t ignore the right now.”

That’s a fair summation of the situation, with an interim verdict on the season to date currently subject to a split decision. Every opinion will be shaped, every comment modulated, by whether or not Hibs make the top six. A moving target that could be put out of range by Dundee.

In a league of fine margins, it would be hard to argue a case for or against Monty’s men with any great vehemence. They’ll probably be considered unlucky if they miss out on a place in the top half of the Scottish Premiership, possibly a little fortunate if they sneak in via the side door at Fir Park this weekend.

For a manager who arrived in September, a relatively inexperienced head coach lured away from Central Coast Mariners after winning the A-League title with the smallest budget in the division, a lot of goodwill can be won or lost over the coming days. As much as Montgomery is focused on getting a win over Motherwell this weekend, then, he understands why so many are looking at the bigger picture. With his own future very much a live issue for some supporters.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I’m confident in where I can take the club,” he insisted. “I’ve been here for a short period of time. I think the challenges I’ve had the season have made me a better person, definitely.

“I’m still confident that I can take the club where it should be. When I took the opportunity to come here, I knew it would be a big challenge. That’s why I came on a three-year contract, knowing that I’d need a bit of time to implement and build what I know success looks like.

“Look, I’m confident in my own ability. And I’m confident in the progress we’ve made at the club. But people will only see the results. I can’t change that. But anyone around the club or within the club knows that there have been a lot of challenges this season, a lot of change.

“Right now, the club is going through a transition which was expected. I think January showed a big transition in a tough window.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I’m confident. I get on really well with the board and the Gordon family. Like any manager in football, unless things change and people don’t see the progress, maybe conversations follow at some point. But right now I’ve had the full support from the board and from the ownership.

“As frustrated as everyone is that we’re not in the top six now, we could still have an opportunity this weekend. Yes, we have to rely on results tomorrow night in the Dundee v Rangers game. But we have to believe we’ll go to Motherwell with a chance.”

An ability to read the room is a vital skill in football management, with the good gaffers quickly getting a grasp on what supporters want and need to hear. At a club like Hibs, where even young fans carry some pretty severe scar tissue, there has to be an understanding that past horrors influence current views.

So, yes, paying customers are ticked off with how the team are playing. They have the usual complaints about selection and substitutes. But also a far deeper sense of unease.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

These fans have all been through the misjudgement of the short-lived Shaun Maloney experiment and Lee Johnson’s unimpressive reign as gaffer. Throw in some truly confusing transfer strategies – Chris Mueller, anyone? – and it’s easy to understand why some punters have a hair trigger when it comes to sounding the alarm.

Montgomery said: “I’ve been in football a long time and knew, coming in, the challenge ahead of me and expectations around the club. Coming in, the club was in a really difficult place. And the target was to get as far as possible in the cup competitions – and target finishing in the top six. We threw away a real opportunity at the weekend, a chance to make it easier to get into the top six. Now we have to do it the hard way, relying on other results.

“But coming into the club, I knew the situation, I knew there had been a lot of frustration over many years. That can easily come back off the emotion of one result. It happens sometimes.”

When those emotions are unleashed, of course, the hot takes and snap judgements of long-suffering supporters are no longer restricted to social media. With mainstream platforms increasingly picking through posts in search of fan-led content, the backlash can be amplified.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Montgomery, contrasting the current relationship between fans and footballers with his own days as Sheffield United player, said: “Back then, people had an opinion that maybe they would share with a couple of mates in the pub. Now with social media, and the media, that’s the world we live in. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, wrong or right.

“I don’t look at social media or media, to be honest. Because that’s a problem in society now. And I’ve seen the effect it has on players, not just here, but in the last 10 years.

“I’ve seen the effect it has on people. They might be a footballer, but they’re also a person. I think it’s well documented, the damage that sort of stuff can do. I have to focus on what I can control. It’s part of the world we live in now. But I do try to educate the players to stay on it. That’s really hard because it’s part of society today.

“I look at the big picture, as a manager. I look at the direction the club is going in. I know that the club is going in the right direction. There has been a lot of stuff going on this season, a lot of challenges, a lot of media stuff about the Bill Foley investment. All positive for the club. But I also know everybody wants overnight success.

“That’s not how it works in football or in life. Expectation versus reality at times is difficult to balance. What is the timeline on that? Because everything takes time. It’s that simple.”