Exclusive: Producing the next Porteous, Doig or Scott Brown a labour of Hibs love for Gareth Evans
In-depth exclusive interview as John Greechan chats to Hibs Academy Director Gareth Evans
and live on Freeview channel 276
As someone who admits to being “smitten” on his first day of active duty as a Hibs player, Gareth Evans was always going to find the question a little odd. But he answers it anyway.
How does he, as Academy Director at the club he joined back in 1988, sell Hibernian to the best young prospects being pursued by any number of teams?
“Hopefully we don’t have to sell Hibs,” said a smiling Evans, speaking in a short break between his daily tasks and night duty watching the under-15s play at East Mains. “There are still a lot of people who see Hibs as their club, their family’s club, been in the family for years and they’re desperate to play for us.
“But we can also say to them: ‘Listen, we can give you a pathway here at Hibs to go on and play in the first team.’ And you just have to walk down the corridor here and look at the pictures of past academy players – Kevin Thomson, Scott Brown, Steven Whittaker, Lewis Stevenson, Paul Hanlon, Ryan Porteous, Josh Doig.
“There is a conveyor of talent that has left the club and gone on to better things. And you’ve got Lewis and Paul who have been stalwarts as players, guys who will hopefully be able to serve the academy and club as coaches in the future. So hopefully there are a lot of young players who really want to be here.”
Engaging and articulate, clearly passionate about inspiring a love of football in youngsters, including those who may find their level somewhere below running out at Easter Road, Evans is now in his second stint as part of the coaching staff at Hibs.
The former Head of Youth stepped up to lead the academy following Steve Kean’s departure earlier this year. Clearly, at some point in his life, Hibs just got under his skin. Ask him how that happened, though, and he half-jokingly feigns complete ignorance.
“It’s a very good question … that I don’t know the answer to!’ he said, with a laugh.
The truth, of course, is that Evans fell instantly for everything about the club following his move from Rotherham 35 years ago. Despite a slightly chaotic introduction to life in Edinburgh on the eve of his debut.
Explaining the motivation for moving north at a time when the European ban on English clubs helped Graeme Souness lure some of the best England internationals to Ibrox, he said: “I came up as a young lad from down south, saw the exodus of big English players like Chris Woods and Terry Butcher going to Rangers, and it just seemed like a really good place to be.
“There was the potential to play in Europe, coming from what is League One now in England, and I just enjoyed it. I ended up making my life up here with my wife and my kids were born up here. It’s just been my club since then, back in the late ‘80s. I still take it as a privilege to work for the club.
“I remember my debut because I travelled up from Rotherham on the train, followed the chief executive and (assistant manager) Peter Cormack up. I got here early evening, Peter took me for something to eat – but they couldn’t get me a hotel because the Five Nations rugby was on at the time.
“So Peter turfed his son out of his bed so I could have somewhere to sleep, which young Peter still reminds me of to this day! I just remember going to the ground and not being able to understand a word anyone was saying to me. I got put on after 20 minutes, against Dundee, and I remember diving and scoring with a header. That’s the last thing I remember, the fans going mad. I was smitten.”
As we looked for a quiet spot to chat at the training ground, Scottish Cup winner Darren McGregor poked his head out of a door, tactics board in hand; the former central defender is apparently blossoming in his role as Under-18s head coach. Pointing to the presence of former players throughout the academy as vital, Evans said: “I think it’s important that we have people like Guillaume Beuzelin and Darren here, people who have seen it, who have smelt it, who have won medals playing for Hibs.
“They can show the players what it takes – because they know what it takes to be a winner with Hibs. Football has changed dramatically, not only in the way the game is played but the departments behind the coaches now.
“But the pitch hasn’t changed, the goals are the same size, the ball is the same size. And it’s still about attitude and commitment, desire and a love of playing football. The first thing we do when we recruit a player for the academy is take a person-first approach, look the young player in the eye – and you can tell if they want it, can tell if they love playing football.
“And we’ve had that little bit of success in selling a couple of players, getting players into the first team – three making their first-team debut from the academy this season already – and getting players picked for international football at different age levels with Scotland.
“So our job doesn’t change, our mission doesn’t change with what we’re trying to achieve.”