Hibs are well placed to grasp the “time of opportunity and excitement” facing Scottish football, chief executive Leeann Dempster has told shareholders.
Having heard that Hibs had turned in a “solid financial performance”, turning a loss of £275,000 into a profit of £203,000 in their first year back in the Premiership, the club’s annual general meeting was told of the determination to continue building on that success.
Moving strongly back into the black was, said finance director Jamie Marwick, the result of turnover jumping by 24 per cent to £9.6 million, down to higher SPFL prize money, a fourth-place finish and with home gates for league matches averaging 18,100 – the highest support for “at least a generation”.
Those figures didn’t include the sale of Scotland midfielder John McGinn to Aston Villa, that move taking place after the end of the financial year nor Hibs’ Europa League campaign which, it is understood, resulted in around £700,000 flowing into the coffers after the expense of staging those home and away games against NSI Runavik, Asteras Tripolis and Molde.
Regular European football was, Dempster told the 300 or so shareholders at the meeting, a target although she added: “It’s a big ask and not easy to do. “It means finishing in the top three or four and/or winning the Scottish Cup – sounds simple enough.”
However, she insisted player trading was key to helping the club achieve such goals, saying: “It helps us feed the club. Over and above the magnificent support we get from you guys, we still need to create money.
“We try very hard to be smart, we try very hard to limit mistakes and we try very hard to invest our precious resources well. “We also want to be the leading player development academy in the country, to lead in technical innovation in recruitment, sports science, medical and analysis.
“But we equally we want to play an attacking, high pressing, fast-paced brand of football and that’s how we recruit our players - to fit that style.
“We all know we lost some key players at the end of last season, and rebuilding was always going to be tough. But we’d planned for that possibility – it wasn’t a shock to us.
“We have a strong and resilient plan in place and the summer transfer market window saw us recruit no fewer than eight full internationals plus Stevie Mallan and Flo Kamberi who have been in the Under-21s.
“All of that required well judged investment and not just in the wage bill.”
Qualifying for Europe in Hibs’ first season back and pushing for second place until the penultimate game was, insisted Dempster, testament to the solid progress made by the club.
However, she told shareholders that the aim was to be continually moving forward. She also highlighted the opportunities she believes need to be embraced.
“Scottish football is facing a time of opportunity and excitement. Crowds are good, competition is improving and we have the prospect of a new TV deal coming towards us.
“Hopefully that can help us further improve turnover while importantly – and this is a massive must – balancing the needs of the supporters who turn up to games.
“There is also the prospect of a third European competition being discussed. The details are scarce but there is little doubt that there would be a real appetite for more European competition.”
Dempster also highlighted the work Hibs are doing off the field, having been named the community club of the year at the SFA’s annual grassroots rewards.
Paying tribute to Charlie Bennett, chief executive of the Hibernian Community Foundation, and his team, she said: “The turnaround in the foundation is nothing short of sensational.
“In its tenth anniversary year the foundation has undergone a major transformation and that has resulted in huge benefits to local communities, activities including alcohol awareness in schools, after-schools clubs that keep children safe and well, ‘Go Fitba’ which offers primary-four children free football coaching and nutritional advice and a hot meal for the kids at the end of the session.
“Our community boys’ football teams are being expanded and the girls’ academy also goes from strength to strength. “Hibernian Ladies, part of the community foundation, are also having another excellent year have been neck and neck with Glasgow City the whole season.”