Hibs boss Lee Johnson reveals last conversation with Ron Gordon - 'He felt we were heading in the right direction'

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Lee Johnson had no way of knowing his final conversation with Hibs owner Ron Gordon would be the last between them, but insisted it was ‘typical’ of the late businessman.

Gordon passed away on February 20 at the age of 68. He had been receiving treatment for cancer for much of the previous 12 months but his death still came as a seismic shock to those at the Easter Road club.

"It's been really tough,” Johnson says, when asked to sum up the last two weeks. “It was a shock, even though I knew the severity of the situation. I'd seen Ron a few days earlier in great spirits and I think that sums him up; that fight, charisma, and attitude to carry on. We're all grieving – he was our owner, our leader, and on a personal level he was fantastic.

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"Our thoughts naturally move towards the family and anyone in Ron's life for a long time. At the same time I feel a more added power to continue that legacy that Ron wanted – to put trophies in the cabinet because we all know the work he's done. I wanted to see it through for him, and I wanted him to see that success.

Johnson with Gordon on the day he was unveiled as Hibs manager in May last yearJohnson with Gordon on the day he was unveiled as Hibs manager in May last year
Johnson with Gordon on the day he was unveiled as Hibs manager in May last year

"Now that will obviously live on through his legacy and family. Cancer is a devastating illness, we've all got experiences in our families and it just takes good people too soon. This is certainly one of those situations. We're hurting but we're also determined."

Even while he was undergoing treatment in America he kept in touch with the daily goings-on at the training centre and Easter Road, with Johnson describing him as being ‘on it, every day, from a distance’.

“He has always been on it. I’ve done Zoom calls at 11pm, 12am, 1am to make sure we get things right,” he reveals. “He also had other businesses to run but you never ever felt there was a boredom or he wanted to get off the phone. A half-hour Zoom would be two hours, a 20-minute phone call would take an hour and 20. So the questioning, the curiosity, the stories – he loved to be a part of the team, he loved to find out about the banter in the dressing room. That was the value to him, being amongst it, feeling it, enjoying the wins, feeling the losses, and trying to drive the place forward.

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"Our last chat was typical Ron. He was full of support for the players, he was delighted with the recent performances, really happy with where we were in terms of the grit we had shown in games and the skill that had been on offer. He was really happy with the new signings, and I think he felt we were heading in the right direction.

Lee Johnson spoke about Ron Gordon's impact on Hibs as he previewed the trip to LivingstonLee Johnson spoke about Ron Gordon's impact on Hibs as he previewed the trip to Livingston
Lee Johnson spoke about Ron Gordon's impact on Hibs as he previewed the trip to Livingston

“His enthusiasm, his charisma, I enjoyed being around him. I enjoyed debating. We did have robust conversations but you felt behind those the drive to move the club forward and an honesty, respect and a set of values you wanted to fight for.

After defeating Kilmarnock and going six games unbeaten, much of the chat from a Hibs point of view was how another weekend off wasn’t what anyone at the club wanted. They wanted to seize the momentum, to keep going, and build on good performances and results. In the end that time off came, sadly, as a blessing.

“Given the circumstances it would have been difficult for all of us. I feel guilty I wasn’t at the funeral on Thursday but I know that Ron would have wanted me to prepare the boys over the last few days going into this game. I can’t help feeling what I feel so I’m looking forward to showing my respects in the memorial service next week. Football has a beauty of uniting a fan base, a city. We have to use this situation of it being part of our history, part of our move forward. And I think we are on the right track,” Johnson explains.

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Johnson has had the difficult task of dealing with the sudden loss of the club’s owner while at the same time trying to coach and motivate his players ahead of what is a major game against Livingston in West Lothian in the race for top six – or even top four.

A tribute left to Ron Gordon outside Easter RoadA tribute left to Ron Gordon outside Easter Road
A tribute left to Ron Gordon outside Easter Road

“Certainly for the players I have to take the emotion out of it. Ron would want warriors who are playing our way and executing the game plan. To do that you have to be in the moment. You can’t be in the past, you can’t be in the future. It’s our job to get the players going because naturally there will be a lull, an underlying low feeling, but we have tried to do that and they are in a good place. The players' role is to be the best they can be every day and that will be how they honour Ron. It's giving your all and being able to deliver in those key moments."

Is there more incentive now for the players to deliver a good performance to honour Ron’s memory?

“We want to deliver sustainable success. We want to churn it out and be in the upper echelons of the division consistently. A club like Hibs, we want silverware and we want great European nights for the fans. That’s what we’re fighting for,” he says.

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“This is not a club, in terms of the financials, where we can absolutely blitz the division, so we have to be smart and we have to work smart. We’re going to need a little bit of luck along the way but that will be guided and aided by the spirit we’ve got, from the fanbase, to the board, to coaching staff and obviously playing staff.

"My only real frustration is that Ron hasn't got to see enough of his efforts bear fruit."

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