Hibs interim chief executive Greg McEwan talks bold statements and putting 'tin hat on' for Hearts derby
This is our city. That is the message Hibs have been promoting for a while now.
Some consider it a way of thumbing noses at neighbours Hearts, who spent last season in the Championship while Hibs focused on sealing European football and their highest league finish in 16 years.
But, according to interim chief executive Greg McEwan, the statement was not born of a desire to kick their rivals while they were down, instead, it is a reflection of the confidence coursing through the corridors of Easter Road, and the streets of Leith.
“It was a line that came up when I was speaking to Ron [Gordon, Hibs owner] not long after I started [in December 2019].
“We want to be different, we want to be bold and confident but we are aware that there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. We are certainly not being arrogant but we absolutely belong in this city.
“One of our ambitions is to be one of the top brands in Edinburgh. You don’t achieve that by quietly going about your business, you have to be bold and it’s not just a throwaway marketing line that we use for a year and then move on. Look at what Scottish Rugby have done with ‘As One’ [the marketing tagline launched in 2014 and still going strong]. It is effective.
“So, this is our city is a strong line, it’s a bold statement but I think [the new kit] illustrates how we plan on integrating it into everything we do as a club.”
The 2021/22 home kit incorporates a street map of Edinburgh.
“Placing the club crest over Leith to show it is at the heart of things is genius. [Creative manager] Peter Burt and his team have done a phenomenal job,” McEwan added.
Sewn into the fabric of Leith since 1875, Edinburgh is now imprinted prominently in the shirts the players will pull on next season and the fact that the club is now willing to stake such a strong claim is unsurprising given the mindset of those now pulling the strings.
With qualifications in journalism and a storied past in media and marketing, from his early days at Scottish TV, his term handling event management for Coca-Cola north and south of the border, McEwan believes in the can-do attitude. His progression from Director of Sport to General Manager at marketing and advertising agency Material, working on projects as diverse as Glasgow 2014, London 2012, Scottish football, the SSE and T in the Park, eventually led him to the R&A as marketing manager.
In amongst all that he also managed Scottish Olympian Eilidh Doyle, coached at Kelty Hearts, along with new Dundee United manager Thomas Courts - “I’ve already been joking with people at Hibs that I am going there as his assistant” - and represented Scotland at Under-20 level in athletics, competing at 400m and 800m against the likes of Iwan Thomas and Jamie Baulch.
But, with opportunities to keep progressing within the R&A slow to transpire and patience seemingly a commodity in limited supply for a guy who loves to push himself, he joined Hibs.
“I have always loved a challenge and pushing myself right to the edge. I have done some crazy things, where mentally you take yourself to the brink. We covered the length of Scotland in four and a half days [cycling from Stranraer to Milngavie, running the West Highland Way, climbing Ben Nevis, kayaking up the Great Glen, and cycling to Inverness] and crossing Rannoch Moor at 2am with a head torch on wasn’t the most enjoyable moment of my life but the mental strength you develop from pushing yourself helps in every area of your life.”
Stepping up as interim chief executive when Leeann Dempster left in December, that inner steel has been advantageous as the club continues to navigate the pandemic. Previously involved in projects such as the Greenest Club, making Easter Road a cashless stadium, and the NHS partnership, he says everyone rolled their sleeves up. The backing from 11,000 fans, who bought season tickets last term yet never set foot in the ground, helped stave off bids for key players in January and the 9,500 who have already done likewise this summer will allow the club to keep pushing forward.
There have been 27 new commercial partners signed up in the past season, despite the uncertainty of a pandemic, a new kit deal - the third biggest in Scottish football, according to McEwan - and a new shirt sponsor, Utilita, who have a community hub in Leith.
“When I first met with Ron he talked me through his vision and I was hugely excited. If he had been looking to just replicate other clubs I probably wouldn’t have made the move. His ambitions were big but achievable. It has been a very turbulent 18 months or so but there are exciting times ahead.”
Soon the dad of two will take a slight step back with the anticipated arrival of a new chief executive. Returning to his role as Head of Marketing and Brand Partnerships he says he can stop spinning as many plates and watch, listen and learn.
“I’m ambitious. I always want to be the best I can be. It is about what is best for Hibernian.”
It is also about justifying that ballsy slogan and asserting themselves in the city they have staked a very public claim to. That could be tougher as Hearts return with a point to prove.
“I have a thick skin. I know that when you go with the line like that, come the first derby of next season you need to put your tin hat on. But, it’s about a lot more than a one-off game, it’s a lot more than gamesmanship between Hibs and Hearts fans, it is what we believe. We have shown that boldness and now we have to follow that up.”