Hibs seem to be placing more emphasis on the club's identity - and so far, it's paying off
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There was a time, not so long ago, that a number of supporters feared that Hibs was haemorrhaging all the qualities that for them, made it unique among football clubs. The departure of figures who were virtually in with the bricks was seen as a concern, while there was a degree of scepticism when Ron Gordon and family took the reins.
First there was the season ticket campaign, with the tagline, ‘Within us all’. Then there was a new contract for stalwart Lewis Stevenson, closely followed by the appointment of Gareth Evans, a man who has given many years of his life to Hibs in various roles, as the new academy director to succeed the outgoing Steve Kean. Working under Evans will be Guillaume Beuzelin, who remains at the club as an academy coach while James McDonaugh also returned after his stint with FC Edinburgh. Shortly after came the announcement that Darren McGregor – Leither and lifelong Hibee – would be staying at the club following his retirement to coach the club’s under-18s. In the background the likes of Rory Monks and Tommy Scanlon returned after spells away to bolster the club’s medical department, and long-serving defender Paul Hanlon has remained club captain and a regular starter under another manager. Former players including Mixu Paatelainen and David Zitelli have returned to present the match ball; the 25th anniversary celebrations for Hibs Women also took place recently and a number of well-kent Easter Road faces took to the turf once more for the Hanlon Stevenson Foundation charity match during the World Cup break.
Most recently, talking about his links with the City Football Group and the possibility of utilising his contacts to bring in loan players, Lee Johnson insisted that Hibs would never lose its identity – ‘it wouldn’t be allowed’, he added.
You only need to watch back the celebrations after the most recent Easter Road derby, or the victory over Celtic, or even the dust-up at Tynecastle to see a group of players who seem to get what it means to play for Hibs. And not just the likes of Hanlon and Stevenson, but even loanees such as CJ Egan-Riley or Will Fish, and relative newcomers Jimmy Jeggo and Lewis Miller.
And maybe that’s what has been missing from this Hibs team in recent seasons. The constant chopping and changing of managers has led to a revolving door when it comes to players; something to which Johnson alluded when he talked about getting rid of the ‘malaise’. We saw signs of progress in the second half of the season: after the new year derby Hibs lost just five league matches in 2023, and three of them were to Celtic and Rangers. Johnson has had just over a full year in post to assess the squad and has already taken steps to improve it while warning that there are no quick fixes.
Things are not perfect by any means, but Hibs do seem to be learning from their mistakes on and off the pitch. If Johnson can continue to play a leading role in ensuring the club’s identity is front and centre, then there’s no reason why there can’t be further progress over the summer.