'I would hate that to never be the case' - Hibs boss Jack Ross addresses Super League proposals
A football traditionalist, Hibs manager Jack Ross’ romanticised view of the game should not be confused with naivete.
He is well aware of the role finances have played in the evolution of the professional game and while no-one would argue that there is currently a level playing field, the vagaries of competitive sport have allowed fans to cling to the possibility that clubs can rise above the apparent limitations of their bank balance, while shared childhood dreams allowed football to retain its emotional appeal and its connection with the fans.
The new, exclusive Super League, though, threatens to deny wider ambitions – even if this iteration is on the verge of collapse – and Ross says that the disconnect between the self-appointed elite and the rest could damage the game, while the decision by league associations to exile the protagonists from domestic tournaments, and FIFA and UEFA to do likewise when it comes to their players competing at international level, means that owners’ greed is being pitted against fair play.
“I think it takes the game even further away from its traditional roots,“ said the Easter Road boss, whose side are working towards securing their own European prize.
“People talk about a club and its place in the city or community. And it’s amazing how far that reaches.
“I have had experience of managing clubs of very different sizes and the association between the fanbase and the club has been strong at every one of them, it’s just there are more people.
“At the bigger clubs you manage, like here or Sunderland, it’s amazing how many fans appear in different countries and cities and make that known to you. That has to do with where they have been born, or their parents or grandparents. It would be a real shame if at any point we lost that.
“I accept things change and evolve but I think if we lost that core aspect football really would be in trouble.
“Thankfully I think there are more than enough people in the game who recognise the significance of that and who would want to retain it. Even if this was to go ahead there would be enough within the game to leave each domestic league in a strong place.”
While overseas owners are being blamed for this week’s upheaval, and the lack of promotion and relegation, favoured in the likes of the USA, seen as a blueprint for the members’ only Super League, Ross says Hibs owner Ron Gordon, although based in the States, has a background that ensures far greater regard for the competitiveness and culture that sparks passion in fans and those involved in football.
“He is Peruvian and football is the national sport there. So his affection for football has come from a very early age, and I don’t think it has been diluted by how he has progressed and where he has lived his life, he is quite traditional in that sense.
“And one of the things he enjoys most about his involvement with Hibs is that traditional part of it and how much it means to supporters and people in the city. That’s why, when he comes over, he enjoys spending the length of time he does here because it allows him to experience that first hand.”
As a former PFA Scotland chairman Ross says the widely-condemned proposals also leaves players who are under contract at super league clubs in an unenviable position, with stars like Scotland captain Andy Robertson and international colleague Kieran Tierney facing international sanctions due to Liverpool and Arsenal’s involvement, while young Billy Gilmour’s international career could be jeopardised before it even begins.
“Each player would have to speak for themself in that respect,” said Ross, “but I think wanting to achieve as much as you can as a player has always been a driver.
“From a career point of view if you look at how our national squad responded to qualifying for the Euros, I think it was nice for people to see that remains the case.
“You’re talking guys who are hugely successful club players, and who in the current climate, are well rewarded for that because of the way the game has developed in England and abroad. But I’m also sure there will be those who would do what they needed to do to be paid the most, and I don’t think we can ignore that there’s a mercenary aspect in every single profession who will look beyond the romantic side of it, and I don’t think you can judge whether that’s right or wrong.
“But the beauty of sport has always been about dreaming of winning and lifting trophies at certain stadiums, I would hate that to never be the case. I hope there will still be generations coming up who still hold onto those dreams that a lot of us would have had, and a lot still do.”
Never likely to operate in super league circles, a win over Livingston tonight would take Ross’ men another step closer to third place and the possibility of European football until December, though.
“Even from a personal point of view, it’s something I’ve not done. I have been quite lucky with the different experiences and achievements I have had but to have the chance to manage in European competition is something else I would like to do and for our players it is a big one. They are getting more excited about it and we are acutely aware that for us, it would almost be like giving something back to supporters, to give them European football and, hopefully, an extended run in Europe.”
While others are careering towards a total disconnect with their fans and what really matters, Hibs are working hard to give them what they want and advance as a stronger, unified entity, chasing rather than vanquishing those shared dreams.