Disgruntled Hibs fans have mobilised. Their guns are firmly trained on Rod Petrie.
Spearheaded by former player Paul Kane and backed by the high-profile presence of Proclaimer Charlie Reid, the Petrie Out movement stepped up their bid to oust the under-fire Easter Road chairman in the Hibs Supporters’ Club at Sunnyside.
At an emotion-charged meeting attended by representatives from the bulk of the most prominent Hibs fans’ groups, there were rousing and heartfelt speeches from various supporters about the current predicament of their club. The unanimous feeling among those in attendance – as evidenced by a show of hands against Petrie – was that the chairman who has overseen the club’s demise into the Championship had to fall on his sword.
With Kane having been reassured that everyone in attendance was on board, he outlined plans to press on with a protest at Easter Road next Saturday at the same time new chief executive Leeann Dempster will be meeting leading fans representatives inside the stadium. Those in attendance yesterday believe the bulk of their fellow Hibs fans feel the same way with regard to Petrie and will turn out in numbers next week to show their opposition to his stewardship of the club.
Fans’ chief Mike Riley, who sat at the top table along with Kane and Kenny McLean jnr, claimed there were two representatives from 15 or 16 of the main fans’ groups in attendance among a gathering of around 80 people. It was also claimed that only one member had voiced their disapproval of the campaign.
While it is impossible to gauge accurately just how many fans are in the anti-Petrie camp, the mood at yesterday’s gathering was one of determination to oust a man they feel has been chiefly responsible for the demise of one of one of Scotland’s biggest clubs. McLean, whose late father was a director at Hibs, issued a rallying cry with response to Hibs’ concerns that the Petrie Out campaign would try to “starve” the club of income as they prepare for a major rebuild ahead of their venture into the Championship. “Rod Petrie says we are starving the club. If there’s anyone that’s starving this club it’s Rod Petrie,” bellowed McLean.
“He’s starving it of our heart, our support, of Premiership football. We should be in the top three or four in Scottish football. People are laughing at Hibs. The message today is: Petrie Out, Petrie Out, Petrie Out.” This sentiment was met by sustained applause and echoed by Robin Reid, who turns 80 next month and has been going to Easter Road since 1938.
The veteran supporter said this is the worst period he can remember for Hibs and that it’s been a downward spiral for ten years before declaring “Get the bugger out!” to rapturous applause from the floor. Another supporter, Terry Burns, described the chairman as a “cancer at the club”.
Mark McLean, Kenny jnr’s son, had tears in his eyes as he spoke of the need for the spirit of the Hands off Hibs campaign which his late grandfather was so prominent in 1990. With passions clearly having been stirred, Kane was keen to stress that: “The power is with the fans – not Rod Petrie.”
All the while, Reid, the most famous man in attendance, was sitting at the back of the room maintaining a low-key presence but agreeing with the general tone of the meeting. The Proclaimers singer believes Hibs are at a low ebb in their history and in need of change at boardroom level.
“There is a touch of déjâ vu all over again – we were here 24 years ago [for Hands off Hibs] and then again 15 years ago when the club was relegated last time,” he said.
“At that time, Rod Petrie was on the board also. It’s sad it’s come to this, but not surprising. Anyone who has watched Hibs in the last few years can see the decline in the standards.
“For all the good that’s been done in terms of spending on infrastructure, the stadium and the training facility, which was all the correct thing to do, they have taken their eye off the ball in terms of the quality of football player. Whatever you think of Petrie or the management team, it’s the declining quality of football player that has ultimately led us to relegation. In the last 15 years or so, there have been a lot of good things happening at the club but they’ve tried to run the playing staff on the cheap. It’s interesting that clubs like Aberdeen, Dundee United and even St Johnstone are signing players that Hibs failed to attract.
“It’s either a lack of money or perhaps there’s a feeling that this is not a good place to work at. I’m speculating that that may be the case, and if it is, then it has to be sorted at boardroom level.”
Reid is alarmed at the current situation at his beloved club and was particularly worried at the feckless performances they delivered against supposedly inferior opposition in the closing months of the season which culminated in catastrophic fashion with a play-off defeat against Hamilton Accies last weekend.
“It’s pretty serious,” continued Reid. “I watched the Raith game in the cup – that was a Raith team that struggled to stay in the Championship and they whipped us at Easter Road. Good luck to them and good luck to Hamilton, they were the only team on that pitch playing football. What’s been happening just isn’t good enough – it has to change.”
While Petrie has been earmarked by many as the chief culprit in the malaise, Reid believes that under-fire manager Terry Butcher, who oversaw the slump towards the Championship, has to be cut some slack on the basis of his work elsewhere. He feels the Englishman’s struggles at Easter Road are symptomatic of underlying problems at the club.
“My feeling is that we’ve sacrificed an awful lot of managers... Petrie’s still there,” he said, pointedly. “Terry Butcher and Maurice Malpas don’t become bad managers or coaches overnight – something happens when they come to this club. Previously-successful people fail when they come here.
“That reflects to me that there is a deep problem that can only be solved by restructuring at boardroom level, with new blood coming in and a new direction being taken.”
Reid believes it’s high time the fans took action and believes that Kane is the perfect figurehead to unify the group. He is glad that they are not encouraging any kind of season-ticket boycott in order to make their point, however. “Paul Kane’s spoken very impressively – he’s got good leadership qualities about him the same way Kenny McLean’s dad did 24 years ago,” he said. “People gravitate towards him. It’s important the supporters stay united and focused on the objective but I hope nobody withholds money from the club.
“Personally I would never withhold season-ticket money. I’ll always go whether Hibs are playing in Leith Links or Inverleith Park. But you can only expect people to take so much for so long. My feeling is that maybe the Hibs supporters have been too tolerant for too long. We need new investment and we need people to have the confidence to come and invest in the club.
“We need to get the gates up and get people coming back. For that to happen, there needs to be a feeling that there is a communication between the fans and the board. There’s something gone badly wrong at boardroom level. Rod Petrie’s been the top man for a very long time, so if you’re going to take the plaudits for the new stadium, you have to take the brickbats for what’s gone wrong on the pitch.”
Is Reid confident they can achieve their objective? “If the fans stand united, it’s going to be impossible for him to stay on.”