'Ron wanted Hibs to be the best' - late chairman's foresight still paying off

Former executive chairman Ron Gordon, who passed away in February of 2023.Former executive chairman Ron Gordon, who passed away in February of 2023.
Former executive chairman Ron Gordon, who passed away in February of 2023.
Late chairman ahead of curve in embracing scientific edge

The legacy of Ron Gordon at Hibs cannot be put into metrics. There is no magic number or golden nugget of data that can sum up the lasting impact of the late chairman’s time at the helm.

It’s a little ironic, then, that one of his most enduring gifts to his club was investing in a way to measure the previously unmeasurable. That his great innovative leap is now becoming almost commonplace in professional football is a testament to Gordon’s foresight.

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His name cropped up in a surprising context this week when, while chatting to Kitman Labs CEO Stephen Smith about the information overload that can help Steve Clarke protect his Scotland players ahead of their Euro 2024 campaign, conversation turned to clients in the club game. Including several in the Scottish Premiership.

Smith didn’t miss a beat as he slipped from chatter about cortisone levels and blood markers to enthusing about a man whose desire to improve Hibs began by giving players the best possible back-up in the sports science department out at East Mains. US-based Irishman Smith - a former injury prevention specialist who worked at Leinster Rugby for six years - found Gordon to be well ahead of the curve, compared to rivals at clubs of a similar stature.

“We’ve been working with Hibs for maybe four or five years,” he revealed, adding: “I actually met Ron Gordon before he passed away, got to meet with Ron, chat with him.

“I spent a good bit of time with him talking about football. And he was just so passionate about the club, loved what it was all about. Because of that love for the club, he wanted them to have access to the best.

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“He always believed that Hibs should be the top club in the country. And he had a vision to push that forward.”

When Hibs return to pre-season training in just over a fortnight’s time, players will gladly line up to subject themselves to all manner of tests. Almost to a man, they recognise the value of letting the experts tailor programmes to maximise their athletic output – and reduce the risk of injury.

Smith says Gordon, who passed away in February of 2023, instantly recognised the need to upgrade this side of the football department, revealing: “At that time, clubs like Rangers and Celtic were in a similar place in terms of the information they could gather. But it was easier for them to take that approach because they have the money.

“What I loved about Ron was that, although Hibs didn’t have the same finance, he believed in putting the infrastructure in place. He believed in investing in the future.

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“He was really able to see that, a few years down the line, it would be everywhere. And we’re now seeing it across the world, leagues that you maybe wouldn’t expect, because they’re not the Premier League or La Liga.

“More and more clubs are taking this approach. Because it’s a tough business – and you have to put the best product on the park, which means having the right raw materials.

“The vast majority of leagues and teams understand that now, that they have to invest in players, protect players. If you are going to spend ten thousand or a hundred thousand per week on an asset, you want to make sure that you spend more to guarantee a return on that asset.

“These players understand that their body is a business. Having the right information at hand to make good decisions, that’s the difference between winning and losing.

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“It’s a different age, with a different type of player. Often time players are concerned when clubs are NOT collecting the right data.

“I’ve seen players ask clubs: ‘Well, how are you going to know if I’m ready to go or not? How can you know if I’m going to respond to this programme, if you can’t provide me with all the details?’ They get it.

“Clubs like Hibs will be gathering all the information from the international tournaments, what players have been doing internationally. How do you find the right balance in pre-season so they’re ready for the SPFL kick-off? But also how do you find a balance between doing that, getting them ready to compete, but also making sure they’re well rested, so they get through the season?”

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At a time when Hibs have no manager (again), an over-sized yet somehow still under-manned squad, plus about a dozen other problems to tackle, knowing that their sports science is up to scratch might not feel like a huge deal. But it’s a start. And a lasting tribute to the man who made it happen.

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