As he begins his new role as Hibs Under-20s’ development coach, Joe McBride needs only to recall his own days as player at Easter Road to recognise the Capital club’s commitment to unearthing home-grown talent.
Although he was in his mid-20s when signed by John Blackley, McBride arrived to find the dressing-room populated by youngsters like John Collins, Paul Kane, Mickey Weir, Gordon Hunter and Eddie May who, like himself, has returned to the club in the role of academy coaching manager. Producing their own young players is a philosophy which has served the Edinburgh outfit well down through the years and one which, McBride admitted, had helped persuade him to apply for a post vacated a few weeks ago by James McDonaugh as he left to become first team coach at Championship rivals Falkirk.
McBride, now 54, said: “I’d heard there was a vacancy and was invited to put my CV in, came through and spoke to Alan Stubbs and George Craig and was fortunate enough to be offered the job. I hadn’t come across Alan before, that was the first time I’d spoken to him. But he’s worked with youngsters at Everton, seen a few of them progress to the first team and knows what it takes, and as a manager now he’ll know what he wants and when he can trust young players to go into the first team.
“Obviously there was a link with me having been a player at Hibs although I haven’t been here for a long time. Hibs are one of the biggest clubs in Scotland and their philosophy is to get young players into the team so it is an attractive job.
“Eddie, John, Paul, Mickey and Gordon were all youngsters when I signed and they all went on to have very good careers. Football is a global game now, clubs used to look on their own doorstep for players but now everyone is looking far and wide. But fans do identify with local lads; they’d rather have them in the team although I don’t think that happens anywhere as much as it used to.”
Having said that, Stubbs’ first squad contains plenty of local lads. Paul Hanlon and Lewis Stevenson are now well-established first-team players having come through the ranks at the club, while Jordon Forster, Alex Harris, Danny Handling and Sam Stanton have all been heavily involved with the first team in the past year or two. Fans still reminisce about the “golden generation” of Scott Brown, Kevin Thomson, Derek Riordan, Garry O’Connor, Steven Fletcher and Steven Whittaker, who came through the youth academy in the early Noughties and went on to flourish in the first team under Tony Mowbray.
The emergence of so many outstanding young players has, perhaps, set an unrealistic benchmark and raised the supporters’ expectations, McBride saying: “I’m not too sure that happens too often, that you get so many coming through at the one time who all went on to be Scottish internationalists, top players with Hibs and elsewhere.
“But that was exceptional, I think if you get one or two through that would be classed as relative success. But it all starts with the scouting system. You get the kids in and then they have to be nurtured and pointed in the right direction.”
To that end, McBride will employ the wealth of coaching experience he has gained at Celtic, in the Hungarian capital Budapest with Ujpest FC, as a youth coach at Watford under Malky Mackay and then as first-team coach to the former Celtic defender at Cardiff City.
James Forrest, Callum McGregor and Dylan McGeouch, on loan with Hibs at present, all worked with McBride as kids at Celtic before he moved on to become Willie McStay’s assistant for a year in Hungary – an “interesting” experience – and then teamed up with Mackay until his well-publicised exit from Cardiff.
But as much as he can bring those experiences to bear at East Mains, McBride insisted it was the young players themselves who’d have the biggest say in how their careers develop. He said: “It’s down to them, how much they want it, how much they are willing to sacrifice to get there, to do anything to give themselves that little edge. We will help them as much as we can, but ultimately it is down to them.”
To that end, McBride cites 21-year-old Britt Assombalonga, a kid he worked with at Watford who made a £5.5 million move to Nottingham Forest during the summer. He said: “Britt wasn’t even full-time. He came in on, I think, £40 or £50 a week, a part-timer training with full-time kids. But he just worked so hard, he did everything he could to make himself better so I’m delighted for him. It gives you a sense of pride to think you have had a little helping hand, to see that the advice you’ve given has been taken on board.”
McBride admits he’ll need advice from May for the next wee while as he gets to know the youngsters he’ll be working with, his first sight of them in action coming in last night’s SPFL Development League match against Rangers at Ainslie Park.
He said: “I’m just getting my feet under the desk so I’ll be working hand in hand with Eddie as I get to know the boys and then there will be a hand-over. It’s an exciting period for me, I have always had an affection for Hibs because I played for them and have some happy memories of my time at Easter Road. John Blackley signed me, he was in charge along with Tommy Craig and then Alex Miller came in. I wouldn’t say we had a brilliant team but we did well in the cups and got to the semi-finals of the Scottish. Stevie Cowan scored a lot of goals in my time.”
McBride’s links with Hibs, though, stretch further back than his own playing days, with his father, also Joe, a firm favourite of the Easter Road support in the mid-60s after joining the club from Celtic, endearing himself immediately by scoring on his debut against Rangers, claiming a hat-trick against Lokomotiv Leipzig in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in his second match and then hitting four in his third game against Morton. Joe junior, however, recalled the two his father scored against Celtic. He said: “We were still living in Glasgow, I was just a young boy, but I remember the papers didn’t get delivered, nor did the milk or the rolls the next morning because of it. He always spoke of his second goal that day being the best of his career, a volley from outside the box.”
It must have been special as McBride senior was a prolific striker, his 91 games for Hibs returning an astonishing 58 goals, a tally his son acknowledges was a tad better than his. He laughed: “Someone told me that my dad and I had played almost exactly the same number of games for Hibs, but the difference was he scored more than four times as many goals as me.”