Rod Petrie opens up on time at Hibs in emotional interview

He’s been the poker-face of Hibernian Football Club, that inscrutable mask hiding his inner thoughts from the outside world.

Thursday, 4th July 2019, 6:30 am
Rod Petrie laughs at suggestions he is a rugby man. Pic: SNS
Rod Petrie laughs at suggestions he is a rugby man. Pic: SNS

Throughout his time at Easter Road – in all he spent 28 years working as owner Sir Tom Farmer’s right-hand man after the Kwik-Fit founder had rescued the city club from oblivion – Rod Petrie has found himself in the firing line.

Accusations of not being “a football man”, a cold fish who cared for little more than the bottom line have been hurled at him as he’s found himself the lightning conductor for the ire of raging supporters when, as in 2014, things on the playing side had gone pear-shaped.

Yes, those barbs hurt, and cut deeply and yet, to gaze into Petrie’s eyes it was hard to detect a flicker of emotion, his feelings kept very much to himself.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But as he stood down after 15 years as chairman, Rod Petrie allowed that veil to slip ever so slightly as control of the club passed to American businessman Ron Gordon, who is now executive chairman.

“It’s never been about me, it’s always been about the club,” he said, before pausing with tears clearly welling in his eyes, then continuing: “I’m a team player and I try ...

“Am I misunderstood? I’ve heard that said, but why? My role at Hibernian Football Club was to make the club the best it could be. It was to give the players, the manager and the coaching staff the best opportunity to be successful.

“It was performing at the highest level and progressing as far in every competition. It was never about me, it was never about whether I am a good guy or a bad guy, whether I’m human or dehuman, or whatever it might be.

“I was very fortunate in the 28 years that my kids were largely grown up, while my partner was a workaholic, the same as me. I was able to spend all the time that was necessary – albeit you never have enough time for a football club.

“I could count on these hands the number of competitive games I’ve missed. It was just part of my life and part of my being.

“Sir Tom goes to bed thinking about tyres and wakes up thinking about tyres. I go to bed thinking about football and I wake up thinking about football.”

Petrie admitted that as a kid growing up in a rural environment which meant he wasn’t taken to football every weekend, he could never have imagined being involved at Hibs, revealing that his remit as Sir Tom rescued the club was to “just pop in there for six months and sort it out”.

Amused and obviously baffled by the suggestion that some saw him more of a rugby man, Petrie said: “Where are you getting that? My brother got Lego and I got a Dinky toy – and we had a leather football.

“We spent all our time growing up, him playing with his Lego and me playing with my Dinky toy – and us playing together in our back garden with our football. I played football at school and I played amateur football before concentrating on my studies.

“But when I was kicking the ball in primary school, I never thought I’d end up involved with a professional football club and having a fantastic time at Hibs. Back then I played football rather than watching it.

“When I got the opportunity in a business sense to do the due diligence in 1991 for Sir Tom, I came and did the job of work.

“I arrived on my first day and got handed a cardboard box which had a sheet of paper, a rubber, a pencil and ruler – and a whole lot of bank passbooks. I started on the left-hand column and worked across and if I made a mistake, I rubbed it out.

“I then asked what the passbooks were for and got told they were for the players. They got their wages every week, and I handed them half of it with the other half going into the passbook.

“At the end of their time at the football club we’d say ‘thanks very much, there’s your passbook with your savings’. What a great system.”

A place on the board followed and then the role of chairman, one which he admits has brought good and bad times, while on a human level there were some tough moments.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s a high-profile job. With people’s passion and love of the football club, it adds to the intensity when there’s interaction.

“Things have happened over the piece, but I believe the supporters are the lifeblood of the club. They are passionate about their football club and because of that they want to tell you the things they think you can do to make the club better.

“If you take the time to stop and speak to supporters – to hear their grievances – then you might not end up agreeing, but you end up shaking hands because you’ve at least taken on board what they’ve said.

“It might lead to change, it might not. But it’s a fact that everybody is passionate about football and the game and that can sometimes lead to people using words they might in retrospect have not used. That’s part and parcel of it.

“Football has been a huge part of my life. It’s been under my skin, part of my being. Just because I’ve signed a piece of paper, you can’t take that away from me.”