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Sunday, 10 September 2017

Scottish Football's Shame

Taking a break from blogging specifically about Hibs, I wanted to put out my thoughts on the decision by the SFA to refuse to participate in an independent enquiry at the request of the SPFL, into the handling of the Rangers affair.

I have held the view for a long time that Rangers' behaviour was outright cheating. They deliberately and systematically concealed information (the infamous EBT side letters) from the governing bodies and HMRC. This was not an accidental piece of administrative carelessness, it was deliberate, institutional deception.

Rangers have been proven to have misled the authorities by claiming a known tax debt was in dispute (it wasn't) in order to gain a licence to play, and it's clear that the registration of players in the EBT years was not complete - the requirement was to declare all payment terms. Rangers, by concealing the side letters, did not comply with that requirement.

As time has passed, more and more evidence of nefariousness at Ibrox has emerged. Rangers were not simply chancing their arm during this time, they were blatantly flying in the face of the rules as they stood at that time.

There are, in my view, justifiable calls for title stripping. However, stepping back from what could be perceived to be a blood-lust driven call for revenge, the refusal to investigate what actually happened is a massive slap in the face to every single supporter of Scottish football that ploughed their hard-earned cash into watching a competition that was fundamentally skewed in one side's favour through rule-breaking.

It has not been a level playing field at the best of times for every team outside of the Old Firm. Their financial dominance has meant that every side for the last twenty-thirty years has simply had to hope that they could be the 'best of the rest' as some barometer of success.

That the massive financial advantage wasn't enough for Rangers will give you an indication of why Scottish football fans are so irate at the decision not to open an enquiry into what happened.

The assumption, rightly or wrongly, is that there are people in the corridors of power in the SFA who have blood on their hands. If they have nothing to hide, why not open the doors to an independent enquiry? If anything, you'd expect the SFA to welcome the opportunity to show the world that "Hey, we got shafted as much as you guys - how were we to know?".

Instead, we have officials who are happy to plug their fingers in their ears, shut their eyes, and hope that it all blows over. It leaves a monumentally bitter taste in the mouth and drains any confidence that lessons have been learned and that there will never be a repeat of the incident.

It is to the great detriment of Scottish football that an enquiry has been denied. I hope that there is enough will and resource to force the issue, otherwise it will forever be a black mark on the beautiful game in this country.

Neil Lennon's Green and White Army

This week Hibs announced that manager Neil Lennon has extended his contract with the club until 2020. On a personal level, I'm delighted. Lennon arrived at the club with a bristly reputation. Adored by Celtic fans but almost universally detested by everyone else, and after a bruising experience at financially crippled Bolton Wanderers, Lennon had a point to prove and real job on his hands to win people over.

That said, Hibs fans were warm to his appointment. Lennon's record in Scottish football management is fantastic, virtually unparalleled amongst his current SPFL top flight management peers. There was always a question of whether or not Lennon could repeat his success at Celtic at Hibernian, without the massive financial advantages that he was afforded in Glasgow.

Lennon's remit was simple - take Hibs back into the top flight. He succeeded comfortably, with the league won with weeks to spare. Additionally, a brave showing in Europe and a Scottish Cup defence that took Hibernian back to Hampden to face (and agonisingly lose to) Aberdeen.

So we are back in the big league. Lennon's summer recruitment looks to have been very shrewd indeed. Few Hibs fans would have expected quite the calibre of player that we managed to bring in over the transfer window, whilst at the same time holding on to our most prized asset, 'Super' John McGinn.

Six full internationals joined the club to supplement what was already seen as a squad capable of competing for a top six position in the top flight. Lennon was comfortable seeing Jason Cummings leave the club. A prolific goal-scorer is always a commodity that is difficult to replace, but Lennon clearly looked for someone that could bring more than goals, and in Simon Murray he appears to have found someone with an eye for goal but with it a work rate that was all too often missing from Cummings' game.

Murray started the season in fine form, winning over many doubters with an impressive goal return in the early matches. His scoring form has stuttered slightly over the last couple of games, but a fine solo goal in our win at Ibrox will keep the fans on his side longer than they might otherwise have been.

Lennon's side is shaping up nicely. On the back of consecutive draws at Dundee and St Johnstone, Hibs can consider themselves very unfortunate not to have taken six points from these games rather than the two actually taken. In both matches, a lack of a finishing touch coupled with meeting goalkeepers in fine form stopped the scorelines reflecting the dominance of the visiting side.

The manager, never shy in criticising his players when they fall below his demanding standards, has been full or praise for the performances in the last two games. If we continue that level of performance, we will win more games than we lose.

As may have been expected, controversy is never too far from Neil Lennon. In the Championship he fell foul of the Compliance Officer after a touchline tussle with Jim Duffy, and more recently Lennon's goal celebration at Ibrox created such a stir that Club 1872, the supporter's association with a stake in the Glasgow club, deemed it necessary to issue a statement condemning his antics.

The brass neck of that particular statement was incredible, and to such an extent that even  some Rangers supporters were quick to deride it. More concerning, in my mind, was that the press were quick to play out the narrative that Lennon was somehow the villain of the piece at Ibrox. Video footage of the team bus arriving shows that from the moment he stepped off of the bus, Lennon was subjected to vile sectarian abuse. This abuse continued throughout the match and afterwards, where he received death threats via social media.

The press make out that he brings this on himself, that he loves being the pantomime villain, except in this pantomime it's one way abuse with no comic relief, and if the panto villain dares come back with an 'Oh no it isn't' then all Hell breaks loose.

I was disappointed that Hibs themselves never publically backed the manager, though I appreciate that Lennon may himself have preferred to let the issue blow over. Equally, it was disappointing (though not surprising) that Rangers again failed to condemn the sectarian element amongst their own support.

Lennon's start at Hibs has been hugely entertaining, big performances against Brondby, Hearts, and Rangers, along with a Championship win have laid the foundations for what promises to be an entertaining and (hopefully) successful period with Lennon at the helm. It certainly won't be dull, that's for sure.  

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Why you should be proud of Hibernian FC

It is a great time to follow football in Edinburgh at the moment. No matter which of the capital city's two tribes you support, there are many reasons to be cheerful. Hearts are in great condition, sitting third in the Scottish Premiership with a squad that mixes physicality with talent and determination. They have had a remarkable time of it, their romp to the Championship title last season caught everyone off guard, nobody saw that coming, Their fine form continued into this season and it really is no surprise to see them sitting as high in the league as they are.

As much as it sticks in my throat to acknowledge it, there is a lot to praise Hearts for, and it would be churlish to deny the huge change in the club since they teetered on the precipice of extinction at the end of Romanov's rein at Tynecastle.

Hibs too, can look at themselves in a hugely positive light. For a long time, Hibs have been seen as a soft touch, and that if there was a way to screw things up - no matter how promising the position - Hibs would find it. In fact, in some circles there was even the phrase 'they Hibsed that' coined to describe a situation where someone had drawn farce from the brink of glory.

Alan Stubbs remarked on BBC Scotland's Sportsound show on the Friday before Sunday's Scottish Cup derby that he had been shocked at the level at which this feeling of 'only Hibs' had ingrained itself at the club. To his immense credit, he appears to have eradicated that.

Sunday's derby saw Hibs go into half time facing a two goal deficit. There had been little to split the sides in the first half, save for two terrific goals from the home side. Hibernian had the ball in the net in the early stages, though Jason Cummings was adjudged to have been offside. TV replays showed the decision to be correct, but it was by the narrowest of margins (his feet were onside, his head offside - under the rules that put the striker offside).

The studio pundits discussed Hearts' first half control, and in the post-match interviews Hearts manager Robbie Nielson also talked about his side's dominance in the first forty five minutes. However, by the time the evening TV shows aired and the pundits had been given the opportunity to reflect on the first half, it was evident , and acknowledged, that neither side particularly held the upper hand during the first half. Indeed, Hearts scored with their only two shots of the half.

The second half was where Hibs could finally put the charge of being bottlers to rest. The team dominated possession, and kept Hearts at arm's length throughout the second period. As the game drew into the closing ten minutes, Hibs finally found a breakthrough.

A feature of Hearts' play this season has been their ability to break up play when their opponents have the ball. Minor infringements early in the opposition's attacks give Hearts the opportunity to regroup and organise and defend set pieces, something that they generally do very well. This is not a criticism, but an observation. It is a tactic that works well for Hearts, they stop their opponents playing and they break very effectively. Their deliveries from deep areas is very good - as evidenced by their second goal of the match, where Paterson delivered a terrific pass to Nicholson, who had made a good run from his midfield position into the box.

It was Hibs' counter to these tactics that brought about their route back into the game. A couple of fouls in the build up were dealt with by quick free kicks being taken by Hibs. This kept the momentum of the attack and stopped Hearts being able to regroup in the way that they'd have liked to. The ball found its way to Liam Henderson who clipped a lovely delivery onto the head of Jason Cummings, who looped a wonderful header over the static Alexander in the Hearts' goal.

From then, it appeared to be only the clock that could stop Hibs from finding a leveler. With fresh impetus, Hibernian probed at the Hearts defence looking for a weakness. They found it in injury time where Darren McGregor's desire to win the ball from a McGinn corner found the home side's defence wanting. Alexander pushed out McGregor's header, but Paul Hanlon had found space and he steered the ball home, sparking wild scenes in the Roseburn Stand as the Hibs support celebrated an unlikely draw.

It was no more than Hibs deserved, in fact, I'd argue that it was less than they deserved. The stats from the match put Hibs ahead in all measures, save for fouls (Hearts' 22 to Hibs' 9 an indication of Hearts' style of play).

It would be fair to say that it is usually Hearts who enjoy turnarounds like that in derbies. It would also be fair to say, now, that this Hibs side is far from 'usual'.

The manner in which the team celebrated together, and together with the fans, is a clear demonstration of the team spirit and bond at the club right now. You look at this side and see a team in it for each other. When there was a rammy in the Hearts' box following a complaint about a McGregor challenge, the Hibs players were not found wanting in their desire to get involved to dig out their team mates.

Hibs have finally discovered a way to perform in the big games, and not only that, they are able to continue it in the less glamorous ties as well. This had been a huge week for Hibs, a cup semi final against Premiership opponents St Johnstone, a tricky away tie to Morton, and then the derby at Tynecastle.

It would have been a feature of Hibs of old to have come a cropper in at least one of those matches in years gone by. This side won well in the semi-final, dug out a win at Morton, and ensured that they were not defeated in the Scottish Cup. A huge test for Stubbs' side, which they passed with flying colours.

Stubbs commented after the match that his side had shoved the bottlers label down people's throats, and he is right. Hibs fans can look at their team just now and know that the players taking to the field, those on the bench, and those in the stand, are giving everything for each other and for the club.

Stubbs has built a team that is improving all the time. He has complete confidence in them, and the players are living up to that. At half time, there were no groans from the Hibs support, there was no negativity and no 'not again'. There was hope and expectation that this side would find some way back into the game.

Hibs are still fighting on three fronts this season,  and while they could still conceivably end the season empty handed, there is nobody that could deny that if they do fall short that it wouldn't be for the want of trying.

I wouldn't bet against Hibs this season, though. They have a character and desire about them that has not been present at Easter Road since the League Cup winning side of 2007 - the 'golden generation' of Brown, Thomson, Whittaker, Sproule, Fletcher et al.

For the fans' part, we are seeing the people who were disenfranchised by the relegation and Rod Petrie's running of the club starting to return to the fold. People are believing that the club is changing - has changed. It is not just words from the board, but actions with tangible and visible results. We have a winning team, a winning mentality, and a winner in Alan Stubbs.

This is a great time to be a Hibee, regardless of what happens next in the Scottish Cup, we have a Cup Final to look forward to and a league race to be fought. More importantly, we have a talented squad of players giving everything for us, and it's to the Club's immense credit that we can - at last - lay claim to having a team to be proud of.

Glory Glory to the Hibees.

Friday, 29 January 2016

The Business End of the Season

I write this on the eve of the League Cup semi-final between Hibs and St Johnstone, which will be played on 30th January at Tynecastle. The last tie between these teams at that venue, also in the same competition resulted in a 3-1 win for Hibernian, after extra time goals from David Murphy and Abdessalam Benjelloun had added to Steven Fletcher's early goal to secure victory for the Hibees.

Back then, Hibernian were holding their own in the Scottish Premier League. John Collins had picked up the reins from the departed Tony Mowbray, and having seen off Hearts at Easter Road in the previous round (with the most dominant 1-0 win you're ever likely to see), Hibs were looking good for a strong finish to the season.

St Johnstone were riding high in the old Scottish First Division. Their manager, Owen Coyle, was winning admirers for the good work that he was doing with what had been a struggling side. St Johnstone would challenge for the title that season, and also reached the Scottish Cup semi-final, where they were thwarted by a strong Celtic side.

Hibs went on to win the League Cup that year, a resounding 5-1 victory over Jim Jefferies' Kilmarnock at Hampden was as good as it got for the Hibees under Collins. The rest of the season was marred by the infamous player revolt, and Hibs - like St Johnstone - were also to lose out at the semi final stage of the Scottish Cup, despite being heavy favourites to beat Dunfermline.

Fast forward to today, and the roles have been reversed. Hibs are challenging for the title in the second tier, while St Johnstone sit comfortably in the top six of the top flight. The semi final promises to be a fascinating tie. The Perth side have tried to play down their chances, calling Hibs out as favourites despite the gulf in the sides' respective league positions. Hibs do, undoubtedly, enjoy greater resources than St Johnstone.  I would imagine the playing budget at Easter Road trumps that of St Johnstone, and it is arguable that more Hibernian players would get into the first team at St Johnstone than vice versa.

That said, the benefit of regularly competing against top flight opposition should not be underestimated. You only have to look at St Johnstone's convincing 1-3 win at Ibrox in this competition earlier in the season for evidence of that. Rangers, at that point, had triumphed convincingly over every opponent that had been put in front of them (save, I suppose, from a narrow 1-0 win against Hibs at Ibrox - the sides separated by a terrific strike from a contentious free kick harshly awarded to the Glasgow side).

Rangers dominated possession but could not overcome the tactical nous of St Johnstone, who exposed weaknesses in Rangers' play time and time again.

I suspect anyone looking at this game objectively would have St Johnstone as favourites on that basis. It is hard to conceive of a convincing argument where a top six side goes into a match against a second tier side as underdogs, despite the cliched talk from St Johnstone that the bigger support that Hibs will enjoy puts the pressure on Hibs.

It should be remembered that Hibs have enjoyed larger crowds than most Scottish sides for a considerable period, and despite relegation, the crowd numbers have largely held firm. A full house is more likely to unsettle St Johnstone in that respect.

For me, the game is too close to call. I know Hibs are capable of winning, but that's not to say that I think we will. Convincing wins against Aberdeen and Dundee United should give the players the confidence to approach this tie with a view to winning it. However, St Johnstone are a good side, with a manager who is tactically astute and prepares his players very well. I suspect the game will be a tight affair, and could go all the way to penalties.

Regardless of the outcome, Hibernian have another vital tie right on the back of this game. On Tuesday night, Morton will host Hibs in the re-arranged fixture from the earlier postponed game. With Rangers facing Falkirk this weekend, it is essential that Hibs take maximum points from this tie.

Morton, under the stewardship of former Hibs manager Jim Duffy, have equipped themselves well in their first season in the Championship. Hibs will need to be at their best to triumph, and there is no room for a post-semi final hangover. With Rangers enjoying a five point gap on Hibs (with the potential to stretch that to eight points, should they beat Falkirk), Alan Stubbs' side cannot afford to slip up.

It is a period that will tell us a lot about this Hibernian side. They have already answered a lot of questions this season. Their form has been terrific, and even when performances have slipped, Hibs have managed to dig out results. This has not been a trait associated with Hibs for some time, and so to see it ingrained in this team is hugely satisfying.

At one point, Hibs trailed Rangers by eleven points and it's testament to the side that they have cut that gap to the extent that they have. With Rangers still to visit Easter Road and Falkirk, the title is far from being out of Hibs' reach. There is no margin for error now though, Hibs could conceivably get away with the points dropped earlier in the season if they continue their current form, however with games fast running out, every point is a prisoner.

We are right at the business end of the season. What happens over the next few months will have a huge bearing on the health of the football club. Promotion is essential, Hibs have continued to operate as a top flight side despite relegation, but that can only be sustained for so long.

Stubbs, for his part, looks to have done a cracking job in giving the side the best possible chance of going up. His acquisition of Anthony Stokes sent out a resounding message that Hibs were not content to settle for second place. While Stokes grabbed the headlines, the introduction of Chris Dagnall could prove to be just as significant.

I got my first look at Dagnall on Saturday, during Hibs' comfortable 3-1 win over St Mirren. Dagnall did not give the defenders a moment's peace. For a wee guy, he gave the centre halves a torrid time, and it's the first time in a long time that I've seen a Hibs striker so physically dominant against their opponent (actually, that's not quite true - Farid El Alagui was exceptional in that regard.).

Dagnall's movement and constant harrying of the defenders created space for his team mates, the benefit of which was evident in John McGinn's fine goal in the first half. With Dominique Malonga departing to Italy's Seria B, Dagnall's contribution could be very telling in the run in.

Stubbs has also added Finnish goalkeeper Otso Virtanen (he's not Finnish, he's only 21...) and full back Niklas Gunnarrson  to Stokes and Dagnall. Crucially, top scorer Jason Cummings has remained at the club, and I believe a new, long term deal has been put on the table for the irrepressible hit man.

Hibs look in good shape for the run-in, take away the fact that we're still in the Championship and it's a very exciting time for Hibs fans. We are seeing a winning side playing good football. A young, talented manager bringing the best out of a young side - there are echoes of the side that took to the Tynecastle pitch to face St Johnstone back in 2007, and with a board and support fully behind the team, there is a genuine reason to be enthusiastic about the title run in.

And if that wasn't enough, there's always the prospect of a Scottish Cup derby to come, and as Danny Grainger pointed out in his ill-considered tweet , we all know what happened the last time Hibs met Hearts in the Scottish Cup...

Monday, 5 October 2015

Changing Times: Interview with Colin Millar

In the next instalment of my inside perspective of life at Hibernian, I was able to spend some time with Hibernian's Communications Manager, Colin Millar.
I first met Colin through the Working Together meetings, and I sat beside Colin during Leeann Dempster's first supporters meeting on the day of the Rod Petrie protests.
Since that day, Colin has joined Hibernian, initially as the Supporter Liaison, and now in his current role as Communications Manager.
Colin is well placed to talk about the changes at the club in his time, and you only need a short while in his company to see how much the football club means to him.

I remember sitting beside you on the day of the Petrie protests, at that point your role didn't exist as far as I'm aware. Talk me through what happened.
I was probably a bit of an opportunist, really. On a personal level, I'm from an accountancy background, and I knew I wanted to get into sport as it's my big passion.
I did some volunteering both at the club and with some other things, so I knew I needed to make the jump. 
My plan was to go and study Post-Grad at Stirling University in Sports Management and see if I could pick up a part time job along the way. I had loads of ideas on how I wanted to influence things at Hibs, to change things that the club could do a little bit better. 
The big change for me, was after I was chairing a Working Together meeting at the training ground. I still lived in Glasgow, Leeann lived out west as well, so I was a bit cheeky and asked her for a lift home. She said 'yes'.
That gave me about an hour's pitch. I got on really well with her, I talked through what I wanted to achieve, she told me what she wanted to achieve and why she had come to Hibs, and we got on from there. 
My big thing at the time was the Supporter Liaison role. Leeann thought a lot of clubs took that role as a separate thing, independent from the club. Leeann's view was for the Liaison to make a meaningful impact at the club they had to be ingrained in the club to really influence things on a daily basis, so that they have a full understanding.
There was that, and the club was also moving towards the big consultations about the ownership and what that structure was going to be. The club wanted to involve supporters, so my initial role was to come in and oversee that consultation process. That started with three consultation meetings.

They were post-Alloa defeat, I remember the first weekend before starting work, going to Alloa thinking "We'll get three points here". It was at the end of the transfer window so there was a lot of chat about signing some new players, so I thought the Monday meeting would be really positive. 
As it was, Farid goes down with the really bad injury, we lost to Alloa , and the meetings took a different turn.
The meetings were heated and lively but really interesting. From that, we developed the online survey which focussed on representation, ownership, and engagement with the club. From that, probably the big immediate thing was getting the Supporter's Representatives on the board, so I managed the process around that, as well as doing some bits on the communication side.

What would you say are the differences between the Fans Representatives on the board, and the Supporter Liaison?
I think the Fans Representatives are two people that are fully elected by the supporters, who are there to represent the supporters, and who are influencing things at the top level.
I see the Supporter Liaison role as only good if it's ingrained in how the club operates on a daily basis, similar to the Fans Representatives. We could put them on the board, the box is ticked, and there's no tangible difference - I don't think it's like that here, from what I understand they are fully involved in the decision making, the same as any other board member. 
I see part of my role as Supporter Liaison as basically being the voice of the supporter, and thinking as a supporter in everything we do - whether that's daily communications through social media, ticketing updates - I'm quite heavily involved in the ticketing information and the decisions that go around that like loyalty points and everything else, through to the campaigns. I've been involved in the season ticket campaigns, the kit launch campaigns. 
I think it's just having a supporter's view on it. Don't get me wrong, as soon as you become an employee of the club, that nature of the relationship changes - that's inevitable. I genuinely think it's an ethos running throughout the club in everything we do, that the impact on supporters is a fundamental part of the decision making. 
Other clubs could have a liaison officer in name alone. I've been round other clubs and see what they do, both here and down south. They can be quite tokenistic in what they do, they get the supporter in, give them a bib and an email address, and it allows that club to distance themselves from the complaints that come in, be it catering or atmosphere. They can push it on to the liaison officer and let them deal with it. 
Here it's different, it's part of the role, it's ingrained in everything we do.

How did you deal with adjusting to that change in relationship, moving from a supporter to an employee?
It's very different and difficult. I think in a way, I always used to get bothered by the result. 
As a supporter, if you lose on a Saturday you go home on a Saturday night and you're in a mood. It maybe bothers you on a Sunday but by Monday you're back at work and you move on.
I lived my whole life until now in the west, so I was never surrounded by Hibs supporters or Hearts supporters, in the same way that other people would go to their work and Hibs and Hearts would still be the major talking point.
Here, I remember the game against Cowdenbeath, the 3-2 game, which was the first home game after the consultation. The relief when that third goal was scored in the last minute - because it's not just the three points, which is normally the be all and end all. 
It's "I can't do that promotion we wanted to push out", things are always that much more difficult when we lose rather than when we win. 
It's a strange profession in that you can do everything right Monday to Friday, but if the result goes against you on a Saturday a lot of the good work is not as good as if the team had won.
The thinking here is that I can't influence the result on a Saturday, so let's make sure that everything else is as good as it can possibly be, because we can only control what we can control.
Last season I had no role at away games, so I worked home games and went to the away games as a fan. With the recent change in role, I'm going to a lot of the away games as a worker, so I do miss going to the game on a Saturday, relaxing with friends and family, and enjoying the game. 
I wouldn't trade it for the world though, coming to a place I love at Easter Road, I'll never moan about that.

We talked about the volatile nature of the supporter's mood, when you have a meeting and there's been a bad result, how do you see through the anger or frustration at the result to pick out the valuable bits?
I think it's looking at the point that's been made. Everyone gets frustrated at the result, if someone wants to air that frustration about the manager and his tactics, that's fine -there's not a lot I can do about that. 
If it's points around catering, communication, Hibs TV, programmes, things like that, we might see more of them after a bad defeat but it doesn't make the point any less valid, so it's things that we want to pick up and improve on.
Our plan changes, but we want to be consistent, so that means that we can't shy away from defeats or when things don't go well, in the same way we can't go shouting from the rooftops after a good result. 
I think you need to consider any analysis in the wider context, whether it's Facebook likes or engagement with the videos, there's going to be an element that's dependant on the results.
You can try and strip the emotion out to an extent and ask "Did we do a good job? Are the complaints or points valid? What can we do to improve on things?" 
There's a culture here now to constantly want to improve on things. It's can be very easy if the team wins to sit back and think "That was a great match day." but the key difference now is you look at it from an operational point of view as much as a result point of view. 
If we'd beat St Mirren 2-1, I'd have been happy that we'd won, but my reflection on the match would have been no different as if we'd lost, we still need to make sure that we produce the output for Hibs TV before and after the game, that the Manager's interview goes out, that the programme is ready. There is an element of just stripping out the emotion and working as professionally as we can in the jobs we are here to do.

Looking at the changes in the club since the protests, what differences do you see?
I'm one of the longest serving people in the commercial office! There has been change right throughout the club. In the Community Foundation, Wendy's now Head there, Community Football is exploding, there's more activity in there than ever before. There's the public/social partnership with NHS Lothian, there's a lot of work and effort going into that. There's the two Supporter's Reps on the board, changing the make up of the board as well. 
Our department - Greig's new in to Commercial. We've new people in hospitality, in sales, in communications.
I think that shows how much has changed. The football operation has totally changed, the manager has come in, but the whole structure - everyone knows about the change to structure with George coming in as Head of Football Operations, changes to sports nutrition. There has been so much change across the whole club, like HSL and the share issue.
There's been opportunities and tangible change across the board, and now is the opportunity to consolidate that and build on it and push on.

How do you see your own role evolving as part of that?
I changed role slightly at the start of September - exactly one year to the day from coming on board. I'm now Communications Manager since Andrew Sleight decided to move on. We've changed the structure of the Communications team a little bit. 
I'm Communications Manager, there's a PR and Media Exec, a Digital Development Exec, and there's a great team of volunteers that sit underneath and feed into that. 
I'm now the main contact point for the press and media, and responsible for the content going out on Hibs TV, the website, and social media.
That doesn't mean to say I'll be in front of the camera, that's not my skill set at all, I'll be avoiding that as much as possible!
I think I have a different set of skills that I can bring to it, it's not a role that I foresaw me taking on, but Leeann gave me an opportunity a year ago, and Leeann is giving me an opportunity again now and I think if folk have been happy with what I've done over that year I can keep pushing on. I have great people to work with and that motivates me to keep going.
My first day in the role was transfer deadline day, which was a nice quiet introduction to the role. It was the same last year so I seem to pick my first days!
There will be a lot to learn in the role as well, but it's a challenge I'm really looking forward to. We keep seeing progress in terms of communication but we're still a long way off where I want to be. 
The kit launch and the season ticket videos went down well and set a benchmark. We need to improve on that. Outside the Box was a fantastic success, we need to improve upon that, be more consistent with that.
We've started the matchday video which is a sort of recap of what has gone on at Easter Road so supporters can see we're opening the club up to show what goes on behind the scenes, so they see it's more than just the ninety minutes - there's so much more going on.
We need to sing about the work of the Community Foundation a little bit more and show the work that's going on to make the club a success, 

What would you like to see next for your role and the club in general?
Improvement. We are always looking to improve upon what we're doing. I want to see our communication being more consistent, looking better, sounding better, feeling better. 
Our goal is to be the best in the country at everything we do.
We don't have the same resources as some other clubs, but we have decent resources, but there's no reason why we can't be best at communications.
That's the long term challenge, but for now it's about making sure the supporters are involved and know what's going on at the club, and being open and transparent and having some fun with it. Football should be fun, but there are serious messages to get across as well, and we have to bridge that gap with supporters. 
For the club - we have to win the league, win promotion. Thankfully I'm not responsible for that, but - and I'm talking as a supporter now - I think we have the makings of a really good squad, there's no reason why we shouldn't be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.
Football's based on results, look at last season - was it a success? We finished above a team with much greater resources in Rangers, we did well in the cups, the style of football was better, we scored more goals and conceded fewer, but we didn't achieve promotion. 
Looking at it from the support point of view, it's encouraging that season ticket numbers have held, with a slight increase, and we need to get people back to Easter Road. We want to get as many people back to Easter Road as possible, that's the challenge - I completely understand why people stopped coming, supporters have gone through an awful lot.
We'll keep working hard to get people back, we'll also put an awful lot of effort to get new supporters along to the ground. 
We'll hopefully see a lot more in the match day experience, making sure that kids...  kids is an absolute focus of ours, whether it's the Hibs Kids that we're already engaging with, whether it's the schools that we're engaging with in the school ticket initiative, whether it's the  kids that are coming through the Hibee Tots camps, or whether it's other initiatives that we can make use of to bring new people into the stadium. 
I think a lot of our traditional supporters can be weary of Championship football, coming up against teams that are more defensive, but in reality we are winning more games here than we did in the top league, it's probably a nice environment to introduce people to the club. 
We are generally scoring more goals, conceding fewer goals. We are generally winning games, and whilst we obviously don't want to be here, I want to use it as an opportunity to bring more people in so that their first experiences of Hibs is positive. We're winning games, scoring goals, they're hopefully enjoying themselves at the games and then over time they maybe get used to the ups and downs of the reality of supporting Hibs over the longer term.
This is an opportunity to bring people in and interacting with the club, whether that's through traditional means or thinking a little differently and seeing how we can use the wider work that the club does in the community to introduce them. 
There's been some really nice stories about people coming to the games for the first time, and we want to keep building on that and have as many people interacting with the badge as possible.

Many thanks to Colin for his time to make this interview possible.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Changing Times - Interview with Leeann Dempster

Leeann Dempster arrived at Hibernian in the worst possible circumstances. Having been sounded out and recruited by a Hibernian board that knew the club needed to change, and knew who they wanted to lead the change many months before Terry Butcher oversaw the horrendous decline in results that saw the club relegated, Leeann's first week in post could hardly have been more challenging.

With the backdrop of an angry support clamouring for the removal of Rod Petrie, Leeann took over a club that should have been looking forward to a Scottish Premiership campaign in a league without Hearts and Rangers, but instead found itself facing up to life in the Championship alongside their city rivals, and the Glasgow club working its way up the divisions following liquidation two years previously. 

If Hibs couldn't have picked a worse time to be relegated (not that there is ever a good time), Leeann Dempster also couldn't have picked a more challenging time to take control of the club. I have been looking at the changes at Hibernian since that point in time, and I've been grateful to have been given time with people within the club who have been able to give me their perspective on life at Hibs in the time since the Rod Petrie protests. 

Earlier this week, I spent some time at Easter Road with Leeann, to get her perspective on the journey so far, and how she sees that journey progressing in the coming months and years.  

I came away from the meeting with renewed optimism not just about the season, but for the future of the football club. There is a clear plan in place, thought out, considered, and clearly defined. The club knows where it wants to go, and knows how to get there. When I think back to the summer of 2012, and the Working Together meetings of that time, there was nothing to suggest that such a plan. It was no surprise, having seen the club close up at that period, that we were on a downward spiral. 

Conversely, it will be no surprise to me that we will find ourselves on an upward trajectory before too long. From the conversation around the interview, it was clear that every aspect of the club has had a root and branch review. 

From the catering - some of which will be coming in-house - to how supporters interact with the club on a match day, to how supporters can share life events like birthdays, weddings, memorials, etc. All of this is done with a view to growing the income to fund the first team. 

Everything is geared towards making the first team successful, and is about sowing the seeds from which the club can grow and flourish in an effective and sustainable way, where the fortunes of the club don't rest on the shoulders of a management team as they have in the past. 

Everything is geared towards making Hibernian great again.

You met the supporters while the protest against Rod Petrie were going on outside the West Stand, as supporters we can see there has been a change, but how would you describe the biggest difference at the club?

The biggest difference, well there are so many differences because I don't believe that there is any part of the club that has been untouched since the first of June 2014, so that's a hard one to hone down. 
Culturally the club is very different. I was attracted to come to this club in the first place because there was absolute potential bursting all over the place, and I really didn't have to think twice when I got the opportunity to come here. So I think that in itself tells you the sort of gravitas that I felt for the club.
It was a really, really attractive proposition for me from a professional perspective because I could see the opportunity. 
I felt there was a disconnect in many ways. Football is all about the supporters and the relationship with the supporters. You can be football team but if you don't have the supporters with you and you don't have your supporters coming through the gates, then you won't achieve anything because you will remain at a much smaller size and you won't leverage the capabilities that are there.
I thought there was a massive opportunity to change that up, and to be honest it was quite an easy fix.
When you think about the headwinds there - you were in that meeting - in a really strange way it made me more - I was pretty determined anyway - but it made me more determined with what was going on outside and what was going on in the meeting.
The raw emotion reassured me in a way because it showed me that the supporters wanted the club to be successful.
That really energised me. It was like starting a mission, it wasn't like a labour of love - I'm not going to be crass and pretend that I was a Hibernian supporter since I was five, but I'm absolutely a Hibernian supporter now, but it feels like an absolute mission now, it feels like a labour of love now. Everyone that comes in here now and everyone working with us now, I believe it feels the same way for them as well. You see the reaction on a Saturday when we achieve something and when we don't achieve things, and the pain is as real for us as it is for everyone else, and I think that's a good thing to have within the staff base here because it connects everyone back. 
I think the change has been that relationship - that rebuilding of the relationship with supporters - and I don't think 'relationship' is the right word for it, because the connection between a football club and the supporters is something special, and if football clubs don't recognise that then they're missing out.
There's all the structural things, all the re-structure and rebuilding of the football side, and we did that in a very different way to how we had done it in the past. That's not me passing comment on whether it was done properly or not in the past, it was very much the model that many football clubs had followed, we just came at it in a very different way.It's been well talked about this idea of technical coaches supported properly. 
When clubs get relegated they tend to contract, and even in the face of the headwinds and everything that was facing us at that point we never did that. We stayed true to the plan that we came to the club with. 
My first appointment was George Craig, and George has been one of the mainstays and a hugely important element of the development of the club, and the development of the club in the years to come. So when we talk about the football plan, him and I always worked well together. He was one of the first people I connected with when I came into football and I knew I wanted someone as strong as him to come and start this with me.

When you talk about potential, what do you see that potential being?
I think even though we're in the Championship and we have to fight to get out of the Championship at the minute - so some people might think 'dream on' - but this is a capital city club. It has a high number of supporters coming through the gates, it has the potential to probably bring double that again. 
With that brings the club the opportunity and the funds to continue to improve. This club shouldn't be happy to just get back into the Premier league.
Over time, and whatever defined period of time that is, we want to be in the top echelons of the Scottish game, so not just a top six club, we want to be up there challenging at the top of that league, challenging for the European spots, and participating at that level. 
We also know we have to get there first, we also know that we have done some of the work and there's a lot more work to get us there. I've been fortunate enough to enjoy that stuff in my time in the game, and I believe I understand what it takes to achieve that. and this club has every ingredient to achieve that, and more.
I want us to be challenging for cups and getting to finals and semi-finals. We should be doing that on an ongoing basis. Our aspirations are no different to any other clubs', but I think they are realistic. Hibernian is a massive club - that's the old cliche, big club/massive club, but we  are. Everything about us suggests that, and supporters won't be satisfied until we're back doing what we should be doing, until we're back taking our role at the table at Scottish football again.
We also need to respect the league we're in at the minute, respect the teams that we compete against at the minute, and do all we possibly can to make that leap and get up.
We have massive aspirations for this club. Aspirations for an elite club, and aspirations for a community involvement, or hub for Edinburgh. I think football misses an opportunity because we interact with people daily, not just at the weekends, but daily. The emotion associated with football is raw and special, and if we can interact in any way outside of the sport we should do that. Clubs are wakening up to that and I don't want us to be at the back of the queue. 

How will you know when that community aspiration is achieved, what will it look like?
Look at this stadium today,we've walked around it. How many rooms are here? We want the stadium to be a dedicated point for local people, people in Edinburgh to come and use it. 
We are a founding partner of a public social partnership called Gamechanger, which in itself is probably a whole other meeting. That is all about football, equality, social justice, and health.
We would like this site (Easter Road) and Ormiston, outwith what we use it for the elite football side - and that's always a given that it's for elite football - to be used for the benefit of the community and the people that live around us.
We need to make it as accessible as possible, and it's not just about affordability, we can take that right out of the equation, we are not just sitting in a football stadium at the minute, we're sitting in a massive community asset. Four big empty buildings, with lots of land and opportunities for it to be used, and Gamechanger is a public social partnership, it's the first of it's kind where football is involved. It's innovative in the extreme, and supporters will start to hear more about that in the sphere of what we're doing in community.
I don't want to diminish the football elite side of things, but this is a building block for us.
I guess that's what it means, does it mean you come here for drop-in clinics? Well actually, there's potential for primary care to be located within the stadium, and for that primary care to be supported by third sector organisations, so actually the stadium becomes a dedicated health hub, and within that there are education environments, within that there are business start-up environments, and within that the opportunity for social enterprise. All the things that we consume as a football club could be supplied by social enterprise. 
That's five stages away, or two, or three stages away. That's where football clubs become active in their community because they give people jobs, re-educate them, give them places to start their business, give them places to do their community work, and we are no different, we have that kind of space. 

The roots of the football club are in community, does that influence your thinking?
Does it influence my thinking? It's clearly connected to where the club was founded but for me I've always been a person who's interested in the social side of life so it wasn't my motivator.
My motivator was that I think football clubs should be involved and do things, it shouldn't just be about community football. Community football is a nice starting point but it should be about other things. I'm sure many football clubs have been started in the same way around activities for, I suppose, the most needy in life at that particular point in time.
It's a nice coincidence, but it's not a motivator. I spend a lot of time thinking about what a football club looks like outside of football.

What aspects of the changes you have made so far have you taken most satisfaction from?
I think the new football structure - and I include the academy in this - it still has to achieve things, and I know that, but I'm really, really happy with the development of that and the foundations we've put down there. It gives me a lot of satisfaction that I've been involved in that.
The biggest thing is that I think a lot of supporters are now looking forward to the games, to coming to the games, look forward to what the club are doing, and what the club has to offer. That communication and that openness is probably the thing that gives me most satisfaction. 
Supporters are feeling happier and proud of their club in a strange way,I don't know if those are the right words, you're proud when you win something, people want to come to games and be entertained when they pay their money then go up the road. I've said before football is a different emotional connector, if you don't recognise that or appreciate that, you shouldn't be in the game.

If I can take you back to a Working Together meeting where you said you hoped to get to ten thousand season ticket holders, we're sitting at seven thousand eight hundred. What difference would those additional two thousand two hundred season tickets have made?
There's the obvious financial difference, there's no doubt about it. We wrestled a wee bit with that ten thousand figure, whether to go with it or not because when you put a number on it you could set yourself up for failure if you do, or you could be accused of having no ambition if you don't.
I think with the campaign around season tickets, you've noticed a visible change in how we communicate with supporters.
There's more about coming back, falling in love or at least become interested again. The tone of season ticket campaign video really kick started that, we saw some great early uptake on that. We are about six or seven hundred up on where we were this time last year. I think we finished around seven thousand eight hundred-ish last year including the half-season tickets. 
Of course it makes a massive difference, of course money coming through the turnstiles makes a massive difference. Every thousand season tickets that people buy increases the club's revenue by a quarter of a million pounds. That's significant, there's no getting away from that.
I'm probably jumping onto another subject here, but having HSL and the share issue live at the same time - there was a lot happening for people, so I think people made choices about the things that they did.
People that could afford to did a number of things, people could afford to do one thing, did one thing. People that didn't buy a season ticket bought shares. Because of HSL and the share issue it's allowed us to step forward with some confidence to go into the market for players, do things over the summer knowing that the supporters were behind us. So, for me, it's an amalgamation of a number of things, it's season tickets, it's the income from the share issue and it's the ongoing income from HSL, all of that stuff has made a marked difference. 
We're not up to speed yet in terms of the full team of people here.I think that will make a difference as well, it's smaller but it's more incremental income, as our group get together. 
That will make a difference because everyone operationally is...well you saw Colin (Millar), as an example, he was a guy who dedicated his time as a volunteer, worked through the Work Together groups, was very active, got the opportunity to do things for the club and now has a career in sport. These are the things that football does well.
We want more people to buy tickets, we need more people to buy tickets, and invest cash in the club in whatever way they see fit.
We know that if you are successful on the pitch it inevitably brings people through the gates. Marketing campaigns, messaging, and personalisation, is one way, but the one thing that brings people back is winning. 
The more we show people we have depth as a club, we'll bring people back.
Football in Scotland is in an interesting, positive time. All we've heard since 2008/2009/2010 is how difficult the game in Scotland is. All that's done is made football clubs look at what they've done in terms of recruitment and young players.
I don't know the stats, probably someone who follows these things will drag them out, but it feels like we have more young players playing these days. We have more being exported over the UK and in Europe, and that shows that the technical aspects of the game in Scotland are thriving.
There's strong competition in the Premier League, we've seen crowds coming back out, you've seen at Hearts there's crowds coming back out, great crowds coming out at Aberdeen. All of that, whether it's your team or not your team, is magnificent for the game because it shows football is still rooted there, and if you have the right product at the right time then fans will come out and support it.
We're in a very interesting development point for the club, and it coincides with a good period in the game as well, and that creates various opportunities for the club and we're well placed to take advantage of it.

When you talk about success bringing the fans back along with other things, how much more difficult does it make your task when we find ourselves going into October with the first team clinging onto the title race by its fingernails?

We never started again this season the way we might have wanted to start it but the season's a long old slog. So, the league is far from over. People were telling us it was over after two weeks. It's far from over. 
I would never say I was disappointed by the number of people that come through the gates, I think that's disrespectful to supporters to say that. I think all we can do is talk about the development of the club at the point it's at at the minute, and people will either believe us or they won't believe us. 
They either trust us or they don't trust us, and if they trust us they'll stay with us for the duration. If they like us they'll stay with us for the duration, and if they don't trust us they'll tell us soon enough - and we'll be adult enough to face into that. 
We always need and want people to come through the gates. If you want to feed the club, if you want to keep the players out there, if you want us to get the John McGinns of this world then we need to feed the club. We can't expect someone else to do it for us. We need to feed the club, but we need to get the message out there in the nature it's intended, and not as a lecture of responsibility and what have you. 
So, win games on the trot, keep clean sheets, score goals, all of those things create excitement, moments between family... and Wednesday night for me was a brilliant game, a great game of football. I really enjoyed it, and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. We don't know what happens after that, but there will be people who go away from there saying "That was the first game I went back to, and it was a good game to go back to." Those are the memories I want to create, but we do need people to come back, we can say it softly and we can say it nicely but we do need it, and hopefully the football and the other stuff brings them back.

How difficult have you found it getting that message out in the way it's intended, without sounding like a lecture?
I think you've seen this kind of a development of a narrative within the club, and I think we're trying to keep to that. There is a comms plan that sits behind it, we've tried to price responsibly when we can, we've tried to build value in where we can. 
It comes back to the idea of feeding the club again, there needs to be a balance.You never get everything right all the time. We've had to make some decisions that we know will be palatable to some and unpalatable to others, but that's like everything else in life. 
We've created this narrative and I don't think people are buying into it because it's a marketing thing, it's because it's true.  I believe where the club is in its life at the moment, by 2025 we have a club that's 150 years old, it will be different to the club, hopefully in a more positive way, to the club that we have at the minute and very different to the club that we had last year. 
It depends how much supporters want to get involved. Some want to come to the game, sit down watch the game and disappear, and that's fine. Others want to become more entrenched in the club and be involved. It's about getting it as personal as we can. We do want to get to know our supporters and show them real appreciation for sticking by us over a difficult number of years. 
There's no point pretending that's not the case - it has been the case. It's a fact. If you pretend all that never happened people just think it's another bit of marketing spin.
I speak to loads of folk on a match day, I try my best to get around the stadium, I try my best not just to stay in hospitality but to go outside. Just do small things, when you've got kids standing outside waiting for autographs it only takes a minute to bring them in,it takes two minutes to take them pitch-side and give them a ball and let them run about, it's hardly any effort for us but those memories last a lifetime.
For us, we work here, we walk up and down the stadium. My office looks onto the stadium, if you are a Hibernian supporter you would love to work in an office like that. It becomes normal to us, but that young lad or young girl waiting outside waiting to see their favourite player, we can bring them in and let them sit in the dug-outs, it's brilliant.

My friend and I did the Football Fans in Training and being able to change in the dressing room and do laps of the pitch was brilliant, so I can relate to that. 
I arrived during the Football Fans in Training, but the dressing rooms weren't being used, so guys were needing to come dressed, or get changed in the toilets or whatever. I asked why they didn't use the dressing rooms, and it was "Well, that's the first team, so.." but I said so long as it's returned in a good condition we're happy to let you use them. 
That added a dynamic to it, they were lying not being used so if it means another twenty people or forty people come then all the better. 

We talk about a bad period for the club, which it clearly has been. Will we only be out of that bad period when we achieve promotion, or do you think we're on our way out now?
I think it depends on your perspective. We need to be promoted, everything that we are working towards is about us playing in the top league in Scotland. Not just playing and participating, but being an active challenger at the top, challenging for European spots and all the rest of it. 
It depends on your perspective. I have the privilege of working here and seeing the people that work here and I see the work that goes in. I see the hours that everyone puts in and the effort and everything is done to get the best output for the club.
In a way I think we are out of the worst period, because we've done a lot of hard work. We've done a lot of work,  but there will be supporters who believe that until we're in the top league nothing has improved, nothing's change and that's their prerogative and their perspective. That's the whole dynamic of the game, everyone has an opinion.
You look at the boards, debate rages on every topic. Listen to the radio on a Saturday and debate rages on every topic. If you went to a football match knowing you would win every game three nothing you'd stop going because you'd be bored. It'd be nice, but you'd be bored. 

What message would you want to give to fans who are on the fence, maybe been to a couple of games, but are swithering on whether they want to come back?
People wanted change at the club. They told us they wanted change, they physically demonstrated that they wanted it to change. They wanted a different culture, a different approach, different communications, a whole raft of changes. 
They wanted a change at the top and I would argue that they've had that. It's been many, many months since I've been asked the question, but I have full responsibility for the club. I think people don't ask me that question any longer because it's pretty self-evident. 
People asked for that change. If you don't want to come back until we're promoted then that's entirely your prerogative. Everyone has free will, everyone can choose what they want to do.
I would say, if you can, in whatever way it is, be part of it now, play your part now. If it's only in a small way we'd be grateful for it. If it's in a big way, then all the better. 
I look forward to coming in every day. Every day there's a new challenge. Every day there's something to build upon for the game coming towards us. We have a strong reporting structure, not overloading people, but we understand the different elements of the different departments that we work within and how they overlap. We have a Hibs Kids day coming up on the 17th October, and we'll work hard to make sure that's a great Hibs Kids day.
Hopefully that'll mean the kids and their parents will have a brilliant day that day and we'll get the result we want, but it'll not just be about coming in with your ticket and going to a kiosk or whatever, we'll create events round about it. 
We don't use the stadium well enough on a match day. There could be great fan environments, great fan zones around it, there  could be interesting interactions for the supporters. 
People could come to the stadium earlier and use it in a different way. We have the motivation to do that, but you can divert your attention away and we want to focus on getting promoted. 
There's things that we are doing now that if we were in the Premier League we'd probably do them slightly different but we're focussing everything, a lot of our energies on the first team, focussed on the performance of the first team, that group in here and how we connect with the supporters. 
The work that has been done with the first team, the work that's been done with the academy, the new recruitment structures, the people working for the club, the renewed relationships with boy's clubs - the amateur game in Edinburgh is great - we've gone from something like 0.1% community activity at the training centre to almost 50/50, in fact maybe higher than that now. 
That has no impact on the elite side of things, they still get everything that they need, and everything that they should get. It also means that facility is doing everything that it should be doing for the wider community. 
This is what we're striving for, because it's hard to pick up new supporters. There's Netflix, Amazon Prime, PS4, 3D TV's, football happens live and it happens in a stadium and I want more people to figure that one out and get themselves down here. 

I'd like to thank Leeann Dempster and Colin Millar for helping make these interviews happen. 

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Changing Times: Stephen Dunn

In the third of my series of interviews looking at life at Hibernian since the protests against Rod Petrie last summer, I spent some time with Stephen Dunn, who is a Director of Hibernian Supporters Limited, and recently re-joined the Board of Directors at Hibernian in a Non-Exec capacity. This interview took place just before Hibs' win over Raith Rovers at Easter Road in August.

How happy have you been with the response to HSL so far?

Absolutely fine, we're very pleased so far. We kicked off in the first week of February and had a nice lump of folk early on supporting it, and we've had steady growth right throughout the summer.

The first six months we passed the 900 mark. The membership grows when something significant happens - we get a signing- we get 10 - 15 folk joining; Alan Stubbs re-signing - we got a lump.
So as a board at HSL, we're very pleased and now it's about driving forward and getting more people to join.

What challenges have you had to overcome since launch?

I suppose the biggest challenge was the impact of events here from 12 months ago. Relegation is never an easy thing, those things stick in the minds of supporters, of everybody. 
We pushed against that, we pushed against the protests that were out there, so when we launched - was it a perfect time to launch? No. Is there ever a perfect time to launch? No, we just launched and once it was launched a lot of the protests and a lot of the concerns started to fade away because we started to answer the questions directly and honestly.

The way it's set up is very simple, we're not a protest group.We collect fans' money to buy shares, period. That's it. So as soon as we get money we have an exclusive subscription for shares with the club. We write to the club and say 'here's some money.', they write back saying 'here's a share certificate.'. Simple as that.

That simplicity of message made it easier as the months go on. Do you make mistakes, yes, we make mistakes. The admin system - does it work? Well there's seven of us, and probably three of us do most of the admin work.

At 55 I was introduced to Twitter and Facebook and stuff like that having never done it in my life, I've got a wee Facebook page that I do for the theatre but only for a few friends, you know - nobody reads it.
So, for me to be introduced to that was quite daunting and we made some mistakes, as you do. But as we went on people began to forgive us a bit more, people began to see when we handed money over and the club were beginning to sign players, and sign players early in early August soon after the season finished, that we were beginning to make an impact. So the winds against us faded a bit.

We also started to play good football again, and fans were beginning to see what was happening with the club, within the football operations what Alan was trying to achieve, and what Leeann, and George and the rest of the board were trying to achieve. They could see there was something in this.

Was it problematical? Not really. Were they heavy winds? Not really. Fans were beginning to see progress behind the scenes and on the park.

I remember early on especially on social media, a campaign against HSL, with talk of ponzi schemes and things like that. How damaging do you think that was?

There's an old saying in marketing that any publicity is good publicity. First of all it's not a ponzi scheme, absolutely not, so while you may feel personally insulted you have to let it go past you.

Sometimes the people that shout the loudest get heard, but the longer you go at it, the more consistent your message is, the more honest your message is, the more people believe you.

We focussed not on retaliating, but on our core messages - you give us money, we buy shares, the more shares we buy, the more control we get in the club. We focussed more on our message than what was said elsewhere.

How would you sum up how the benefits of HSL to the club?

Well the money goes directly to the club, firstly. If you look at other clubs, putting Hearts aside for a minute, because they deserve special mention, but at other clubs where there are similar schemes they're going into the market to buy shares from people who own shares. 

That means that the money goes to the people that own the shares and not necessarily to the football club.

The simple thing we have is we're buying shares directly from the club, so all the money bar a maximum of £2 administration fee from Go Cardless who do the banking side for us, goes directly to the football club, and that translates to known budgets, certainty for the manager and Leeann, so if they know they're getting an amount of money from us each month for a year and beyond then they can budget more appropriately
That's why, and I'm not saying it was all credit to us, they were able to sign players early, because they knew what the budget was going to be. There was a certainty about the money coming in not just from within the operations of the football club but through HSL and the wider share issue.

At one of the recent Working Together groups, Leeann presented a message about fan ownership. The big selling point has been about signing players, but do you think there's scope to push the fan ownership benefit?

We actually banged on about it, the social media is one avenue, but we found early on that you only get to a limited audience on social media.

Jim Adie used the phrase 'boots on the ground' and we started going along to the associations, talked directly to associations and fans along with Leeann etc, and we talked about not setting targets but there are hurdles. The first hurdle is 20% ownership because that gets us a seat on the board, the next hurdle is 25.1% because that gives you, negatively called, a blocking vote, but the board have to consider our view and can't just railroad something through.

We've tried to emphasise that, but emphasise it in a positive way rather than 'this is a blocking vote' because we have to work with the club to put the best product on the park, which is what it's all about.

So yes, we'll continue to do that but it's easier to do face to face than sitting on a website, or twitter, or a blog or whatever. We've got just over seven and a half thousand season tickets, and thirteen hundred likes or tweets or whatever. 

So that means we're not getting to people who could join up and those are the ones we need to target, we need to get a way of targeting them.

That's just one message, the big positive message is that the more money we can pass to the club, the better the product is.

How has the reaction to the 'boots on the ground' approach been?
It's been good, you do get people still doubting, still saying 'we're not coming back until certain things change.' and I always say that we have no responsibility over that.

Our job is to raise money and buy shares,and if you want rid of anybody then the more shares, the more control, and if we get to 51% then we have control of the board.

Generally it's been favourable. I give great credit for this to Jim Adie. He felt that we could say things on Twitter and Facebook and it wouldn't really address directly some of the issues that were being heard against us.

Face to face we could look people in the eye and say 'That is wrong. You are wrong, this is what we're trying to achieve and this how we're trying to do it.' Whether they were converted or not, it doesn't really matter. What does matter was that we had credibility.

We went along en mass, the entire board - unless Charlie (Reid)was away touring - we went and spoke passionately as Hibs supporters first, then as HSL Board Directors, and we appealed our facts, and the simplicity of our message. And this did have an effect
One of the big boosts was St Pats joining, was the Australian branch joining, was the Hibs Supporters Association actually joining and giving us a major contribution, and that gives us a real credibility amongst the fans, and that's how it's gone.

I saw some opposition to HSL from St Pats' members early on on, it must have been a big boost to get them onboard given their influence?

It was a key one, people are allowed to have their opinion, nobody's saying they can't have an opinion. All we ask is that if they don't like it that they don't interfere with it.

We just ask for a fair hearing and a fair chance, and the ability to put the right answers to some of the questions that have been asked, but if people don't want to join, they don't want to join.
The same with fan ownership. Some people will want it, some people won't, it's as simple as that. 

With the ownership comes responsibility, which brings us back to Hearts. Their supporters have embraced the responsibility of funding their football club. £140,000 a month they're putting into the football club through the Foundation of Hearts, and that's just to run it, that's not getting them shares. 

That responsibility of ownership means you might be asked for more money in the future. I'm a believer in the democracy of fans having a greater say in the club and indeed ownership, but it's up to the fans to decide whether they want to do it or not. You can't ask that question of HSL, you have to ask the fans and then listen to the answer.

How much has HSL put to the club so far?

In terms of money going in, it's £150,000 for the first six months, that figure broadly doubles over the next six month, so looking at £250,000-£300,000 ,which is new money, which is the key point.

It's not recycled money from season tickets or walk-ups, it's new money. Fans have put their hands in their pockets and it's new money that we've not had before. And if we keep growing then that money continues to grow.

It's a virtuous cycle for the club because it's new money coming in and it allows them to think about 'well, that would have been our player budget last year and the year before , but we didn't have this money, so it's now that plus the new money.' So that's the tangible benefit that HSL has had in the club.

I also think we've had some involvement in turning some of the negativity around a bit. I think the club has worked hard, I know Leeann and the comms team -  Colin Millar particularly, worked hard meeting the fans and answering very plainly some of the concerns either through the website or in meetings.

I think we've also had some of the responsibility for changing some of the attitudes. Some you'll never change, that's life. So those two things, money and the changing face of the fans' opinions about the club.

If we can talk about you now, you were a former board member and have re-joined - what happened there?

I was a board member after we were relegated last time, so perhaps they feel I might have some skills at Championship football. Last time I was book-ended by Alex McLeish and Tony Mowbray, and that was a particularly big change in the club as well. People tend to forget those days.Some of the fan opinions were just as vocal, and some of the protests just as hard as in the last year.

I did, I think, seven or eight years. I'm a great believer that if you stay too long, you're no longer independent, and one of the key roles of the Non-Exec is to be independent, and to be able to support and challenge the Executive to say "Are you doing the right things, is this the right way?"

That first period, for me,  there came a point where you weren't really making the difference that you should be making, so I left the board at that time. I had a period off, my wife unfortunately died, she'd been ill for a long time, all these things come together, so in 2007 when I left the board, I had a nice long period in between. I continued to come to games, I continued to support the club, I continued to do things for the club in the background.

I'm a do-er, the way it came about was that the board decided well before Leeann actually arrived at the football club, that things needed to change. They saw it. They could see the way it was going, and then relegation happened.

So they'd already decided that structurally the club needed to change, they needed supporters back on board  somehow, and part of that was the appointment of Leeann. 

Leeann brought along an agenda - a very good agenda, and transformed football operations at the club. There was already a view about a flotation, a share issue, before Leeann came. Regulations changed, we got relegated, things were put on the back-burner a bit. There was the BuyHibs initiative out there, and what eventually became HSL was out there. Around about October/November last year, I was approached to see if I could be a bridge between the club and the people behind the original HSL stuff, including Jim Adie.

I said 'Of course, I'll do that', the birth of HSL came about that Christmas. I acted as the middle-man to get Jim and the people behind his initiative to sit down with the club, and then just do what I do which was to drive things until they actually start.

During the course of that period I might have succeeded a bit, and having the experience I know how the football club operates and I think that was an important factor. I know how things get done at the club and the nuances and the likes, even though there's a lot of changes. 

That was useful from an HSL perspective and then Rod, as Chairman, said it might be a good idea if I came back on board.

With six/seven years more experience of business, my kind of view of the club had changed, and I felt I was more independent, I was able to really question some of the things being done. Also the experiences and learning of that '98-2006 period directly related to some of the things being done today.

The history of the club I know inside out, with the work with Tom Wright and the Historical Trust allowed me to say "Before you do that, you might want to think about this." So I think they found that quite valuable. 

I also retired from work, I'm not that old but I was in a position where I could stop work, so I'm at the club at least two or three days a week helping directly, so they thought I would be useful sitting on the Board as well, so that's how it came about.

How have you found it since?
It's like it was, I remember my first game I attended as a director originally, was Greenock Morton, and the responsibility hits you as you walk out onto that deck. There's lots of good ones, the 6-2, the Millennium derby, but you feel the full weight of every goal against you as a Board Director, but it's a challenge, and I like a challenge. 

The club's done lots of things right, and I think in amongst all the noise that's been out there in the last two or three years, people have forgotten that there are a lot of things right at this football club and it just needs a few things to put it on the right path again.

That challenge I really enjoy. I enjoy my football, and that challenge of helping this great club get back to where it should be is something that excites me, and I love it. And of course, being on this board with Frank is a great honour.(Said as Frank Dougan entered the room!). 

What message would you have for anyone thinking about getting on board with HSL?
It's quite simple - join if you can. I do actually mean if you can, we don't want to be irresponsible and ask people for money that they can't afford. We do realise that people, supporters, buy season tickets, buy tickets, buy merchandise, and in reality spend proportionately a lot of money on Hibs. 

Buy if you can, not only are you helping the football operation but you're helping create a bigger group with a bigger percentage in the club. It's a bit like a trade union, there's a power in togetherness. 

It's the same with the football club, if we're all going in the same direction it's more powerful.

HSL, the more members we get, the more shares we get, the more voice we get. But don't be irresponsible, let's be clear about that.

The message for me, is this is a great club. Football's cyclical. There's another team of eleven men out there trying to beat you so can't guarantee anything. But what I've seen, in the time I've been back, is a restructure of the football operation, better use of the training facilities, signing players to a structure that Alan wants to have in here, and putting in place a football operation so that when Alan inevitably leaves to go to another football club, it's easier to bring someone else in and that whole operation is maintained. 

That's all the great things that are already here, and to be part of that is wonderful, and HSL is a big part in that, so please get on board. 

I would like to thank all at Hibernian FC for their time with the interviews, and especially Frank Dougan, Amit Moudgil, Stephen Dunn, and Colin Millar for arranging them.