Thus did chairman Tom O’Malley describe the prospect of Hibs’ season in the First Division in 1998. The phrase could only have received resigned acceptance from the Hibs support coming as it did from the avuncular schoolmaster O’Malley, whose Hibs credentials were never in doubt. Expressed by any other member of the board the notion that a season of travel to such long-forgotten venues as Stair Park and Cappielow could be embraced as some sort of exotic expedition rather than a humiliating journey through purgatory would have had a pitchfork-wielding mob at the back of Easter Road within minutes. Continue reading
Fresh meat! Dead meat!!
For the first time in about nine years (!) I have finally scanned some new press cuttings and can present to you, my loyal readers, previously unpublished material!
I would say ‘can present to you with pleasure‘ except there is very little pleasure to be had from the memories invoked by this new batch of newsprint. First cab off the rank just happens to represent season 1997-98 which, until Terry Butcher got his hands on the reins in 2013, was just about the worst season in Hibs’ history. Although we had been relegated twice before, the absolute horror show of Hibs’ fall from the top of the table in September to the very bottom before New Year was mesmerisingly awful. Truly Hibs were like a rabbit caught in the headlights, going 15 games without a win and clocking up a seven game losing streak.
Jim Duffy is the main villain of this piece, ably supported by the Hibs board who first appointed him and then let him linger for so long that Alex McLeish’s rescue mission was made virtually impossible. Poor old Billy McNeill was dragged out of semi-retirement to try and help Duffy turn it round but he was gone within a month as the team continued to gaze hypnotised at the oncoming truck.
Nevertheless, there are a couple of highlights here: Chic Charnley’s moment of glory, lashing a 20-yard winner past his bhoyhood heroes Celtic on the season’s opening day; and the defeat of Hearts in April, effectively ending their title challenge. Even if it did us no good in the end it made us feel better for a few days. Small consolation in a season that made us feel rank rotten for many months.
This was a season which many fans feared Hibs would never see. By the end of it some might have been wishing they’d never seen any of it themselves. Instead of leaping Lazarus-like from the grave and letting the sheer joy of being alive suffuse our football with carefree abandon, we emerged from the summer’s trauma to plod through the season like stupefied zombies, more undead than alive.
Hibs ended in ninth place, having scored the pitiful total of 24 goals in 36 games. It was not until 28 January that we managed to score more than a single goal in a game. A 2-0 away defeat of Clyde in the Scottish Cup proved to be the first of only four games when we managed two or more scores within the 90 minutes. We were the Treble-Chance Kings with more draws than any other team. And we suffered two humiliating defeats from Hearts at Easter Road, doubly painful in the aftermath of the takeover bid when every Hibee wanted to rub Wallace Mercer’s smug Tory pus in the dirt. And then bury him in it.
There were scarcely any highlights to celebrate, if our continuing existence was excluded from reasons to be cheerful. The expansion to a 12-team premier league and the suspension of relegation was decided at the beginning of February, rendering the remaining thirteen fixtures utterly meaningless. Crowds understandably plummeted, hitting a low of 3,791 for the visit of Dundee United in April. The end of the season that nearly never was couldn’t come quick enough for most.
You might think that Hibs in 1990 were in all ways in a dire state and openly vulnerable to the assault that was to engulf them in the close season. But in fact the team that Alex Miller had been building was the least dire that Hibs had put out for quite some time. Although Steve Archibald finally left the building (in a taxi from Fir Park), the likes of Keith Houchen, Paul Wright, Neil Orr and Andy Goram remained, assembled by Miller over this and previous seasons, sometimes for what were reasonable fees. Attempts were made to sign others who went on to make names for themselves in the English Premier League. Ok, the likes of Mark McGraw failed to live up to the hype, but in general Hibs were occasionally getting it together on the park, even if things off it were not quite as they seemed.
Although we ended the season in 7th place we were only a point behind Dundee United in 4th. Rangers, once again the runaway league winners, were beaten both at Easter Road and Ibrox, with a draw and a defeat in the other two games. True, the Scottish Cup continued to elude us and results against more modest opposition could still infuriate, but Hibs had even opened the season with a creditable performance against RFC Liège in the 2nd round of the UEFA Cup, succumbing to a single goal in the away leg. Hungarians Videoton were trounced 3-0 on their own patch in the first round – what price an away win in Europe of any description for Scottish clubs these days?
In other news there were calls for a return to a 16-team top league, 14 years after the creation of the 10-team Premier Division. A mere 27 years on and we’re still talking about it. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as they would say in Liège.
Things got off to a good start in 1988 – Steve Archibald was signed from Barcelona (Barcelona!) and it was October before Hibs lost a game in the league. The season was also notable from a parochial perspective for a three game unbeaten run against Hearts. That was something to shout about in those days, don’t you know?
The Chuckle Brothers Duff and Gray continued to develop the club off the pitch too, splitting it into three separate companies, and launching the fancy new ‘continental-style’ Saturn badge. Manchester United came to visit for Gordon Rae’s testimonial, in which game Joe Tortolano thoroughly upstaged Gordon Strachan by thoroughly upending him and dumping his lifeless body on the track. That’s a ‘friendly’ for you.
After that things got a bit patchy. Archibald’s relationship with the club soured. Coventry’s FA Cup Final hero Keith Houchen was signed, and although Hibs reached the semi-final of the Scottish Cup they were trounced by Celtic in a game which took place against the backdrop of the Hillsborough disaster, an event which cast a shadow over all football for a long time.
The 1987-88 season is best remembered for… well, not much on the park, it must be said. There was the small matter of David Duff buying out Kenny Maclean’s majority share in the club, and Celtic fans throwing a CS gas canister into the Hibs end at a midweek fixture at Easter Road. On the playing front the highlight was probably the ending of Hearts’ unbeaten run in derby matches and Andy Goram’s one and only goal for Hibs at the end of an otherwise dull season which I think managed to achieve Alex Miller’s bold objective of exceeding the previous year’s points total. Hallelujah. Follow that last link also for a couple of interesting articles about the Baker brothers, Joe and Gerry.