It’s interesting now to read the idealised vision of the out of town stadium served by trams under the headline’Common Ground’ below. The example of the perfect modern European solution to stadium redevelopment is the Stadio delle Alpe in Turin. A multi-purpose stadium with running track, it was shared for many years by Juventus and Turin, playing in front of miserable, ever-diminishing crowds that always hated the place until Torino moved back to the old Olympic stadium in the city and Juventus demolished and completely rebuilt the Stadio delle Alpe. There but for the grace of… well, not God, but clear sighted Hibs fans…
Or ‘Cromb ushers in old age’ as the headline might have read. Forty year-old Ray Wilkins signed on initially for four games, in the aftermath of a 5-0 drubbing for Hibs at Celtic, as Alex Miller attempted to shore up the deficiencies in his squad and strengthen his own embattled position.
‘Alex Miller will be at Easter Road longer than I will,’ predicted Dougie Cromb. He was wrong, and even Wilkins outlasted his manager in the end.
The arrival of Thorsten Schmugge was also announced. Schmugge played once and then departed, reputedly because he missed his pet dog back in Germany. Whether Juha ‘The Grim’ Riippa was the other ‘high calibre’ foreigner referred to in the article I don’t know. Riippa, for what it’s worth, was another one game wonder, vanishing back to Finland after participating in a goalless draw at Tynecastle in November, during the janitorial tenure of Jocky Scott.
As for Wilkins, he eventually appeared 17 times for Hibs, finally departing after the game against Rangers at Easter Road on 4 January 1997.
The fans might have had more lasting respect for Alex Miller if he had said he was going for their sake, so drastically unattractive had the football become in his last days. Miller, however, laid some of the blame for that on the fans, saying the atmosphere at Easter Road was affecting the players.
That would be nothing new where Hibs are concerned, but Miller’s departure was greeted with universal rejoicing, a reaction which was understandable, but paid little credit to his achievements over ten years at the club. Hibs were a team going down the plughole when he arrived in November 1986 and he turned that round. He held the team together through the crisis of 1990 and produced the club’s first trophy since 1972 little over a year later. He rebuilt the team and took it to another League Cup final in 1993 and back into Europe.
The signings of players such as Keith Wright, Kevin McAllister, Michael O’Neill and Darren Jackson belied Miller’s reputation as a dour pragmatist, but it has to be said that the pragmatic always outweighed the pretty in his teams. The stereotype of Miller’s Hibs grinding out mind-numbing defensive draws was formed not only in the seasons when we struggled against relegation, but also infuriatingly in the midst of otherwise adventurous winning runs.
It is for that, rather than his association with Rangers (though the two are related in the minds of some Hibs fans), that Miller will never be fondly remembered as the man who led Hibs from the brink of extinction to League Cup glory in 1991. Turnbull’s Tornadoes won it in 1972 and the victory of 2007 will be credited to John Collins (or even Tony Mowbray), but for Hibs fans it seems that the 1991 trophy was won by the players alone. That is a grossly unfair judgement on Alex Miller.
Dougie Cromb shed tears when Miller resigned, and said that he would go on ‘to higher and better things.’ It didn’t seem that way when Aberdeen turned to him a year later to try and revive their flagging fortunes, dispensing with him after a further 12 unspectacular months. But in May 2005, as he leapt from the Liverpool bench to celebrate their sensational Champions League victory as 1st team coach and an integral part of Rafa Benitez’s backroom staff, the jibes of Hibs fans could scarcely be further from his mind, and Dougie Cromb could feel vindicated.