Thursday, October 02, 2014

Hibs: The poll of polls

It's been a couple of months since I wrote about Rod Petrie.

And that's because I've moved on.

So have Hibs. Leeann Demptster is in charge. Changing personnel to empower Alan Stubbs.

Hibs, The Scottish Football Blog
Empowering him to a win at Ibrox no less.

So all is well in Leith and Easter Road is again basking in that singsong sunshine?

It's actually amazing how much difference a good result can make.

Hibs have had two. That 3-1 win at Ibrox came hot on the heels of a 2-0 win at Ross County. A struggling Ross County, but a win and a clean sheet on an away trip that has too often proved a miserable journey is to be welcomed.

When I wrote yesterday that I skipped down the platform at Newcastle station on hearing that Hibs were 3-0 up I might have been guilty of exaggerating.

But not that much. While I might have lacked the unbridled gaiety of a Victorian schoolgirl given a glowing report by her house mistress, I certainly had the spring of a pretty chuffed young gentleman in my step.

But discontent remains. Since the anti-Petrie rally that greeted Leeann Dempster's arrival in the summer I've been at a seemingly endless series of meetings.

Some have been organised by fans, one was organised by the club itself.

All have focused - more or less - on plotting a future for Hibs in the post  Sir Tom Farmer era.

(Unless something changes in the next few months - and it might just - we can take the post Sir Tom Farmer era as being the same as the post Petrie era. They go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong.)

And, because having their say in the most important decision Scotland has faced since 1707 wasn't enough, Hibs fans have also been surveyed, canvassed and grilled.

Hibs themselves polled fans on issues like fan representation on the board, fan membership schemes and fans getting involved in the ownership of the club.

And Supporters Direct Scotland surveyed fans on issues like fan membership schemes and fans getting involved in the ownership of the club.

Which does all sound a bit like two dogs pulling at opposite ends of the same bone.

Maybe common ground will be found. Maybe not.

In the meantime the fans have shown that they've got opinions and they're happy to share them.

Hibs haven't yet announced the results of their survey. Supporters Direct Scotland (with the advantage of an earlier closing date) have.

Over 4000 people completed the survey. In this era of astounding turnouts Supporters Direct Scotland claim that as the biggest response they've ever had for a survey about with a Scottish club.

The results:

It is known that the current owners are willing to discuss change and offers have been made. Do you believe it is time for supporters to discuss the ownership of Hibernian and look at different options going forward?

  • Yes – 84%
  • No – 10%
  • Don’t know – 6%

Would you be interested in attending an event where clubs such as Borussia Dortmund, Portsmouth and Dunfermline share how their ownership models work and the experiences they've had?

  • Yes – 69%
  • No – 18%
  • Don’t know – 13%

If fans got the chance to become more involved in the ownership and running of the club, would you be willing to join a membership scheme to provide extra income?

  • Yes – 68%
  • No – 20%
  • Don’t know – 12%

If so where would you prefer the income to be spent? Player Squad, Youth Academy or stadia and facilities?

  • Player squad – 73%
  • Youth Academy – 13%
  • Stadia and Facilities – 7%
  • Other – 7%

Do you agree that Easter Road Stadium should be safeguarded as the future of Hibernian Football Club and any decision to change this must be made by the supporters?

  • Yes – 80%
  • No – 16%
  • Don’t know – 4%

So a majority of fans believe in fan ownership but a smaller majority would be willing to pay up to join a membership scheme. A majority of fans think money should spent on the team (plus ├ža change) and an oddly sizeable 16% don't think Easter Road should be safeguarded.

What does it all mean?

It's not a comprehensive poll of the Hibs support. But, until the club release their own results, it is the largest survey of the Hibs support that's been shared publicly.

The fans want change. There is not - and will never be, unless something drastic (more drastic than relegation?) happens - 100% agreement that the Farmer-Petrie duopoly should be chased out forthwith.

All of which ties in with the conversations I've had over the last few months, the last few seasons and the last few years.

Rod Petrie still has some faithful followers but those numbers are dwindling.

There is more appreciation than loathing for Sir Tom Farmer but an increasing consensus that his time as sole owner, sole "benefactor," is coming to a close.

There's an interest in fan ownership but genuine questions and concerns over what that means.

There is also a real desire to see the fans and representatives of the various fans groups that came together at the time of the Petrie Out rally to offer more leadership and operate with more transparency - both things that many people have wanted the club itself to offer more of in recent years.

I've written before about the disconnect between football club and fans at Hibs.

A survey generated by a group that represents fans and a survey generated by the football club might just show how much common ground there is between the two.

At the same time, because the two surveys are seen as "official" and "unofficial," the process of finding that common ground risks increasing the disconnect.

Nothing's ever simple at Easter Road.

What's next?

The club will, I'd expect, release the findings of their survey and perhaps outline a provisional plan of action based on those findings to coincide with the upcoming AGM.

The Hibs fans willing to play an active role outside any proposals from the club should be emboldened by the Supporters Direct Survey. But they should also realise that things have to move on from endless meetings and ad hoc attacks on Rod Petrie.

That they are "unofficial" but have a very real emotional attachment to club should be a positive. Their approach need to reflect that.

There will continue to be stories in the press about this "successful entrepreneur" or that "rich businessman" being interested in buying Hibs. Both the club and the fans have every right to be extremely wary of any such characters.

And there is a risk that the club and those fans willing to back an "unofficial" grassroots movement become ever more divided even as survey and counter-survey suggests they've got a lot in common.

They'll struggle to work together on a positive future as long as what many people - myself included - see as relics of the past remain on board and, indeed, on the board. That's an unfortunate stumbling block but one that raises such big issues of trust that it can't be ignored.

We are surely in the end game of Sir Tom Farmer and Rod Petrie having control of the majority of Hibernian Football Club's shares.

Unfortunately, we're no clearer on what things will look like when that end game has played itself it out.

The future's unclear, the future's green and white.

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