There is a single framed match ticket that has pride of place above the door of the study in the Borders home of Hibs non-executive chairman Malcolm McPherson. It is the one that got him entry as a fan into Hampden for the win over Rangers in the 2016 Scottish Cup final. It is a lasting reminder for the 69-year-old of the highlight of his lifelong love affair with Hibs. Here, he sits down with Rob Robertson in his first-ever in-depth interview. 

Hibernian FC has been in Malcolm McPherson's family for more than a century and having served on the board of directors between 1998 and 2002, three of them as chairman, returned to his boyhood club in an official capacity in 2020. After the untimely passing of former majority shareholder and executive chairman Ron Gordon, he was appointed non-executive chairman in March 2023. A Hibs fan since birth, he pinpoints the 15-1 Scottish Cup victory over Peebles Rovers in 1961 as his first memory but can also vividly remember when Real Madrid came to town in 1964 and the hosts inflicted a 2-0 defeat upon Los Blancos. 

"My dad Douglas, who was born in 1913, was a dedicated Hibs fan. He was brought up in Canonmills in Edinburgh and went to Hibs games all his life," McPherson recalls.

"His favourite player was Gordon Smith - Pelé couldn’t have laced his boots, according to my dad. He was a real gentle guy but my brother Ian had a memory of having to hold onto my dad’s legs as he tried to climb onto the pitch to get at some full-back who had clattered Gordon. My mum Violet had zero interest. She went to one game against Raith Rovers and my dad had to stop her leaving at half-time as she thought the game had finished. She was, however, a champion at bowls.

"The 15-1 win over Peebles Rovers in 1961, when Joe Baker scored nine goals, is probably my first memory - I was seven. I was also at the 2-0 win over Real Madrid in 1964 when Ferenc Puskas was playing, and my memory of that night is quite vivid."

Although brother Ian attended Trinity Academy - the alma mater of future Hibs players including Darren Jackson, Darren McGregor, Sam Stanton, and director Martin O'Neill, Baron O'Neill of Clackmannan - McPherson was enrolled at George Watson's - 'a Hearts-supporting year, and school'. 

"My brother Ian was fourteen years older than me and my sister Sheena eight years older. Ian went to Trinity and Sheena to James Gillespie’s but my dad, by the time I came along, had done well for himself and he sent me to Watson's - it was £14 a term when I first went in 1959. We didn’t play football at Watson’s but I played with my pals at Liberton Park and with cub scouts and youth clubs. In my sixth year at Watson's, out of 92 pupils, there were only three or four Hibs fans. It was a Hearts-supporting year and school," McPherson states. 

"I went on to Edinburgh University in 1972 to study Law but I still religiously went to home and away games - I was addicted. I used to travel to away games on the Southern Supporters Bus mostly, although my dad’s best pal Tommy Wilson used to run the Carlton Branch Hibs Supporters Association. The main topic of conversation during my university years was football. Hibs had a fantastic team at the time: ‘Turnbull’s Tornadoes.’ Jim Herriot in goal; John Brownlie, the best full-back anywhere, anytime - although Carlos Alberto may think otherwise - and Erich Schaedler at left-back. Pat Stanton, Jim Black, John Blackley, Alex Edwards, Jimmy O’Rourke, Alan Gordon, Alex Cropley, and Arthur Duncan. That is the team I most identify with. I was really lucky because my brother lived next door to Pat Stanton in the Barnton Park area of Edinburgh so I got to meet and speak to the great man."

Hibs Observer: McPherson idolised the Turnbull's Tornadoes Hibs squadMcPherson idolised the Turnbull's Tornadoes Hibs squad (Image: SNS Group)

The Quiet Man remains McPherson's footballing hero, even if he retains a soft spot for the two Alecs - Cropley and Edwards - and defensive stalwarts John Blackley and John Brownlie. Stanton served Hibs as captain before returning as coach, assistant manager, and manager in his own right, and is now a club ambassador; a familiar sight in the directors' box on matchdays not too far from McPherson. 

"Pat is the one I admire most. I can still picture him playing. He had the ball at his feet; he knew where it was so he didn’t have to look down and he played with his head up, looking for the next pass. I thought Crops was a brilliant footballer. He was quality; small but tough. Nobody passed the ball as well as Mickey Edwards. And as I said, Onion [John Brownlie] was the best full-back I have ever seen, and John Blackley was our best-ever centre-back, in my view.

"John McGinn is my modern-day Hibs hero and of course, David Gray (or Sir David Gray as I like to call him) is also one of my Hibs heroes, not just for the winning goal in the 2016 Scottish Cup final but for his all-round contribution to the club, which remains ongoing."

Even after leaving university to practice law, McPherson still found time to stand on the terraces at Easter Road, even if the halcyon days of Turnbull et al had sadly dwindled. 

"There were more demands on my time but yes. I started working as a lawyer in 1975 with the firm Henderson and Jackson, but I kept going, although the great years of the Eddie Turnbull era had come to an end."

How McPherson got involved with Hibs

A little over two decades later, McPherson would become involved with his boyhood club after a chance meeting in the skies, just a few short years after Hearts chairman Wallace Mercer's failed takeover. "What I would say about that, as a lifelong Hibs fan, would be unprintable in any newspaper," he says, darkly. "What I will say is that I was appalled. It was naivety merged with arrogance."

But back to that encounter at 30,000ft, on a flight from London to Edinburgh... 

"I met Sir Tom Farmer on a flight going back to Edinburgh in 1998. I was managing partner at law firm Henderson Boyd Jackson; we knew of each other, and we had a very good chat on the plane and afterwards. I told him I didn’t think the club had much panache about it and it should have panache because of its history. He was receptive to my views.

Hibs Observer: McPherson with the late Stephen Dunn, left, in 2002McPherson with the late Stephen Dunn, left, in 2002 (Image: SNS Group)

"A bit later Rod Petrie [then Hibs chief executive] came over to see me and asked if I would be interested in becoming involved with the club, and so I joined the board in 1998. My first board meeting as a non-executive director was in July when I came back from the World Cup in France. The late Tom O’Malley was chairman; a wonderful, dedicated Hibs fan, and I joined the board at the same time as Stephen Dunn, who was another magnificent servant to the club who sadly died last year when he was just 63. I then became chairman at the start of the 1999/2000 season, in the first year back after relegation when we were getting crowds of 16,000 under Alex McLeish."

McLeish, Sauzée, Williamson - and Malcolm's exit

Perhaps the defining moment of McPherson's first stint as chairman was the somewhat acrimonious departure of McLeish, and the subsequent appointment of fans' favourite Franck Sauzée as his successor, and his ill-fated stint at the helm.

"Alex was doing a good job; he was a very intelligent man and he had brought in some great players such as Russell Latapy and Franck, who were probably our best players since Pat Stanton," McPherson smiles. "They lit the place up. They were so special. It was Alex’s contacts and charm that brought these players to us.

"I only knew that Alex was going to Rangers when a pal phoned to tell me it had been in a Sunday paper. And what happened the following Wednesday? We played Rangers at Ibrox," he adds. 

"Donald Park was put in as caretaker and we got a draw. After the game, I entered the old boardroom at Ibrox somewhat vigorously. Who was standing behind the door but Alex. People thought it was deliberate but it wasn’t - how was I to know he was standing behind the door? I was in the huff with Alex for a while but I was at The Herald table at the Scottish Football Writers dinner [as a guest of this writer] and he came across, gave me a big hug, and the huff was at an end. He is a witty, intelligent guy and great company."

McLeish actually played a key role in McPherson's decision to appoint Sauzée as the next permanent manager of the Easter Road side. Even though the Frenchman had next to no coaching experience, there was overwhelming support for him to get the job - including from the chairman himself. 

"Franck expressed his interest in taking over and Alex felt he could do the job. Every Hibs supporter in the country wanted Franck as the next Hibs manager, including me. I remember Sir Alex Ferguson speaking from the top table at that same Football Writers dinner, and he said that big clubs who appointed rookie managers were off their heads. 'It never works,' he said, explaining that managers had to learn their trade. Clearly, I wasn’t listening hard enough."

Sauzée notoriously lasted just 69 days in post and recorded just one victory - a Scottish Cup replay against Stranraer after a goalless draw at Stair Park. McPherson has previously said that relieving 'Le God' of his duties was the most difficult thing he’d ever had to do. 

Hibs Observer: Sauzée speaks at the press conference announcing his departureSauzée speaks at the press conference announcing his departure (Image: SNS Group)

"Franck was such a joy; a lovely man, but it just didn’t work out," McPherson says ruefully. "I went with Rod Petrie to see Franck to tell him we couldn’t go on before a game against St Johnstone that we had to win to keep away from the relegation zone. I was in his beautiful New Town flat with his delightful wife and when I told him we had to let him go he was relieved. He told me the Hibs manager needed to go, 'Fuck, fuck, fuck'. These were his exact words. What he meant was, we needed a hard-man manager, and that wasn’t his style."

And so Sauzée departed, but not before insisting on attending the press conference announcing his exit, during which he spoke passionately about the club's chances of avoiding relegation.

"I have been wronged and I am hurt. That’s life; that’s football. But even if it is difficult at the moment, I am not at all worried that Hibernian will not stay in the Premier League. No problem at all," he said, adding: "Sometimes life is strange - my first game for Hibs was 20 February 1999 and I was sacked on 20 February 2002. I am really sad because I love this club. But my last word must be for the fans as I will never forget these three wonderful years at Hibs."

Sauzée's confidence was not misplaced, as Hibs defeated St Johnstone 3-0 in what was new manager Bobby Williamson's first game in charge. But despite a long-awaited victory, fans remained less than satisfied with the brand of football and the way their talisman had been treated by the club, and McPherson was only too aware of the growing dissent among the fanbase.

"We didn’t interview anybody else as Bobby’s track record was the best in Scotland. He had won the Scottish Cup with Kilmarnock and was doing really well," he explains. "We had concerns over the way he wanted to play football, but we probably didn’t do enough research into that. I liked Bobby but as it happened I left when he was in charge."

McPherson insists that his departure was unrelated to Sauzée's demise, the arrival of Williamson, or the mood in the stands and was more down to his relationship with the club's hierarchy which was fraying at the seams. 

Hibs Observer: Former Hibs owner Sir Tom FarmerFormer Hibs owner Sir Tom Farmer (Image: SNS Group)

"My relationship with the real powers at the club was strained," McPherson admits. "We had different attitudes and aspirations. For a board to work effectively, it has to be in tune. At the time, I don’t think Rod or Sir Tom looked at matters in the same way that I did. Sir Tom owned and financially supported the club and he was entitled to determine the direction it was to take."

And so McPherson took the decision to move on from a formal position at the club and although he didn't manage to make it to as many games as he might like, he went back to paying his way in and attending matches as a fan - including a certain historic fixture in May, 2016, which is immortalised in wood and glass above the door to his home office. 

"I was never in the boardroom between 2002 and 2022 so I was at the cup final as a fan. It was the best day ever. I was there with my family and I will never forget it," he says fondly. "Up until then, my favourite game had been the 2-1 Scottish League Cup final win over Celtic when Jimmy O’Rourke and Pat Stanton scored [in 1972]."

Ron and Malcolm and a formal return to Hibs

Ron Gordon had been majority shareholder for a little over 12 months when he met with McPherson in Edinburgh's city centre; the American-based entrepreneur capturing his soon-to-be Hibs colleague in both a business and footballing sense. 

"I had no idea who he was so I did a bit of research and found him a fascinating character. Peruvian with a Scottish grandfather. He had a fantastic business success story," McPherson says. 

Hibs Observer: The late Ron Gordon brought McPherson back into the fold at HibsThe late Ron Gordon brought McPherson back into the fold at Hibs (Image: SNS Group)

"I wanted to meet him, and Ron, as he always did if he thought it would help Hibs, agreed to see me. We met in the Grand Hotel in St Andrew Square in Edinburgh, a year after he bought the club. It took just ten minutes for me to feel excited and happy that this man had bought the club I loved. He was instantly impressive and convivial. I was there for two and a half hours and by the end of it, I  would have done anything to help him. He was charismatic, a man of vision, and style."

McPherson and Gordon struck up a friendship founded on shared footballing and business interests. The Scot visited Gordon and wife Kit in Florida where the two men played golf, went sailing, and talked about - what else? - football. 

"I had lots of connections in the business world, I was Hibs-daft and had been on the board before - albeit a long time ago. I had lived and breathed the club my whole life. He was coming to it afresh," McPherson continues. "We became friends and he and his lovely wife Kit invited me to their apartment in Miami where we went sailing, golfing, and talked football. He loved all sports and was a wine connoisseur, which are two passions I share. He was an average golfer - not as bad as me, but he liked it."

From then, McPherson's reunion with the club in an official capacity seemed little more than a formality. 

"We got on really well. He asked me to join the board and it took me a nanosecond to agree. I firmly believe if it had not been for his tragic death he would have done great things, not just for Hibs but for Scottish football, and that is a view shared by many. He had a background in broadcasting, in business, and he was an incredible man. He did so much for the club - both the men’s and women’s teams. Hibs were a leading light in women’s football before Ron arrived and he was the man who brought it inside the main club with Joelle Murray, one of the best players the club has ever had, working full-time for us. The women’s team maybe can’t do what they used to be able to do historically for the same reason as the men’s team, which is Celtic and Rangers have popped up and poured money into it, and here we are again."

Hibs Observer: McPherson looks on ahead of a Hibs game at Easter RoadMcPherson looks on ahead of a Hibs game at Easter Road (Image: SNS Group)

In the wake of Gordon's passing, McPherson was asked by the family to step up as chairman, with fellow director Kathrin Hamilton serving as vice-chairman.

"His family told me that Ron had said shortly before he died that I should take over as chairman and Kathrin was to be vice-chairman. It was his wish, and a tremendous honour for both of us," he adds. 

'Foley input is fantastic and this is an exciting era for Hibs'

Now, just over 12 months on, McPherson will have front-row seats to what he hopes is another step in the right direction for his beloved Hibs. Bournemouth owner Bill Foley's minority investment proposal got the green light at February's AGM with a view to the American businessman pumping cash into the club come the summer and the chairman is excited by what that extra finance can do for the club. 

"I wasn't around when Ron bought the club but I think he paid around £7.5 million and probably had to put in another £1m to keep it bouncing along. Bill paid £6m for 25% of the club. Do the arithmetic: the club has almost doubled its value. I haven’t met Bill yet but the Gordon family, who I work for, and the Hibs chief executive have met him, and were impressed," he says. 

Hibs Observer: Bill Foley's input is 'fantastic', according to McPhersonBill Foley's input is 'fantastic', according to McPherson (Image: SNS Group)

"Bill’s input is fantastic and will help fund developments at Easter Road and at the training ground, and will increase the budget for players. Bill's track record with the Las Vegas Golden Knights ice hockey team is incredible and he has made them a major success. In football, he owns Bournemouth, Auckland in New Zealand, and has a stake in Lorient in France's Ligue 1. He will structure things so all clubs benefit.

"Of the £6m Bill has put in, some of it will also be spent on re-developing the Famous Five Stand, which has been moribund for ten years or so. This is an exciting, fantastic era for Hibs. Hearts and Aberdeen, both clubs of similar standing to us, have massively bigger playing budgets than us just now but we continue to grow."

McPherson believes the club is in a good situation off the pitch, and is heading to an even better place, particularly with the current leaders at the club. 

"We have an incredibly strong executive team. Ben Kensell [Hibs chief executive] is doing a phenomenal job. He is so commercial, so hard-working and so creative and was at the very heart of the deal with Bill. He is a great commercial thinker and has surrounded himself with really good people with high energy. Wherever you look, there is quality. Ben has the backing and support of the Gordon family and works closely with Ian Gordon on a daily basis. Ian has an encyclopaedic knowledge of football and like his mother Kit, a deep love for the club. The family are, and will remain, in charge of the club and I am very happy that that is the case."

Montgomery 'will be a success at Hibs'

In terms of matters on the pitch, McPherson firmly believes Nick Montgomery and his staff are the right people to take the team forward, even if there have been some rough patches since the former Central Coast Mariners head coach took the reins. 

"Nick and his staff are dedicated, they have a plan, and I am really comfortable with them," he says.

Hibs Observer: Hibs head coach Nick Montgomery has McPherson's backingHibs head coach Nick Montgomery has McPherson's backing (Image: SNS Group)

"The one thing you never know is where the luck comes from. Our luck with VAR has been appalling - some of the decisions that have gone against us, I can’t believe. The penalty at Aberdeen that the SFA apologised for. How did the mistake happen in the first place? That would have been a handball back in the days when I played football.

"But Nick has a plan and the atmosphere within the squad is, as I understand it, very good. We have many very good players and people at the club and top pros like Joe Newell and David Marshall are a great influence and we are lucky to have them.

"He will be successful and take us on. His first pick of players came in January and they have made a big difference. He has been unlucky with injuries and lost some games due to bizarre VAR decisions. All these things happen in football but with a modicum of good luck - which he has not had up until now - he will be a very successful manager."