Malcolm McPherson has seen it all from both sides, as a Hibs fan and board member for a number of years - often at the same time. But he hasn't experienced many weeks in which a head coach has been sacked, a sporting director hired amid opposition from a vocal section of the fanbase, and a chief executive blamed for everything that's wrong with the football club.

In an exclusive interview with the Hibs Observer, the non-executive chairman spoke of the difficult decision to relieve Nick Montgomery of his duties as head coach, discussed the hiring of Malky Mackay as the club's new sporting director, and threw his support behind Ben Kensell, insisting that the under-fire CEO has the backing of the whole board who see him as an 'integral part of the future of the club'. 

'Why the board are backing Ben'

Kensell has been subjected to sustained criticism from supporters, particularly in recent weeks since Montgomery's tenure began its decline, but there is a belief at Easter Road that the former Norwich City chief operating officer has worked wonders with the non-football side of the business and should be lauded for his efforts in bringing Bill Foley and the Black Knights on board - and McPherson was quick to point out that the underperformance on the park was a collective failure rather than an individual one. 

"Ben has done a phenomenal job with this football club and I sometimes wonder how people can't see that," McPherson said.

"He's brought in, on time and on budget, major projects to upgrade the stadium and the training centre. He's a workaholic - he works amazing hours; he's extremely bright with numbers, he's able to work the budget, and he's got the commercial success. If you look at our turnover from the day he walked in the door to today, the growth is quite remarkable, and it's largely down to him.

"He's reorganised and brought in real quality people to help support the commercial activities of the business. The football hasn't gone well, and that's the most important thing, obviously, so we're changing that by bringing Malky Mackay on board to head up that whole operation."

The finger has been pointed at Kensell for overseeing the hiring and firing of three managers in Shaun Maloney, Lee Johnson, and now Nick Montgomery - although it was Brian McDermott who led the pursuit of the latter in his role as director of football. But despite the constant managerial churn, which McPherson admits can't continue if Hibs are to be successful, the club hierarchy is firmly behind Kensell.  

"We believe that Ben is an integral part of the future of Hibernian. The board is totally onside with him; we work with him every day and we see what he has achieved. We want to help him to develop the major part of the business, which hasn't gone as well. But he's not responsible - personally, solely - for what's happened. He's part of a collective," McPherson continued.

"Ben was also responsible for kicking off the Black Knights involvement; he saw an opportunity and had the wherewithal and the capacity to bring Bournemouth onside. Not every chief executive of a football club would have the capacity to put together a corporate deal. I'm a corporate lawyer and I watched how he handled it from start to finish and he was a sophisticated client. He learned and understood the nature of the transaction, how it was put together, how you do it. He gave clear instructions to the club's lawyers. It was a first-class piece of work. It's truly significant stuff. We're bringing a major American sporting institution into the football club that can help us in so many different ways.

"But we also have to look at our recruitment and our incumbent players, and somebody has to do that, hence the appointment of Malky. Ben is not responsible for the footballing side on his own. The board decided to employ Nick Montgomery and generally speaking, I think the fans thought it was a smart move. Our investors thought it was a smart move too, because of his success in Australia and he's a switched-on guy.

“Clearly, ending up in the bottom six was deeply disappointing. The position had to be reviewed at that stage because we hadn’t got what we hoped for and what we had expected when we appointed Nick. Performances after that were not of the quality they should have been and there wasn’t really anything to give us hope of an uplift, so we made the very reluctant decision to remove Nick and his team from the club.

“We felt saddened and disappointed but it was a decision that had to be made. I really didn’t feel we were in a position where there was much alternative. We had such high hopes but it just didn't work out the way we all hoped. That's sad, but it's happened and you can't just ignore it; you have to move on and go again, and that's what we're doing.

“You can’t expect to build a successful club if you’re changing managers once a year. It’s not a recipe for success. Clubs need stability and a style, and that requires the same people in charge. Every time we change, something is altered in terms of the way the team plays, or trains. It’s the last thing you want to happen," he admitted.

Appointment of Malky Mackay

Not even 24 hours had passed between Montgomery's exit and the arrival of Malky Mackay as the club's new sporting director; an appointment that invoked dismay from some sections of the support and praise from others. But McPherson believes the former Ross County manager can help lead on certain aspects that have not been functioning at the right level in recent years.

READ MORE - Hibs bring in Malky Mackay as new sporting director

“Malky will have a major role to play in the appointment of the next manager. He has had an extraordinary career which has given him experience of working in a lot of different areas," the Hibs chairman explained.

“He has tremendous contacts within the game, he’s an intelligent guy and he has come to us with a very clear idea of how the whole footballing side of things should be run. Is he the missing piece of the jigsaw, as it were? I’m not sure but here we are, four managers later since the Gordon family took over, so we have to change. We can’t just keep doing the same thing - clearly it’s not working.

“The board feels confident that Malky has the background, knowledge, and wisdom from the time he’s spent in football to be able to revolutionise the way the club runs the football side of the business, and I’m very optimistic that he can do that."

Reaction to Mackay's appointment

I ask about the reaction to his appointment which, while not met with universal disapproval, did prompt a number of supporter groups including Block Seven, Hibees Pride, and the Hibernian Women Supporters Alliance to issue statements of opposition, while numerous individuals also voiced their concern at his hiring. 

READ MORE - Hibs accused of 'insulting' fans over Malky Mackay's appointment

“The conduct, and subject matter, of what happened has been criticised. It’s there, it happened, but nobody is damned forever," McPherson said.

"Malky has gone through a long period of rehabilitation. Others in Scottish and English football have been through similar processes and I believe he’s conscious of what happened, he’s conscious of the error of his ways, and has put himself through a process that persuaded Wigan, the SFA, FIFA, UEFA, and Ross County - all bodies with reputations to look after - that he was a person worth employing. 

“I feel that people have to be allowed to continue their lives. Everybody is capable of making a mistake and people’s attitudes can change over time, and we’re looking at something that happened over ten years ago. You’re a very different person ten years on and I don’t think anyone should think a person shouldn’t be allowed to work again, like a social pariah. 

“I wasn’t surprised by the fans’ reaction, it’s what I expected. I’m not a great follower of social media, but I do find it a bit depressing that people have such extreme views, and not just on football. There’s room to question if Malky has changed, or if he has moved on, and that’s happened. But just to damn somebody, on the basis of what you’ve looked up on the internet, seems a little bit sad. 

READ MORE - Malky Mackay answers critics as he 'understands people have points of view

“But I understand it. It’s topics that are current, and that people have very strong views on, and I understand that. But I think rehabilitation is possible, and his career from that point has been one where people have met him, worked with him, and decided that it was appropriate that he was part of their organisation.  I hope that what he does for this club on the footballing side will be the main focus, and I believe that will happen.

“We want to change because we haven’t been successful on the footballing side of things, and Malky will have a big part to play in the reconstruction of the footballing side.  If you ask the players at Ross County, or Cardiff, or the people who worked with him at the SFA, they are incredibly positive about his ability to conduct himself and be able to affect change, which I think he did quite significantly at the SFA.

“His performance at Ross County was astonishing, in terms of getting into the top six with the budget he had. Now he’s in situ, he is able to look through the whole footballing operation and come up with his own conclusions as to how it should look, and for our part, we have to listen because he has the experience. He knows how to develop players and while HTC is a wonderful facility, things can always be better."

'We need to drive forward on both fronts'

As a Hibs fan first and foremost, McPherson understands that many fans, while welcoming a blossoming off-field operation, are mostly concerned with the team on the park on a Saturday. But he firmly believes the involvement of the Black Knights and tweaking the football club's structure in pursuit of success will bring with it big benefits. 

 "Most of the fans only care about football. I'm a fan, I'm a Hibs fan, and I care about the football. But since I came back inside I have to care about the other things as well. Without growth and significant turnover growth there's no possibility of improving the team. Success follows money. Look at the top of the English, French, Italian top flights. It's all about cash. But part of generating that cash is success on the football pitch. A significant part.

"It has to go hand-in-hand. You have to be able to drive forward on both fronts and we haven't done that in the last year. We haven't made significant progress on the footballing side so we have to change it and try again."

'The abuse has to stop'

But in the midst of managerial departures, poor performances on the pitch, and the furore over Mackay's appointment, McPherson admits he has been shocked by the nature of the abuse directed at some members of the club. 

"Following your football club is an emotional thing. There's no logic in it. Of course you get upset. But I don't like the nastiness or the personal abuse that people get. It almost goes with the territory; you have to have thick skin to deal with it. But I think it's sad," he added. 

"The fans are not going to listen to me or anyone else on the board or at the football club telling them to be patient, and if I was out there, I wouldn't be patient either. I would just want it changed: "Do something right, come on."

"A judgement error was made [in terms of appointing Montgomery], but the decision was made with the best intentions. Everyone here just wants the club to be successful. The owners have put tremendous resources behind the club, our new investors have put a lump of money into the club. The people who work here get a buzz out of it - normally - and the club's emotion is driven by the football. It's in good spirits when we win, and bad spirits when we lose. And it's always been like that. 

"But the level of personal abuse is not acceptable to anybody who has any modicum of humanity. Nobody is to blame for everything; you can't say that the lack of success at this football club is down to one person. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you get it wrong, but you have to learn from it. If you don't learn, you don't move forward."