It has been mooted for quite some time now, but the installation of an indoor training pitch befitting the size and ambition of Hibernian looks to be a step closer to reality following the rubber-stamping of Bill Foley's involvement in the club, and his planned investment. It cannot be understated just how much of a game-changer such a facility has the potential to be. 

The AFC Bournemouth owner has made clear his intentions to not just improve Hibs on the park, but help them upgrade off the pitch at the Hibernian Training Centre (HTC) as well as the stadium.  The Gordon family has already bankrolled a considerable revamp of Easter Road, most notably a new pitch, swanky new hospitality offerings, LED advertising, and the big screens among others, and are funding the new safe-standing section in the Famous Five stand as well as the renovation of the Behind the Goals bar, creation of a new family-friendly section in the East Stand concourse to coincide with the movement of the Family Section, and better facilities for supporters with disabilities, among other improvements. 

It was June 2018 when former chief executive Leeann Dempster acknowledged the need for facilities at East Mains that were fit for purpose as she spoke of the importance of building on the historic Scottish Cup win in 2016.

“Everybody knows what the goal of the club is, the philosophy, the DNA - a plan going forward which we are still moulding and developing," she said "We have installed a brand new full-sized astro pitch which is a significant investment and there are still ongoing plans to develop HTC. We need an indoor environment and we are working hard to be able to do it."

Yet close to six years on, and after a raft of enhancements at HTC, Hibs are still without a top-class indoor facility that can be used when during inclement weather - and given the training centre enjoys its own microclimate, it certainly wouldn't be under-utilised. The space dubbed 'the Barn' at HTC is well loved but tired and dingy - and suitable only for small-sided games. 

An exterior view of Bournemouth's new indoor training pitch

Should a new indoor facility get the go-ahead from East Lothian Council, it would likely be available for use by the men's teams, women's teams, and academy teams. It could also be used for under-18 league games which so often fall victim to the weather, particularly at HTC. Anyone who has ever attended an academy game at HTC on either the artificial surface or the grass pitch will have their own tales of gusty winds, driving rain, or bitter sleet which is just one of the factors behind this push for a covered facility. The training centre is also susceptible to lying snow, and even the artificial surface needs to be cleared before it can be used. An indoor environment would allow for business as usual no matter the conditions outside. 

Of less importance is the possibility that such a structure could also attract a title sponsor which would bring in additional money. One would have to imagine Foley, with his connections, would have little problem in attracting a big name that wouldn't clash with the club's 'philosophy or DNA', to borrow Dempster's terms. Perhaps, given Hibs' hopes of adding flourishes to the training centre to take it to another level, there may be scope for a couple of hundred seats for spectators. But the main focus in the short term has to be simply having an indoor pitch

Casting an eye over the training centre as is, there would appear to be adequate scope for expansion, with Hibs supposedly yet to build on all the land they own - although the presence of historic mining shafts in the vicinity, particularly on the northeastern edge of the complex where there would appear to be ample space for construction, may limit or complicate the possibilities in terms of what can be built and where. 

Map displaying East Mains farm boundaries [in red] and HTC [on the right of the red lines]

When the neighbouring East Mains farm was up for sale last year, boundary maps issued along with the property details appeared to show that Hibs had a chunk of land to the southwest, beyond the current training centre car park, that was not being used for anything and, depending on the exact boundaries of the land owned by the club, could present a possible location for this new indoor dome. The training ground is fully owned by Hibs but contained within the particulars is a note: "Some of the title boundaries with Hibernian Football Club do not reflect the boundaries as established on the ground." This rather suggests that Hibs have been relaxed over what land the farm has been using, but retains the right to rejig any agreements as part of the planning process. 

Bournemouth have recently completed phase one of their own indoor facility at the club's Canford Magna training complex, with a 107m x 77m covered structure housing a full-sized pitch with a 17-metre height ridge.

It doesn't look dissimilar to the indoor pitch at the Oriam, where Hibs used to fulfil some youth matches in the mid-2010s, although the Riccarton facility has a higher roof and markings for both football and rugby. 

Hibs Observer: A general view of Bournemouth's indoor training facility, in a screenshot from a club videoA general view of Bournemouth's indoor training facility, in a screenshot from a club video (Image: AFCB)

An interior view of Bournemouth's indoor facility

It would be shortsighted to assume that, given Foley's connection to both clubs, the indoor training space at HTC will look the same as the Cherries' but you would imagine the basic architectural brief won't differ too greatly. And at the very least, those involved at the Bournemouth end can act as a sounding board for Hibs when they begin the process.  The timescale for completion of Bournemouth's covered facility appears to have been roughly five months; from mid-September 2023 until mid-February this year. 

Given the Scottish Premiership winter break has been axed next season, the need for access to the best facilities possible, regardless of weather conditions, is strikingly clear - but there are a lot of factors at play. With the club's AGM fast approaching and further information about Foley's involvement expected as well, we should learn more about the planned indoor facility and a timescale sooner rather than later.

The long-awaited arrival of an indoor pitch feels like the last remaining major project at HTC and another of Ron Gordon's hopes realised, as part of his desire to take the club to the next level in terms of facilities. With Foley's arrival, and the club steadily ticking off everything remaining on their off-field to-do list, being able to turn full focus onto the playing side of things will be a welcome change for a club that has been in transition on the pitch for far longer than is healthy.