THE strong affection that Alan Stubbs still has for Hibernian make him 
reluctant to endorse the credentials of the Easter Road chief executive Leeann Dempster, who has been linked with the vacancy which has arisen at the Scottish Football Association this week, despite his obvious admiration for her. 

Because he believes if she was to leave the Edinburgh club for the stricken governing body in the coming months it would be hugely detrimental to their chances of enjoying continued success and he is still, a year and a half after moving on, keen to see them flourish.

Stubbs rates Dempster as every bit as important to the historic William Hill Scottish Cup victory that Hibs enjoyed in 2016 as any player that he signed, those such as David Gray, John McGinn, Darren McGregor and Anthony Stokes included, during his two years in charge. 

He has no doubts, none whatsoever, that she would produce identical results as the figurehead of the Scottish game, which has descended into chaos and turmoil in recent weeks with the very public failure 
to bring in Michael O’Neill as the new national manager and the sudden departure of Stewart Regan, were she to be appointed.

“Leeann was, in a nutshell, fundamental to the success we enjoyed at Hibs,” he said. “We had a brilliant working relationship. She was very supportive of what we wanted to do as a group and where we wanted to go. To be honest, it was a pleasure to work with her. I don’t think I could have asked to work with a better chief executive. 

“Things can start to get fragmented when everybody isn’t on the same page and moving in the same direction. It becomes very difficult. 
I had experience of that in my second management job at Rotherham. 
It drove home how important it is to have a really good relationship with a chief executive.

“She’s very astute, very diligent in her work, very honest and open, very approachable. She loves dialogue and makes sure everybody has their say. She likes working as a team. She’s very good that way. She wants everybody to be working in one direction. 

“If you have got something to say then her attitude is it was best to get 
it get it out in open and not bottle it up. That led to a very proactive environment at Hibs. 

“I recall what I said in the aftermath of the cup final. It was obviously fantastic for me personally, but it was even better for the people who I was working with. I knew how much it meant to them and how much work they had put in to get the club in that position, including Leeann.”

The SFA is in a dire financial predicament after two decades of sporting failure and faces an uncertain future – their lucrative sponsorship deal with Vauxhall runs out in the summer and they have no agreement with a broadcaster to screen the William Hill Scottish Cup beyond this season. 

Stubbs, now working as an occasional pundit with BT Sport, is confident Dempster, who worked at the Feather Brooksbank advertising agency and then in sales and marketing at Zoom Airlines before moving to Motherwell, would be able to broker commercial agreements for the governing body with blue chip companies if she was appointed. 

She took over at Hibs just after they were relegated from the Ladbrokes Premiership. They had only had a handful of first-team players and 
no scouting network to speak of. She helped to get the capital club back on an upward trajectory on and off the park after making a series of inspired appointments, not least that of Stubbs. 

During her time at the Leith club Hibs have won the Scottish 
Cup, clinched promotion to the Premiership and almost doubled their season-ticket holders from 7000 to 13,000. Their crowds at their home games this season, their first in the top flight in three years, are averaging more than 17,000.

“Leeann was instrumental in getting money in to Hibs to improve the club,” said Stubbs. “She worked tirelessly to get new benefactors and investors to the football club. From a commercial point of view, she was always looking to work a different angle on things.

“I know that, for instance, in the last few months she has been down to visit English Premier League clubs to look at how their academies work. She is always looking to improve things. She has done an amazing job. She was as important to our success as any signing I made. 

“She galvanised the club. It was on its knees when she came in. It was about building bridges and giving the fans their club back. They had lost that connection with the club and what it stood for. From a financial point of view, it is night and day with what it was. She won’t take the credit for that. It is the people she has put in place who have helped her to do that. But for me that is the sign of a very good manager.”

The fact Dempster has emerged as the frontrunner to replace Regan, who stood down after eight years following a board meeting on Thursday, as SFA chief executive has come as no surprise to her former associate.

She will, if appointed, become the first female to hold the position, but Stubbs is convinced her promotion would be entirely justified.

He continued: “It won’t sit well with a lot of Hibs supporters for me to back her for the job. I have still got strong feelings for Hibs. It is a very difficult decision for her to make. Knowing Leeann like I do, she won’t make a decision lightly. She loves doing her job at Hibs. She loves what the club stands for. 

“But she’s a very ambitious person. She’s a great fit for it. People look at players as assets. You have to look at certain members of staff as assets as well. Some chief executives can be quite coveted. She should be. 

“If you’re good, you’re good. Your sex or race doesn’t make any difference. All that matters is that you have the right credentials for the job and she does.”