Retaining a sense of perspective has never come easily in football, especially at a club which operates against a backdrop of relentlessly high expectations regardless of the circumstances it finds itself in.
Mark Warburton admits it has taken him all of the year and a bit he has been in charge of Rangers to fully come to terms with the demands placed upon him at Ibrox. The club’s quest to find stability and security off the pitch in the wake of their 2012 financial collapse has in no way diminished the desire of their support to see the team challenging for major honours.
The chorus of jeers which rang around the Govan ground on Wednesday night at the conclusion of a 1-1 draw with St Johnstone which left Rangers in fifth place in the Premiership table indicated once more that patience and understanding from the club’s support have a very limited shelf life.
In his programme notes for the match, Warburton had written of being “less than halfway into what is a long-term project designed to take the club back to the pinnacle of Scottish football and we know much work lies ahead”.
Along with his assistant David Weir, the Englishman signed a contract extension in the summer which is scheduled to extend his stay at Rangers until at least 2019. His team’s inconsistent start to life in the top flight has failed to sow any doubt in his own mind he will continue to be backed by chairman Dave King and the rest of the Ibrox board to fulfil his vision for Rangers.
“Any manager has got to say that,” said Warburton. “Every manager has got to say they hope that progress is being made and is being seen to be made. That’s really important.
“I haven’t seen any disquiet. Mr King is based in South Africa. That’s why we have a clear dialogue with (managing director) Stewart Robertson and (finance and administration director) Andrew Dickson, plus we also see people like directors John Gilligan, Paul Murray and John Bennett all the time. We have good dialogue. What we do is relay our thoughts on the team, structure and staffing continually and in the board meetings.
“The expectation has to be always there and we are getting used to it. Some guys are steeped in it. It has taken me 18 months to understand a lot more about it. But the new guys we have had coming in this season have been knocking on my door, bemused by it.
“We have got to learn that the expectation is high because the supporters have been reared on titles, cup success and European travels. That is the Rangers support, we have to recognise that is where we have to get back to. What we have to do is manage the expectations in the squad and recognise what is good, what is success. In the short term, and the longer term.
“The support are very demanding, very expectant and rightly so. They were reared on success and it’s our job to understand that. I was interested to hear Davie Weir say that when he played here, it was with proven internationals and it still took many of them months to settle when they joined the club.
“We have young players here now. I look at Josh Windass, who was playing for Accrington Stanley last season and then on Wednesday was in front of a 40,000 plus crowd at Ibrox. It’s a huge jump for these boys. But the crowd don’t have to change, it’s up to us to recognise the responsibility and enjoy it. It’s like everything else, it’s going to take time. So when I see people slaughtering a young player, there is no thought of what he is going through. He has gone from playing in front of 2,000 last year to playing in front of 50,000 this year and he just has to get used to it.”
But for Warburton and his players, there was a poignant reminder yesterday that football’s significance amid the greater scheme of things can often be exaggerated. They were joined during their training session by members of the Nith Valley Rangers Supporters club, including friends and relatives of Ryan Baird who lost his life at the age of 39 when their bus crashed en route to Ibrox for the match against Partick Thistle at the start of this month.
“It IS only a game, as much as it galls people to say that at times,” observed Warburton. “You know where I’m coming from – there are some things which are far more important. We met Ryan’s mum and dad, along with his fiancee, and it is clearly devastating for them. It was good to get the lads from the supporters club in today to show them around. It was the least we could do.
“Some of them told us they had been sitting earlier in the seat where Ryan was on the day. It puts everything else into perspective.”