Unaccustomed as Mark Warburton may be, he will stand up at Rangers’ AGM today and deliver an address that will have no adverse impact on how he dresses for tomorrow’s Petrofac Training Cup semi-final tie at home to St Mirren.
“Hopefully nothing will be thrown, I’ll have my club suit on and need to wear it on Saturday as well,” the Ibrox club’s manager joked when told of the hostility such gatherings in recent years. “So hopefully there will be no objects.”
It’s a learning curve. If I hear boos then I know I’ll have done something wrongMark Warburton
Warburton will surely be the object of some affection. For all that Hibernian are now level with his team in the Championship, and St Johnstone took his side apart in the League Cup, it is only in the football department that any genuine progress appears to have been made in the past 12 months.
A new regime headed up by chairman Dave King may have taken over in March but grave issues over funding, Mike Ashley’s holding and – in terms of Rangers retail – hold appear as intractable as ever.
Considering that Rangers AGM of a year ago came fewer than 24 hours after Ally McCoist had been placed on gardening leave as his team lost ground in the Championship after being turfed out of the Petrofac by Alloa, Warburton should not find his debut in such circumstances too onerous.
“[My speech is] all done, a few spelling mistakes have been corrected so it’s all good. It doesn’t really bother me, it’s part and parcel of what you have to do. It’s the first time I’ve had to do it so it’s a learning curve. If I hear boos then I know I’ll have done something wrong. It’s just a report on the football department. That’s my job and that’s what I intend to do.
“Life’s about learning and if I get it horribly wrong then I won’t look forward to it again. It’s an experience. It’s a big club and shows how big the club is. It’s important for the club and hopefully I get the message right and deliver it in the right way. I understand why [previous Rangers AGMs] have been hostile. I’m well aware. But hopefully the club has made a lot of progress on various fronts and it’s a healthier climate now.”
The mountain of court reporting relating to events at Rangers past and present would suggest that off-the-field matters with the club are in far from rude health. Yet, the turmoil is nowhere near the levels of the McCoist era – during which Rangers suffered liquidation and had to re-form in Scottish football’s fourth tier – and that enables the 52-year-old Englishman to close his mind to the daily diet of, eh, court diets.
“I think it’s important that you distance yourself in the right way because our job is the football department. Being asked questions about what’s happened this morning [with former own Charles Green’s failed attempt to have the club pay for his legal costs in a forthcoming fraud trial] or in the last week [with Mike Ashley’s various actions], that’s not relevant. That distracts our focus.
“I can’t understand [what the previous manager had to go through] because I haven’t experienced it so it would be wrong for me to say I do. I can imagine there were very tough times. I more than appreciate that but my job is to make sure myself, my staff and the players just focus on football.”
Warburton is seeking his first trophy win as Rangers pursue the Petrofac/Challenge Cup. The competition has brought them nothing but misery and mocking in their lower division years. The importance of lifting a first cup post-liquidation is, above all, that it would allow them to avoid the sort of criticism that has accompanied their previous failures in a tournament where they are by far the richest club.
“I’m learning that. I’m learning that very quickly,” Warburton said of the need to win. “But it’s about getting the right message across. We will be best prepared. Our supporters know there will not be a player shirking a tackle or not giving 100 per cent. David Weir’s picture is on all walls here and he is telling them to go and enjoy it and get their picture on the wall as well. The only way you do that is by winning things.”