THE season is finally over, welcome to the dog days. Those sultry, dreary few weeks of summer when there’s nothing happening and you thought you couldn’t wait to see the back of football but are suddenly counting down to its return.
What to do? One Englishman had a novel idea yesterday: He went on a stadium tour. While a couple of Wolves fans in their old gold took photographs of the memorial to the Ibrox disaster outside the ground, Mark Warburton was inside – indeed, as inside as you can get. After walking round the place for the first time. “Fantastic,” he would confirm later – he got to stop in the boss’s office long enough to change into a club tie. Then he stood behind the door of the Blue Room to make his entrance as the 15th manager in the history of Glasgow Rangers FC.
“Promotion – you’ve got to achieve it, or you’ll be walking the plank, yes?”
“You watch,” said the most senior football scribe present, “he’ll come through the Maurice Johnston door.” And indeed Warburton did. It wasn’t just the signing of Mo-Jo all those years ago which had been sensational. So was the protocol-flouting route he’d taken for his unveiling. “I’d never seen anyone use that door before,” added the scribe.
The first Englishman to lead Rangers, Warburton’s arrival was fanfared by Paul Murray who sat at the long table in front of the big turnout of media folk with his fellow director, John Gilligan. The latter was surprised by the silent response. “I thought there might have been a round of applause,” he quipped.
But as Gilligan would admit later, while yesterday was “a moment in history for the football club”, this was merely because the appointment would allow Rangers to “go back to normality”. Do you applaud the reinstatement of normal service? If it was your telly that had been on the blink, no. You’re grateful, but normality is the very least the Ibrox faithful expect. They’d rather have rampant and unyielding supremacy, but first the club must make a couple more visits to Alloa and Raith – and not because they loved them so much the first time.
If Warburton was unfamiliar with Ibrox, then you imagine he knows even less about the clubs which have prevented Rangers from winning even the diddiest of trophies recently. His first game in charge, in next season’s Petrofac Training Cup, is just 39 days away. Ah, but at least alongside him he will have David Weir, a man with unimpeachable experience of the Scottish scene, albeit at a higher level.
On his feet Warburton was wearing what appeared to be brand-new shoes not yet creased from climbing the marble staircase – the Ibrox one, that is. Recreation Park and Starks Park have many outstanding features but can’t quite boast such swank. Weir, meanwhile, went with a pair in comfortable brown suede and you imagine he’ll be an invaluable ally for those 39 days and beyond.
My seen-it-all colleague mentioned how the Blue Room’s grandeur always put him in mind of the dining hall of an especially grand ocean-going liner (Clyde-built, of course). The question which threatened to induce the most queasiness in Warburton was the one which went something like: “Promotion – you’ve got to achieve it or you’ll be walking the plank, yes?” A couple of times he replied in general terms, both a bit too vague for the hacks. Yes, he said, finally, Rangers would be going all out to win the Championship.
The phrase this ex-City trader used most in his address was about players, and especially the ones he hopes to bring to a squad in need of serious beefing up, being able to “add value” to the club. Murray smiled at this in the way a director would – and especially one from a board who haven’t yet said how the great Rangers resurgence is going to be funded.
Warburton, to these ears and those of the veteran alongside me, didn’t quite produce a crowd-pleasing zinger of a quote yesterday, one to light up the headlines. The faithful, who’ve had their fill of bold words not matched by deeds, probably won’t be unduly perturbed about that. And, to be fair to the man: he did come in through the most exciting door.