BEFORE the Rangers players leave their dressing room at Ibrox tomorrow for Mark Warburton’s first competitive home game in charge of the club, they will see a new sign pinned to the wall.
It is hardly one of the most profound slogans ever coined but it neatly sums up Warburton’s determination to reconnect the long-disillusioned Rangers supporters with those who represent them on the pitch.
“There will be a sign saying ‘Send Them Home Happy’ on our wall,” revealed Warburton ahead of the League Cup first round tie against Peterhead.
“It’s about us recognising what we have to do to keep the people happy. If we do that, it shows we are taking our work from the training ground into the match arena and are delivering a level of consistency every week.”
In terms of earning a high approval rating from the Rangers fans in the early days of his managerial tenure, Warburton could scarcely have done much better than last Saturday’s 6-2 win over Hibernian at Easter Road in the first round of the Petrofac Training Cup.
The Englishman has already been welcomed by fans waving loaves of Warburtons bread, while a song to the tune of My Old Man’s a Dustman has been contrived in his honour with the curious assertion he “wears a magic hat”.
“I’ve got a 21-year-old son who keeps me updated on that kind of stuff,” smiled Warburton. “I have no share in the revenue of the bread, I can assure you, and I don’t have a magic hat! Listen, it’s great but with supporters being supporters, you have to make sure you maintain that consistency I’m talking about. You don’t want to be up here one week and down there the next.
“We have to channel the expectation of the fans in the right direction. We sold out our whole end at Easter Road, taking 3,500-4,000 fans there, and we sent them home happy. If we can do that week in, week out, we’ll be in good shape come the end of the season.
“To make them happy, what do we have to do? We have to show energy, quality on the ball and a desire and commitment. You saw James Tavernier running 60 yards in the 88th minute last week and that tells the supporters you can have a really bad day – days when you can’t pass water – but if you give 100 per cent effort, the supporters will respect you.”
As the former Brentford manager adapts to his new environment, he has also been gratified by the reaction he has received from Rangers’ former captain, manager and now honorary life president John Greig.
“I’d never met John before he came to the friendly against Burnley,” said Warburton. “It was a pleasure to meet him and spend just five minutes talking to him. It was fantastic to hear his thoughts and he gives such an insight into how he’s seen it over the last few years. Again, after Saturday it was great to chat to him and get his feedback. He was genuinely pleased as a Rangers fan and as the professional he is.
“I’m an outsider coming in here, so it’s important for me. I need to know what the mindset is. It doesn’t impact upon us directly because we do what we want to do in terms of preparing the team, but it’s good to get good feedback and the knowledge people like John have. We have to use it.”
While success or failure in the Championship title race will undoubtedly define Warburton’s first season at Rangers, he believes he is building a team capable of lifting silverware in the cup competitions.
“We are a young squad, a new squad in terms of gelling boys in, but at the same time there is no shortage of quality in that squad,” he added. “There is an outstanding work ethic and commitment already being demonstrated.
“Every competition we go into, we want to win it. It’s as simple as that. All this stuff about saving ourselves for the league – of course the league is the most important in terms of where Rangers want to be, that’s stating the obvious.
“But every tournament we go into, we have to go to win. We have a good squad of players and we will rotate them and not only for cup competitions. We will use our squad and whoever we pick, we trust them.
“We can’t have 11 or 14 select players and leave the other five, six or seven out. It can’t work that way. There would be no unity. So every competition we’re in, we’ll go to win it.
“We have had the scouting reports from two Peterhead games and analysed them with the players. We have no real footage to speak of, which is difficult. Down south, we always had footage of the games.
“But we have individual breakdowns of the Peterhead players and the threats that they pose. I have no doubt it will be a tough challenge on Sunday. We have to be fully prepared for it.”