ALAN Stubbs will like nothing better than to hear the jibes of the Rangers fans ringing in his ears when he is standing on the edge of the technical area at Ibrox on Monday.
Having already made a point of expressing his gratitude to the Ibrox supporters for their response to his cancer diagnosis in 1999, he knows the milk of human kindness will be in short supply in the heat of the Championship title battle in two days’ time. Being such an arch competitor, he would not want it any other way.
Indeed, he expects it will remind him of Old Firm clashes when he was a Celtic defender, one prone to infuriating Rangers fans with his win-at-all-costs attitude. He was the last person likely to hide when the going got tough and he has made a pledge to his Hibs players as Monday’s eagerly-awaited clash looms ever nearer: ‘I will be with you every step of the way’.
This, he promised, will be the case even if Rangers fans are letting him have it from the stands, as he expects is going to happen. Indeed, he wondered, why should it be any different to normal?
Stubbs is relishing the prospect of a full house at Ibrox, which is the way he always remembers the stadium. He suspects the partisan environment will only encourage his players. But even if it doesn’t, even if they find they need some reassurance from the sidelines, he vows to be a very visible presence at the end of the technical area, facing up to the brickbats.
“I personally love it, I know the players love it,” he said. “Even last time when the fans were singing ‘Alan Stubbs is a w****r!’, I thought it was great! I really did. Because for me that was a sign of respect.”
“I can’t wait for Monday, I’ll go toe to toe,” he added. “I’ll be there supporting my team. There’s no way I am going to take a step back and leave my team. I’ll be right there with them on the touchline trying to get them over the line.”
“The team energises me, not the fixture in particular,” he added. “I love working with them, I love seeing them improve. That energises me more than anything.
“Seeing them win on a Saturday is fantastic because it’s a reward for your week’s training. But my team keeps me going. They keep me focused. They give me that burning desire that I have to do my best every day, because they deserve it.”
While the frenetic atmosphere might recall Old Firm matches of old, Stubbs is alert to how Rangers – and the rest of Scottish football – has changed since those days, when players valued at many millions went head-to-head with one another. It is also worth remembering that this game, hugely anticipated though it is, is still a second-tier fixture, despite all the hype.
“I think there has been a lot of water under the bridge since them days, for both teams,” said Stubbs. “The financial aspect has obviously played a huge part in that. So I think it would be wrong to try and talk about the then, when they had a very, very good team, compared to now, because with what has gone on and all the stuff in the background, which I am not going to get into, has had an impact.
“They are obviously now trying to come back and get the club back at a level that, let’s be honest, they should be at. But then so should we. The Premiership needs the two of us, it needs other clubs. I think it needs a revamp but I have already spoken about that.”
Such is the intensity of the rivalry between the clubs, Stubbs admitted he has had to make some sacrifices as this season has progressed. For example his friendship with David Weir, Mark Warburton’s assistant at Rangers, has suffered. The pair were together at Everton where they formed a central defensive partnership.
They also worked on the backroom staff at Goodison after their playing careers ended. But Stubbs has revealed that their friendship now isn’t what it was, because they now have their own agenda. Stubbs sees things from a Hibs perspective. Weir, naturally, looks at things from a Rangers standpoint.
“We’re not in touch as much, I’ve still got huge respect for him,” he said. “We had a great partnership [at Everton]. We were lightning in the head, just not in the legs! I still have the utmost respect for him but it’s different.
“We went out as team-mates but we weren’t great friends. Footballers are like passing ships, you are very rarely somewhere long enough to become a close friend. You say ‘hello’ but you are passing ships from one port to another.”
Stubbs then upbraided himself for beginning to sound “a bit like Eric Cantona!”.
But then not even the enigmatic former Manchester United player could breathe such life into a Scottish Championship fixture that an entertaining Stubbs has treated to such careful consideration over the course of recent days.