IT is exactly a year since Graeme Murty first answered the call. Or, to be more specific about it, responded to the text message. Then just a lowly Under-20 manager, Murty was at Scotstoun Stadium looking forward to a Friday night Glasgow Warriors match when he was informed that Mark Warburton had left the club and advised that he should get himself to Ibrox pronto.
His life would never be the same again. Or, to be more specific about it, not apart from the short hiatus when Pedro Caixinha was in charge. “Is that a year?” says Murty. “Wow. I was at the rugby at Scotstoun. What a year its been. It actually seems like longer somehow.
“I was really looking forward to watching that game because I’m a fan of rugby and of Gregor Townsend and how he manages, so I was going to hopefully see this wonderful game with Glasgow Warriors really expressive, playing open, flowing rugby,” he added. “Then it was buzz buzz, ‘come to Ibrox, just come to Ibrox’. That was the start of this year that has been different and interesting, challenging but rewarding as well.
Just like today’s visit to Somerset Park to take on Ayr United, first up for Murty the first time around was a Scottish Cup tie, against potentially troublesome lower league opposition. Jim Duffy’s Morton actually took an early lead at Ibrox that day, through Michael Tidser – but while Ian Durrant is always unflatteringly remembers for a Scottish Cup defeat to Dunfermline in his one match in charge – Rangers squeaked through with a 2-1 win and their interim manager was up and running. “Was I nervous?” asked Murty. “Oh God, aye. Someone, I can’t remember who, said to me: ‘don’t worry about it, there will only be 40,000 or so there, because it wasn’t rammed full for a massive game. But when I came from Norwich where it was full at 27,000. When the [Morton] goal went in I was saying ‘Breathe in and out, you are alright’.”
There were ups and downs along the way – and a handstand up at Dens Park – but that first stint came to an end with a 1-1 draw against Celtic at Parkhead, secured with a last-minute equaliser by Clint Hill. “It built towards a brilliant crescendo for me, finishing on a real high for me professionally and emotionally.”
Except Murty, as we all know, wasn’t anything like finished. The disastrous appointment of Caixinha meant he was back in the firing line and, after the botched attempt to recruit Derek McInnes, he increasingly appears to be making the job his own. A setback at Somerset Park could put an end to his ambitions of keeping the hot seat beyond this summer but he has drawn twice at Celtic Park and beaten McInnes’ Aberdeen three times.
Considering how unique his situation is, it was interesting to hear Murty speak about the kinship he found last week with Neil Lennon, a man who was given the Celtic manager’s gig as his first job ostensibly for eight games, and ultimately stayed for four years. “Perhaps the best person to go and talk to about it is Neil Lennon because as a young manager his first job was to go and take charge of those guys (Celtic) and he had to do all of his developing, learning and growth in the public eye at massive club and look where he is now,” said Murty. “I have no doubt that in the moment he found everything overwhelming, and sometimes I still do, but the growth I’m going to have from this experience is going to help me evolve into a far more polished practitioner.
“I spoke to him [Lennon] at Ibrox, he was very complimentary about the team and the recruitment, pretty much as I was at Easter Road, then he walked out, taking my points with him. As fiery, spicy as competitive as he is, he also had an intellectual distance from the result that I have not grown yet. Talking to him is revealing because he is characterised in a certain way and he’s not come over in that way to me.”
Whatever unfolds from here on, Murty quite correctly seemed to accept this week that he may now have crossed a point of no return – and it “would be hard” to go back to his previous life as a lowly Under-20 coach. “I was more of a servant than a leader even as a captain, I was there to serve the club and the team,” he said. “I still feel that’s my role, but ultimately I make the decisions now. If the club take a decision I am the man to do that [go forward permanently], fantastic. If the club decide to go in a different direction, then of course I’ll be hurt and annoyed.
“If it all comes to an end, I’ll say, ‘What are my next options? I may have people calling and a decision to make. But it won’t be made until I need to. I can’t lose focus on what’s happening out there.”