BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Hibs boss Alan Stubbs has vowed to lap up the abuse from Rangers supporters – because it shows they respect him.
Stubbs has endured a hot reception from the Ibrox faithful in his five visits as Easter Road gaffer, given his pedigree as a Celtic stalwart between 1996 and 2001.
However, he is likely to be even more unpopular in Govan on Monday evening after gleefully indulging in mind games aimed at Mark Warburton and Rangers in the past few weeks.
His carefully pitched barbs at the Gers have included claiming they are looking over their shoulders, in denial over their form and claiming Warburton won’t even say Hibs’ name.
Those comments have coincided with Rangers blowing an 11-point lead at the summit of the Championship, ensuring a blockbuster battle between the sides.
A confident Stubbs smiled: “I personally love it [the atmosphere], I know the players love it.
“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 with everyone and 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.
“My team energises me, I love working with them, I love seeing them improve. That energises me more than anything.
“They give me that burning desire that I have to do my best every day, because they deserve it.”
However, Stubbs was keen to acknowledge the softer side of the rivalry, noting the reaction towards him following his 2000 cancer relapse.
He continued: “I got hundreds and hundreds of ‘Get Well Soon’ cards from them. There was a banner up at the stadium at one of the games saying the same thing. So for all that’s said, deep down, they’re good fans.”
He added, with a smile: “They’re not as bad as what people say.”
Amid his cheeky digs at the Glasgow outfit, Stubbs has cut a relaxed figure ahead of Hibs’ visit to Ibrox, belying the stature of the fixture and in contrast to Warburton.
And, while he retains a burning desire to win, it is indicative of a coach who has, by his own admission, “mellowed” with age.
He added bluntly: “I was an a****** on the training pitch sometimes.
“I had a winning mentality as a player, it was probably one of my best assets. I hated losing. But I have mellowed, because I was terrible – a real moaner. But I still desperately want to win.”
In another intriguing sub-plot on Monday evening, Stubbs will cross swords with Gers assistant David Weir, his defensive partner at Everton during the 2007/08 campaign, and both still huge favourites with the Toffees support.
While Stubbs’ relationship with Warburton appears, at best, curt, he has kind words for Weir.
Nevertheless, it will not dull his desire to emerge with a victory from this powder-keg fixture.
He said: “We had a great partnership, we were lightening in the head – just not in the legs. But they say in football the first five yards is in the head so we were very quick!
“We’re not in touch as much but I’ve still got huge respect for him. 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.”