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Still wrapped up in Rangers despite battling hard on several other fronts

STEVEN NAISMITH is fighting to become part of the best Everton side in a generation.

Steven Naismith has not been a Rangers player for more than 18 months but he is still a supporter
Steven Naismith has not been a Rangers player for more than 18 months but he is still a supporter

He is working with a coach who has the potential to move even higher up the managerial mountain. He is an integral part of the renaissance of the Scotland team under Gordon Strachan. But the gravitational pull of the spinning Rangers story ensured that he was questioned almost exclusively yesterday about an annual meeting being held today.

The 27-year-old striker has not been a Rangers player for more than 18 months but he is still a supporter and the manner of his departure and the subsequent fall-out gives the line of question of legitimacy.

Naismith - partly through nurture, partly through experience, partly through a natural intelligence - understands the direction and pull of the currents swirling around Rangers. He is, of course, adept at negotiating these treacherous waters but his very presence in Glasgow as an Everton player is a reminder of the length of the crisis that has engulfed the club in headlines usually reserved for the sinking of very large ships en route to the Arctic.

Naismith was part of the exodus of players who left when Rangers were liquidated, choosing the option of not transferring his contract under Tupe regulations. Others also departed, some earning the club limited compensation, others not, but Naismith has dealt with the brunt of a disaffection about the manner of his signing for Everton.

Yet he is not playing to the gallery when he insists: "I definitely still call myself a Rangers fan. I want them to win every game, I follow the matches, watch them whenever I can. I had some of the best times of my career at Rangers so I would definitely say I am a fan."

This made clear, it is obvious that Naismith has watched events at his former club with some interest. His most interesting observation concerned one of the requisitioners who seeks election to the Ibrox board today. "I didn't have many dealings with Paul Murray. I was just a young footballer making my way in the game," he revealed. "He's someone who's said a lot of right things about the club so I'm sure if he was involved he would do a good job."

The most intriguing element to Naismith of the Rangers story is that some fans' groups have raised the possibility of withdrawing financial support from the club. The player left for professional reasons but could he empathise with those who might abandon the club, even temporarily, because of their disaffection with the way it has been run in recent years?

"Tomorrow hopefully will be a page turned and a new one will hopefully be more straightforward for everyone at Rangers," said Naismith. "The biggest group that suffer are the fans. Every year they buy their season tickets, as well as shares and every couple of months there's another twist, turn, another story. They're the ones who are suffering, so for the fans more than anyone else you want the club to move forward and for there to be more transparency - the most used word in all of this. The fans are the heart of any football club and they should be the first to be know about any developments."

But what about those who say they will not buy merchandise or renew season tickets? "I'm pretty sure that, for anybody who does make that decision, it's a massive decision for them," he said. "I know people who have been going for 40 or 50 years, gone through seasons and seasons without missing a game. So to then make a decision like that is not something they'll do lightly.

"It's a lot of people's lives. That's why these people should be the first to know what is going on at the club. Let's hope that happens now."

However, Naismith believes any boycott would simply illustrate the depths of despair endured by some supporters. "It has been at this point for the last couple of years," he said of the concerns engulfing fans. "It's been non-stop fighting, revelations about everything - probably more than half of them you would never expect to appear, yet they do.

"So I think Rangers fans now are probably prepared for everything. They need to get back to a time when all they are talking about is fighting for trophies and getting into Europe. That's what every fan wants."

He was unrepentant about leaving Ibrox, where he agreed a substantial wage cut, before signing for Everton. "As a footballer, you want to play at the highest level you can. Your career is so short that you often have to make big decisions," he said. "I had to make a big decision to leave. For fans who have been going for years and years and years, they've got to make a big decision."

He was, however, upbeat about his former club's unimpeded progress in SPFL League 1: "It probably gets the least coverage but they're doing fantastically. Hopefully that continues and they get back into the top flight, not just for them but for the Scottish game, because it's most entertaining when both of the Old Firm are fighting for the title."

Naismith, in Glasgow to attend a Christmas lunch he sponsors for the Loaves and Fishes charity for the homeless, was thanked by Denis Curran, the chairman of the charity. He said: "At our greatest hour of need, Steven has continued his sponsorship despite him no longer living or working in the city."

You take the boy out of Glasgow, but not Glasgow and its questions from the boy.

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