SCOTLAND’S football grounds may still be restricted to crowds of 500 at the moment because of the increased Covid-19 restrictions the Scottish government brought in on Boxing Day.

But Kilmarnock still succeeded in attracting one new supporter last week following the appointment of Derek McInnes as manager.

And an illustrious one at that.

“Sir Alex (Ferguson) texted me to say he’s now a Killie fan which was nice,” said McInnes as he spoke to the media at Rugby Park earlier this week.

The legendary Scot’s solidarity with those who make their living in his profession has long been renowned – but he has always been especially encouraging of anyone who occupies the Aberdeen hotseat

So seeing McInnes, who parted company with the Pittodrie club after eight years in charge at back in March, return to the game this week clearly pleased him.

Fergie was not the only famous name to make contact. Steven Gerrard, his old sparring partner at Rangers, got in touch to wish him well. As did Brendan Rodgers, his one-time rival at Celtic.

The 50-year-old is hopeful he will be able to tap into the contacts he has built up in the game in this country, down south and further afield as he seeks to revive Kilmarnock’s promotion push in the coming months.

“I think it’s important you look right across the board and use any network,” he said. “First and foremost we need to give the players here the opportunity. We’re trying to get to know them and find out more about them as there are some players I know better than others.

“But any way you can try and lean on people you should try to utilise. You have to use these connections in any way that it might help. Ultimately you want to get the strongest team and squad together.”

McInnes certainly got by with a little help from his friends during the longest spell he has spent out of football since joining Morton in his native Renfrewshire as a teenager. He has visited clubs, spoken to fellow managers, watched training sessions and attended games. He believes he has benefitted from the sabbatical mentally and physically. 

“We’re all built to work, but I recognised that it was important to take the break,” he said. “I see myself as a manager, but I was a manager who was determined to enjoy his break. I wanted to take that time and make the most of it and I feel that I managed to do that.

“There were a few clubs that I visited that I can’t really mention due to Covid issues. We weren’t meant to be there officially! But I managed to spend time with a couple of managers and see the ins and outs.

“Just being in contact with good football people over the while and getting the chance to go and watch friends’ teams training was great. Going to England and watching a few games there also gave me a broader spectrum of it all. That was important.

 “The media stuff was good as I do enjoy it. But it was always just about the right opportunity to get back in. But I need to make clear that I enjoyed my time out, spending time with the family and the freedom of being able to be a bit more spontaneous and have options to do things. As once you’re involved in management, you don’t always get that.”

McInnes has come up against a few good Kilmarnock teams as both a player and a manager in his time and knows the current side will have to get better to satisfy the demands of the Rugby Park club’s supporters.

“My earliest memories of Rugby Park are probably of playing against Tommy Burns’s team,” he said. “I remember playing against him directly, man marking him Allan McGraw gave me a job to do on him. I picked up the man of the match award - and he still scored against me after it had been announced! It was a learning curve.

“I had a lot of friends in Bobby Williamson’s team. It was a winning team and boys like Ally McCoist and Ian Durrant joined it. So Kilmarnock was always a club we would come down and watch play. I do think there has been some real good highlights for Kilmarnock over the years, a couple of cup successes and, more consistently over a period of time, the work that Stevie done.

“As a player I always remember, whether I was playing for Morton, Rangers and Dundee United, they had quite a big travelling support and when things were right here you felt it.

“Whatever club you work at there has always been an expectation, some more than others. There was a huge expectation on us at Aberdeen to compete at the top end of the league, to win cups and to get into Europe every year. But you would rather work for clubs who want to win things.”

McInnes added: “I think it doesn’t matter whether you are the biggest club in the league or the smallest, you have to try and make your own demands.

“The demand for everybody at this club, the responsibility for everyone at this club, including myself now, is to win a title and that is what we will try and do. Hopefully we will make the necessary improvements, get a bit of momentum and get the good performances from the side that helps us get the necessary results.”

If Derek McInnes can get Kilmarnock back to winning ways - and his reign started with a 2-0 triumph over Queen of the South at Palmerston yesterday - and get them back up to the Premiership come April the latest addition to their fan club will be delighted.