IT should have been one of the greatest days in the life of Mark Warburton. Actually, it was the start of a long and painful death.

This was Saturday, August 6, 2016. Rangers, his Rangers, were returning to Scottish football’s top tier after four years that were anything but short. Lowly Hamilton Academical were the visitors, the popular manager’s stock was high, and things really couldn’t have been rosier.

But there was a problem. Someone forgot to tell the club’s over excitable PR department that while, yes, Rangers were back, they were still living in the real world. Warburton hadn’t known it until that day but he’d been given a hospital pass.

Sitting at Hampden yesterday, the former Rangers manager was in good form and after two years away from Glasgow, happy to speak openly on what went right and wrong during 18 months he will never forget.

Let’s start at the beginning of the end.

Warburton said: “David Weir and I got to the stadium at 9am of the Hamilton game, we walked out and got the shock of our life when we saw ‘Going for 55.’ That was an unrealistic expectation having just been promoted. We weren’t going to beat Celtic that year.

“Talk about the right message to supporters but one which lights a blue touch paper. It should’ve been ‘Rangers are Back’ or ‘Welcome Back’ or ‘Bluenoses are Back’. Don’t put ‘Going for 55’. We still would have sold season tickets.

“We were going to build the team, build the squad, use the transfer windows and then the following year have a go. Then, year three, there would be European football and having a go.

“I’m not a bitter and twisted man sitting here but if you put up there ‘We Are Back’ then the fans (still) ignite because they are back in the top-flight with one of the biggest clubs in world football. You can send out a real powerful message by saying that.

“But with ‘Going for 55’, you’re saying ‘we’re going for the league title’. We weren’t ready for it, now with free transfers and guys on £3-5k a week. So give the right message to the fans. I’d have controlled the media completely differently. I should have brought in my own media guy. Because I wasn’t controlling what was coming out of the club.”

Ah, but this is Rangers. When has realism ever come into it? There were supporters who believed winning the league was a possibility. But the manager could hardly have come out and told them to cool their expectations. He would have been hounded.

Warburton, to an extent, played along with this misplace hype, though he never believed Celtic were ever going to be in his sights.

And after Hamilton got a draw at Ibrox on that opening day, some pennies did begin to drop.

Warburton said: “Hindsight is a great thing. Don’t forget that when I came in on my first day we had nine players. There were up to 14 guys who had left the club, some acrimoniously,

“We the likes of Andy Halliday, Jason Holt, James Tavernier, Wes Foderingham, Martyn Waghorn and Rob Kiernan. All frees and cheap deals. Money was limited. Maybe you look back and wonder if you could have done things differently but those boys achieved promotion.

“Promotion was non-negotiable. We did that. The Petrocfac Cup was a nice extra and, of course, there was the Scottish Cup Final which did hurt us. Then there was that great game against Celtic. First year, you look back, and say it was okay.”

But Celtic kept winning. The lead at the top quickly became insurmountable. Brendan Rodgers had the title won by Christmas.

Warburton recalled: “People weren’t asking about how young Barrie McKay was developing. It was always the gap. Every press conference was about the 20-point gap. Celtic were having a phenomenal season and we had the problem of a young squad and the problems any team would have who’ve just come up.

“Just be honest and say they were head and shoulders the best team in the country, which they were.

“But you can’t say that. You can’t show a lack of ambition, you can’t say ‘we’re not going to win the title this year’ but the realist in you says you’re nowhere near. If you’ve guys on £3-5k a week against guys on £20-25k a week you’re going to lose nine times out of ten.

“That semi-final was our day. Patrick Roberts missed from three yards out, they hit the bar, a great save from Wes, a great day for the fans and players; but nine times out of ten we lose that game because they have players on far bigger wages, a team full of international players and high-class loans. So reality kicks in.”

And then there was Joey Barton. He lasted eight games, hardly got a kick and for many is seen to epitomise everything bad which hurt Rangers that season.

Warburton, with a shrug, said: “What happened, happened. He’s a young coach at Fleetwood and I wish him well. Genuinely.

“You look back at whether it was the right signing the time but we did our due diligence. He was in the Championship team of the year and everyone we spoke to talked about him in glowing terms.

“Joey’s articulate and understands it. But unfortunately a few things happened and it didn’t work out.

“But at the time it was seen as a really bold transfer. The headlines were all positive, he was going to set us up and I don’t know how many season tickets we sold on the back of the back of Joey Barton.

“Niko Kranjkar, we knew, was a stone overweight but he was a top technician. After one training session in Charleston, Kenny Miller said he was the best he’d seen. He was outstanding, but it was a gamble to get him fit.”

A lot has happened since Warburton left Rangers two years ago. Too much.

There has been humiliating defeats to Celtic, the ridiculous Pedro Caixinha appointment, Graeme Murty twice, and now Steven Gerrard who has impressed the man who once sat in the manager’s officer.

Warburton said: “I think he has done a great job. He was a world-class player and he has come from a big-club mentality.

“It allows him to come to Rangers and know what it means: the tradition, the institution that is Rangers. He understands the expectation of the fan base. It’s great for him. I hope he gets the job done.

“It’s good that they are finally opening the purse strings. You can’t close that gap without the financial support and it’s great to se him getting that support. He has done a tremendous job and hopefully he will carry on and get it over the line.”

Warburton made mistakes. Rangers as a club made more. But while there are regrets, one is not going to Ibrox in the first place.

“It’s just a great club. People don’t understand Rangers. How can you understand Rangers and Celtic? You have to adapt to it. It’s a magnificent club, an institution and there are loads of politics you have to understand, along with the media, and what’s involved being at Rangers. However, I just look back on it as a fantastic time.”

Mark Warburton was speaking at a William Hill media conference. William Hill is the proud sponsor of the Scottish Cup.