Tue, May

Walter Smith - a personal tribute

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When Rangers were beating all and sundry in Scotland (and occasionally further beyond) in the 1990s on our run to 9IAR, life couldn't have been better for many Rangers fans.

In those days, I felt invincible. I was in my mid-teens, playing at a decent level myself and, even though that meant I didn't get to many Rangers games in person, my club's almost constant success gave me a life confidence that only football fans might understand: a swagger, a gallusness and a self-belief that took me from being a child into adult-hood. As such, when people talked about the death of Walter Smith as being like the loss of their second father, I can identify with that. Of course he wasn't by my side on a day-to-day basis but his management of Rangers was an example of how I could lead my life. And the success he brought our club, seemed to transfer itself to my own outlook.

I was lucky enough to meet him once during that period. Ahead of a Victory Shield decider with England at Ibrox in 1992, Walter and Archie Knox were invited into the dressing room to give us an extra team-talk whilst Brian McAlinden (later made a CBE himself) stood aside. Archie did most of the talking but I remember Walter looking us all directly in the eye as we walked out. My football career ultimately fizzled out some time later but that moment will live with me forever.

After I stopped playing, I bought my first season ticket in 1999/00 so by the time Walter returned in 2007, life was somewhat different for us all. I was now married, my first daughter was on the way and, despite not having the same success as in the 1990s, Rangers were arguably a bigger part of my life than it had ever been before. As well as being an RST board member, this website was increasingly popular meaning Walter Smith was again a key presence in my life. Again, not standing by me day-to-day but someone I listened to and again admired.

On the field at that time, the Rangers team perhaps lacked the individual brilliance of players like Laudrup, Gascoigne and McCoist from his first spell but Walter was quickly able to put his usual pragmatic stamp on the squad in terms of building a successful team. That led us to the UEFA Cup final of 2007/08 in his first full season back and onto three league titles in the following three seasons which, in many ways, were just as impressive as the run he gave us in the previous decade. In that second spell, he proved 9IAR was no fluke, wasn't bought as some critics claimed and that he could stand toe-to-toe with anyone in any dugout. His legendary status was confirmed.

As such, when Walter retired in 2011, the loss was immediately felt. Ally McCoist is an incredible man - one I admire more with every time he commentates on football - but he was unable to transfer his quality as a player into management. Events off the park would also take their hold and none of us need reminded of the disappointments of the last decade. In that vein both Ally and Walter would try to help but the frauds associated with the club by then would defeat even their efforts. I contributed to and edited a book on these difficult times and Walter provided the foreword - he didn't know myself or the other editors but he gave his time for nothing because he was a concerned fan like us.

It took ten long years before the club would win the top league championship again and in Steven Gerrard we have another winner like Walter. Gerrard also played at the highest level in a very different era - a modern game of money, agents and glamour. Yet, Gerrard is clearly a family man too, equally admired by his peers and, whilst it is too early to say if he'll have the same long and successful association with Rangers as Walter did, delivering our club's 55th title was as important as any of Walter's successes.

With that in mind, Gerrard's interview discussing Walter's passing was an emotional one. Steven Gerrard is an indomitable icon of modern football but was brought publicly to tears by the loss of a humble man from Carmyle in Glasgow. Indeed, the tributes from all over the world - in sport, politics, TV and film - show just how much of a colossus Walter was. A true giant of world football.

That's how I'll remember him. I also believe that his guiding hand will be there for Rangers forever. And for all of us, too.

Stewart Franklin - Gersnet Editor