I’ll never forget the last time I met Walter Smith.
It was only last month at the Emmie Smillie Charity Golf Day at Loch Lomond.
Sir Alex Ferguson was there, along with the likes of Alan Shearer, Ian Wright, Alex McLeish, Neil Lennon, Charlie Nicholas, world snooker champions Stephen Hendry and Ken Doherty, and Naga Munchetty from BBC Breakfast.
It was a wonderful event, and a wonderful day.
But the absolute highlight was when we saw a car pull up at the main steps to the clubhouse.
Inside was Walter.
He had been driven there by his wife, Ethel, and everyone was over the moon to see him.
It was a lovely moment, and Sir Alex, in particular, was absolutely thrilled.
That was just one example of what Walter meant to so many people from so many different walks of life.
If I was ever asked to define what kind of human being any person should strive to aim for, then Walter would be right up there.
The way he represented himself and his family was an absolute credit. And he set an incredibly-high standard.
That is how I will always remember him.
How he was as a person, and how he treated others, was more important than anything he achieved in football.
Since Walter sadly passed away last week, the tributes have been endless. All have been rich in their praise of the man, and rightly so.
When the news broke on Tuesday morning, I took a few moments to think of him, and also Ethel, and their family.
It was a very, very sad day.
I’d been to many football and charity events with Walter over the years, and always enjoyed his company.
Our paths first crossed when he was playing for Dundee United, and I was starting out at Celtic.
We faced each other in the 1974 Scottish Cup Final, we won 3-0, and Walter had to settle for a runners-up medal.
It’s fair to say he more than made up for his lack of silverware on the pitch when he moved into the dugout.
Walter loved golf. He was a winner, but out on the course, if he didn’t play well or didn’t win, he wasn’t overly bothered. It was about enjoying the company and the camaraderie.
At the 19th hole, he enjoyed a glass of red, loved a laugh and was a teller of great stories.
But he never tried to hog the limelight, and never looked for any special treatment.
He just wanted to enjoy the company of those around him, and add his bit to the occasion if he felt it was appropriate.
Walter also never allowed any allegiances for any football team to matter.
That was also special about him. He enjoyed the chat from Celtic supporters or former players and managers as much as he did with anyone who had a connection to Rangers.
It was the same when he was manager of Everton, and was the in company of anyone who had Liverpool in their heart.
He had that ability to transcend rivalries, a very special quality.
When he was the manager of Rangers, on two different occasions, he brought fantastic success to Ibrox. But he managed to do it in such a way that he had the respect of any rivals.
He won and lost with dignity, and no matter the result, was always humble.
To achieve nine-in-a-row with Rangers in his first spell, and then to win three more titles and reach a UEFA Cup Final in his next stint, was just brilliant.
Tactically, Walter was excellent, and he was also very good with players and people. He knew how to get the best out of them.
Yes, he was very well backed financially by the Rangers board. But that doesn’t guarantee success. It just gives you a better chance of doing well.
Walter managed to put all of the ingredients he was given together, and come up with a winning recipe.
At Everton, there wasn’t success in terms of silverware, but he still achieved things to be proud of at Goodison.
Against a challenging backdrop, he kept them in the top flight for the four years he was there, and then played a part in David Moyes becoming his successor.
As Scotland manager, he had that wonderful evening at Hampden Park when we beat France 1-0 through Gary Caldwell’s goal.
He helped give our nation hope again on the international stage, and we were all very thankful for that at the time.
Of course, what he achieved in football was down to the solid grounding he had as a young coach at Dundee United.
Under the leadership and guidance of Jim McLean, Walter learned about the game and started making a name for himself in coaching circles.
As Dundee United won the Premier Division and reached a European Cup semi-final, Walter was at the heart of it all, and several United players from that era have spoken highly of him in the last few days.
Graeme Souness identified Walter as the man he wanted as his assistant at Rangers, and he moved to Ibrox in 1986.
Walter was instrumental in everything Rangers achieved after that, and has a special place in the history of the football club.
— Rangers Football Club (@RangersFC) October 26, 2021
When you assess his contribution, he is right up there, and when you are rated by the likes of Sir Alex, Jock Stein, Graeme and Wee Jim, then you don’t really need more than that.
Steven Gerrard has also been complimentary about the guidance and advice he received from Walter in the past three years. I know Steven found that invaluable.
Neil Lennon has also spoken about how Walter offered him words of wisdom when he was a young manager at Celtic.
Once again, to do that for the boss of Rangers’ biggest rivals was a measure of Walter as a person.
Football has lost a very special manager. More importantly, we’ve all lost a wonderful man. He will be sorely missed.
He died aged 73 and, these days, that’s no age whatsoever.
Walter still had so much to give to so many as a husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, friend and mentor.
The thoughts of Marina and I are with Ethel and all the family at this very difficult time.
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