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Sandy Jardine: A full-back who struck fear into the hearts of wingers

There was a time, not too many decades ago, when Scotland produced tranches of wonderful footballers, an apparently endless array who could hold their own among the very best in Europe.

Celtic's Tommy Callaghan fails to stop Sandy Jardine netting for Rangers in the 1975 League Cup, although the effort would be ruled offside.  Celtic players, l-r: Roddie MacDonald, Pat McCluskey, Andy Lynch and Ronnie Glavin. Derek Johnstone completes this Hampden image. Rangers won the match 1-0, Alex MacDonald the scorer. Picture: Herald Archive
Celtic's Tommy Callaghan fails to stop Sandy Jardine netting for Rangers in the 1975 League Cup, although the effort would be ruled offside. Celtic players, l-r: Roddie MacDonald, Pat McCluskey, Andy Lynch and Ronnie Glavin. Derek Johnstone completes this Hampden image. Rangers won the match 1-0, Alex MacDonald the scorer. Picture: Herald Archive

Sandy Jardine, who has died from cancer aged 65, was typical of this breed.

Jardine was not just an extremely fine footballer, he was also a courteous and civilised man. Sometimes quietly spoken, no showman, no rowdy leader of the pack, it was his playing of football which both dignified and distinguished him.

A simple sentence suffices for his ability: he was superb.

I can recall as if it was yesterday the old, oval Ibrox of the 1970s, a classic football stadium of Britain in design and distinction, in which many a sturdy, skilful Rangers team roused the crowds which came out to watch them. The Ibrox grass gleamed in early August as you feasted on the scene below you, to be royally entertained by the teams of Willie Waddell and Jock Wallace.

There, in its midst, was Jardine. He was a clever and cultured footballer, whose intelligence either swept him effortlessly past opponents or simply stopped them in their tracks. He actually reversed the usual rule of football, whereby defenders dread wingers.

Jardine, on the contrary, made wingers dread facing him.

It can be odd, this, but he was one of those footballers who, by the way he looked and played, gave you an insight into his intelligence and personality, much like Johnny Giles did at Leeds United. You just knew by watching Sandy Jardine week in, week out that he was a decent man, a clever man, and someone who knew how to comport himself.

It was little wonder, in later years, that he worked in PR and publicity for Rangers. He was effortlessly cut out to be the public face of a club which rarely had to look far for its troubles.

In his early heyday of the 1970s Scotland blithely spoke of having, in Jardine and the young Danny McGrain at Celtic, one of the best full-back partnerships in the world.

In truth, this was said and written without actually being backed up to any degree, but the way these two could perform made you convinced it was a rough approximation of the truth.

Jardine, like McGrain, could be a fine attacking, or "overlapping", full-back. In the case of Rangers, on the odd occasion when goalkeeper Peter McCloy didn't hoist one right up into the clouds, but instead opted to roll the ball out to his right, to Jardine, you just knew that something more appealing and artful would be forthcoming from Rangers.

In such situations, this is how Jardine would proceed with the ball. He would run with it almost to the halfway line, his head constantly up looking at his options, and then make a pass which invariably set up a Rangers attack.

Jardine, supposedly the defender, would then run further forward, not back, and be the third link in attack, often finding himself way down near his opponents' corner flag to whip the ball over. He gave currency to the very phrase "the attacking full-back".

If you want proof of this just look on YouTube where Jardine is postioned on the night of April 19, 1972, just seconds before he blasts Rangers into the lead in the European Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final second leg against Bayern Munich. He had taken up a position just yards from the Bayern box, his every instinct being to play high up the park. Der Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer, was mighty baffled that night.

Funnily enough, I have memories of Jardine playing left-back for Rangers, even though right-back was his traditional berth. In actual fact, as he proved later in his career with Hearts, he could be a very able centre-half, and had even played as a striker in his very earliest days at Rangers. In Sandy Jardine, you didn't just get skill and talent, but quite a bit of versatility, too. The magnitude of his playing career was sheer testament to his skill, health and fitness. To have played professional football at the top in Scotland, and often in Europe, for 20 years between 1967 and 1987, was quite a feat.

At 37, Jardine was awarded the Scottish Football Writers Player of the Year award, proving at least that we scribes are not as blind as many like to make out.

In his day he could easily have played in England - back then the great honeypot of many a lauded Scottish player. But Jardine belonged to that age of contentment wherein playing for Rangers or Celtic or Aberdeen proved a sufficient satisfaction in itself.

I know for a fact that Jardine never grew rich for all his wonderful years at Rangers . . . rich, that is, in terms of money.

It proved one of those random human tragedies, ready to strike at any of us, when Jardine discovered last year that he had cancer of the throat and a secondary cancer of the liver. When I interviewed him 13 months ago in the midst of his gruelling radiotherapy, he summed up his fate exactly as any of us might have. "I thought I was Mr Invincible," Sandy told me.

"I've hardly been in a hospital in my life, I don't smoke, I'm not a drinker. I felt like nothing could put me down. But now I've got cancer."

I thought it utterly typical of Jardine, a man of appreciation, when he also said to me: "Graham, please also quote me on this: the doctors and nurses of the NHS have been wonderful to me. The NHS has its critics but I have learned how caring and talented these people are. But for them, I might not be here."

In the end, alas, medical care could not spare him. News of Jardine's recurred illness had circulated for weeks, and now death has been visited upon him.

Whenever I think of this former footballer, I will think of my boyhood pleasure in watching him play, and my pleasure later in life at encountering Jardine's charm and courtesy as an elder statesman in the game.

He was one of Scotland's best.

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