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The feast of Steven

THE young man pokes his head into the room and gives a cheery goodbye, his wave returned by a growing murmur of appreciation.

Steven Naismith happy to get back to work at St Stephen's. Picture: James Galloway
Steven Naismith happy to get back to work at St Stephen's. Picture: James Galloway

The room in St Stephen's Church in Bath Street, Glasgow, is full of the homeless enjoying a Christmas lunch donated by Steven Naismith. The scene is quietly but significantly emotional.

The gesture is underplayed by the footballer, the gratitude from the diners is almost tangible but much remains unspoken. This is a matinee in Glasgow as directed by Frank Capra. It is a wonderful life, if only for the day, for the recipients of the festive meal supplied through Loaves and Fishes and funded for the second consecutive year by Naismith, once of Rangers now of Everton. There will be a repeat performance in the Whitechapel centre in Liverpool next week.

The reception for Naismith is extraordinary. Faces that have taken a second prize to the ravages of a succession of winters are graced by warm smiles as he passes the tables.

The local boy made good is home. He is aware, though, that his departure was painful and not just for himself.

The story can be cut to a single reel but it still holds a heavy drama. The 26-year-old left Ibrox in the summer to join Everton and one could be forgiven if the transfer was subject to a legal rather than a medical examination.

For the record, Naismith has no wish to be part of the action by 67 players raised by PFA Scotland, is not seeking a constructive dismissal case against Rangers but is contesting the club's assertion that his move down south is invalid. This should be ruled upon by the Scottish Football Association next month.

The player is aware his departure has caused anger among sections of the Ibrox support.

"To be honest at this moment I wouldn't go back for a game,'' he said. "A lot of fans aren't happy with what's happened and what went on, but you never know in the future.

"It's probably still raw. I'm proud of the fact I played for Rangers for five years, I won trophies and won leagues with them, was involved in Europe. It was probably the proudest I've been in my career. The whole squad would still have been there unless the manager wanted to sell them or a player wanted to leave and they allowed it. I signed and had three years left and thought I would have had that at least.''

Instead, Rangers slid into liquidation and Naismith signed for Everton. The player who gave up 75% of his wages to save jobs at the club was suddenly accused of greed.

Naismith is phlegmatic about the reaction to his decision.

"Not many people have been nasty or said bad things. A lot of folk that see me in the street will ask what happened and that's it,'' he said. "Ninety per cent of people that talk about it don't know half of it.

"The people closest to me know what happened and what's gone on on my part anyway and that's all you can do, you're never going to make everyone happy."

Charles Green, chief executive at Rangers, has been outspoken about the conduct and the legal position of those who left Rangers but Naismith is relaxed about the rhetoric.

"He's going to say everything he can, that he thinks is right, that he needs to say in the position he's in," said Naismith. "I've never met him or had a conversation with him. Part of what he is doing is because he's now the head of Rangers. There are things he needs to do or the fans wouldn't be happy with him doing his job, so that's fair enough. I'm not going to sit here and slag the guy because I've never met him.

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