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Spiers on Sport: why Walter Smith is a godsend to Rangers

No wonder Charles Green and the Rangers fans are beside themselves at Walter Smith’s return to the club as a director.

Smith will blanch at the comparison, but you sometimes think he is to Rangers fans today what Winston Churchill was to Britons 70 years ago, in terms of inspiration and trust.

For Green, Smith’s return to Ibrox is a godsend. This Yorkshireman, of no previous Rangers affiliation and merely at the club to make money (and there’s no sin in it), has quite astoundingly turned around his own standing at the club, first by getting Ally McCoist to give his public backing, and now having Smith’s assent as well.

Green, by his own testimony, has gone from being physically threatened by some Rangers elements to being lionised in the streets - all in the space of four months. I don’t know how good or otherwise Green is in business but I can scarcely think of a PR coup quite like this.

Walter Smith’s Rangers allegiance is now the stuff of history books. It is 26 years since he was first employed by the club, and over half a century since he first attended a game at Ibrox as a supporter.

Smith first entered the employ of Rangers with Graeme Souness in 1986, though the more intriguing thought is the way Smith continued his habit of standing on the old Copland Road terracing to watch his team as a teenager, even after his professional career with Dundee United had already got under way in 1966.

Smith once said he used to take it game by game - depending on where Dundee United were playing, and depending also whether he was included in manager Jerry Kerr’s squad - to see if he could make it along to Ibrox.

This period – the mid to late 1960s – was also the time when Smith realised he wasn’t just a fan of Rangers, but a fan of football, period. He once told me he would also pay his way into Celtic Park to watch Jock Stein’s team, simply to marvel at the quality of the football on show.

People these days say you are only a kosher football fan if you follow one team. Smith is a Rangers fan, end of. But when he relayed that story about also going to watch Celtic – his own team’s great rival – I knew then that he was also what Arthur Hopcraft once called “the authentic football man”.

It isn’t just media fawning which has suggested that Smith will be invaluable to the current Rangers cause. It is undeniably true. As a non-executive director he will bring a presence, a knowledge of Scottish football, a calm perspective, and a cynical edge when required.

Charles Green is lacking in at least two of these four qualities, so Smith’s arrival ticks some important boxes.

More than anything, with Green attempting to raise £20 million via a share-issue, Smith’s assent gives Green a much coveted (and I hope a deserved) seal of approval.

As Graeme Souness put it: “The credibility which Walter’s decision to become a director brings to Rangers is enormous.”

Smith’s return to Rangers also opens the door to one delicious piece of conjecture – might he one day return to the dugout for a third time as the club’s manager?

Right now, in thoroughly distancing himself from the job Ally McCoist is doing, Smith is adamant he won’t. Moreover, at 64, and having done it all, the drudgery of the lower divisions is not something that will appetise Smith in the slightest.

Nonetheless, if anything ever goes seriously awry with the McCoist leadership, Smith would find himself a sitting duck for those who urged that Rangers be placed in safe, knowledgeable hands as the club plots its way back to the top.

If that scenario – a vacant Ibrox manager’s chair – ever arises over the next two years, Smith might find himself in an uncomfortable position.

Personally, I always found that Smith’s greatest quality was his genuine, ingrained modesty. You certainly don’t mess with this guy. But nor would you ever find him bragging or boasting about anything.

It is an uncommon – if not quite a rare – gift. Rangers are lucky to have Walter Smith.

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