There are stories from back in the day of a suave, debonair Ronnie McKinnon combing his hair in the Ibrox dressing-room, maybe applying a splash of something fragrant, while airily asking team-mates who the opponents were that Saturday afternoon.

There was always something of the high life, the dandy, about this most distinguished of Rangers centre-backs.

McKinnon, now a fit and healthy 74-year-old and still wearing that handsome, distinctive bearing, reluctantly agrees with my description of him.

"Yes, there is maybe an element of truth in that," he says. "When you are a footballer, you become a public figure, and you also become a target for women. So you have choices to make: good choices or bad choices. I used to enjoy a bit of the high life - nightclubs and such - but not any more. I'm 74 years old. I've calmed down."

These days McKinnon lives quietly with Elizabeth - "my third wife, a teacher, she's wonderful" - near Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides. It is all a far cry from his brilliant and colourful career with Rangers and Scotland, and Pele, in the 1960s. He has been back in Scotland for 10 years, after a 30-plus-year odyssey in South Africa was brought to an abrupt halt.

"After my Rangers career ended in 1973 I went to South Africa for three months to play for Durban United and ended up staying for 32 years," he says. "I loved South Africa, it was fantastic. At first I couldn't believe it: the weather, the lovely women with their brown faces. I thought I was in paradise. But when political change came, I knew it was time to get out.

"When apartheid was being reversed, it got very dangerous going out at night. There were guns, there were car-jackings, you would be stopped at traffic lights. I read of one terrible case of a guy who got stopped, got his car stolen from him, and who was then shot on the spot. I said to my wife, 'that's it, it's time to leave. It's time to go back to Scotland'."

Long before all this McKinnon had been a feted Rangers player of the 1960s. The famous Greig-McKinnon-Baxter line of that time is recalled today by Rangers fans of a certain vintage with a misty eye. Under Scot Symon, McKinnon racked up domestic trophies and Scotland caps before it all came to a jarring conclusion one night in Lisbon in November 1971.

The multiple disasters of that evening, which denied McKinnon a place in Rangers' 1972 European Cup Winners Cup final team, are vivid in his memory.

"It was a 50-50 ball away at Sporting Lisbon and I like to think it was an accident," he says. "I went for the ball and got there first, but then the guy's leg came down on me. But it was really the aftermath of the incident that caused all my problems.

"They shoved me into a car - with my leg badly broken - and took me to the local hospital. The surgeon there took one look at my leg and said, 'oh no, no, that's too complex, I can't operate on that'. So I was carted back onto the bus and taken out to the airport to fly home with the team. My leg was bloody sore.

"When we got to Glasgow I was immediately taken to the hospital but the surgeon there said, 'look, I'm really sorry, but I've been operating all day, I can't do any more. I'll do it first thing in the morning'. It was these delays that cost me. I was out for a whole year, when I should only have missed five or six months. My Rangers career was effectively over."

Back then a fairly cumbersome metal plate was inserted into McKinnon's leg, which then had to be taken out. When the healing finally did take place he faced almost as horrendous a challenge as the 50-50 that night in Lisbon.

"I was 31 when I broke my leg. I'd had a great Rangers career, but I was still one of the fastest players at the club. After my injury it was more about the mental than the physical with me . . . could I make a 50-50 tackle again?

"Jock Wallace, then the Rangers trainer, said to me, 'right Ronnie . . . out onto the training pitch . . . we're going to do a 50-50 tackle.' The sweat was lashing off me just thinking about it. I thought 'this is what broke my leg last year'. But Jock made me do it with him, and we both ended up in a heap and laughing. That was it. I felt fine again."

It wasn't just with Rangers that McKinnon had starred. Throughout the 1960s his game-awareness and lovely ball-control for a centre-back made him a regular with Scotland. By a quirk of fate it will be 48 years tomorrow - April 15, 1967 - since McKinnon and the rest of the Scots humbled England 3-2 at Wembley.

"Forty-eight years, you say?" he says in shock. "That is scary. We were huge underdogs but that was a great day. And it was basically the Jim Baxter show. Jim was fantastic on the pitch - not so fantastic off it, I might add.

"I remember the year before that '67 match we played Brazil - with Pele - in Glasgow. I was teasing Baxter the day before saying 'it's Pele tomorrow, Jim, the big test'. Jim said to me, 'ach, Pele, who's he? You watch me tomorrow, big man'. And it's true: the next day Baxter went out and ruled the show. When I look back now I played with such great players."

One amazing aspect about McKinnon's career is the way he had been written off as being too small for a 16-year-old. And he wasn't even a centre-back in those days. His retelling of it all is a bit eccentric.

"All of my young life I was an attacker, I wanted goals," he says. "I was a left-winger, playing Junior football, but I was frail and I got hacked to bits. I was deemed too wee. But I did have skill and teams wanted me.

"It was the training at Rangers - I'm serious - that made me shoot up. My muscles and my legs just sprouted. I'm six feet tall. There is a history book about Rangers players which has me at 5ft 10½ but that's wrong. I was 5ft 10½ at aged 16 or 17 but going to Rangers made me taller. The training made me go up the way."

Today, in the Western Isles, McKinnon still enjoys a Rangers connection. He is an ambassador for the Lewis and Harris Rangers Supporters Club, which with 650 members is the biggest the Ibrox club has. This weekend past, McKinnon led a group for their annual pilgrimage to the stadium.

Life on Lewis has its ups and downs, he says. "My mother was born up here, in the village of Carloway. When we came back to Scotland I said to my wife, 'let's go up there and try it'. We like it here, though the weather can be bad. If places like Lewis and Harris had the weather then the house prices here would rocket. It is a beautiful part of the world."

He is 74 now. My goodness, if Rangers had a Ronnie McKinnon today, how blessed the club would be.