IT is a bright, sunny afternoon in Fife and three old friends are standing by the side of a busy road. Two are talking animatedly, trying to sort out the arrangements for a forthcoming social event. “It’s definitely the Friday night,” says one. “Naw it’s no’, it’s the Saturday,” says the other as they peer intently at a pocket diary and try to make sense of it all. One of the men is Willie Henderson, an exceptionally gifted winger for Rangers and Scotland in the 1960s and early ‘70s. The other is Willie “Bud” Johnston, Henderson’s former team-mate and scorer of two goals when Rangers won the Cup Winners Cup in 1972. The third friend watches on in stony silence. He has done so for a dozen years now, the statue of Jim Baxter surveying all life in front of him in his hometown of Hill o’ Beath.

A garrulous, roguish figure, whose genius with a football at his feet was matched only by his capacity for drinking, Baxter spoke his last words in April 2001 when, aged 61, he died of pancreatic cancer. Bashfulness and modesty were not traits ever associated with the man known universally as Slim Jim whose streak of gallusness was at the core of his very being. The idea that they would one day immortalise him in bronze and plonk him on a plinth for all to see would have tickled him immensely.

“Jimmy would have loved that they put a statue of him up here,” says Johnston, as Henderson cackles at the thought. “Absolutely loved it. If they had built it when he was still alive, he would have been down there every Friday night having a drink next to it with his pals.”

There is more to this mini-gathering under a pleasant autumn sun than just some old friends catching up for a chat. A documentary about Baxter’s life has been expertly pieced together by Purple TV, the Scottish production company whose previous works include the award-winning programme on Jock Stein and another on Aberdeen’s Gothenburg Greats, and will have its premiere in Glasgow on Tuesday before being broadcast on BBC Alba the following week.

Henderson and Johnston both feature in the hour-long show that traces Baxter’s early days working down a coalmine, his emergence at Raith Rovers, the subsequent transfer to Rangers, his stellar, memorable moments in a Scotland shirt, and then his gradual decline via stops at Sunderland, Nottingham Forest and an unsuccessful return to Ibrox. It paints a picture of an immensely gifted player who could done even more had he not found himself too easily drawn to life’s many temptations.

Johnston prompts Henderson to speak first. “You knew him better,” he says. Henderson, though, wonders if he really knew Baxter at all. For behind the façade of this easy-going entertainer, there lay a complex character, something perhaps shaped by the knowledge that his mother gave him up as a young baby, entrusting her stepbrother and his wife to raise him instead. Henderson remained in touch with Baxter beyond their playing days but only latterly did he learn just how much his friend thought of him.

“I don’t know if you ever felt really close to a guy like Jim Baxter,” he adds. “Over the years not many people got to the bottom of Jim. But he showed how much he thought of me when I was sitting in the house one day and he phoned. He said, “Wee man I’ve got something to ask you. I want you to be the number one cord holder of my coffin”. Well, you can imagine how I felt getting asked that. Then I realised he did have emotions and this was him just expressing how he had felt about our friendship by giving me that honour.”

Recollections of Baxter can often make him look a self-centred figure, the team’s star attraction who was oblivious to the needs of others. Johnston tells a story that shreds that reputation. “I was only 17 and playing in a cup final against Celtic thinking, “I shouldn’t be here”. But Jim pulled me aside before the game and said, “Look, I’m the captain today. If it’s 0-0 with a minute to go and we get a penalty, you go up and get the cup and I’ll take the penalty”. You couldn’t help but smile.”

The documentary begins with footage of the famous Baxter keepy-uppies against England at Wembley in 1967. It remains one of Scottish football’s most iconic scenes and, as Henderson recalls, was in keeping with Baxter’s anything-goes approach to the game.

“There are not many players who could have done that, especially a year after England had won the World Cup,” says Henderson. “And folk still talk about it now. It was second nature to him. Nothing fazed him.”

Baxter had already left his mark at Wembley four years earlier, scoring twice in a Scotland victory. So synonymous did he become with the home of English football that writer William McIlvanney was moved to remark during his eulogy at Baxter’s funeral that “during those two years he owned Wembley. The English just had their names on the lease”. That one of those goals in 1963 was a penalty surprised even Henderson.

“I got brought down in the box and the guy stepping up to take the kick was Baxter. It’s Wembley, the goalkeeper is Gordon Banks and there’s 100,000 watching. The tension, the excitement, the noise – and here’s Jimmy taking the first penalty in his life. But he was so cool it was as if he was playing down the public park.”

Pinpointing the start of Baxter’s decline is difficult. Some believe he was never the same player after breaking his leg against Rapid Vienna in 1964, others that he shouldn’t have left Rangers for Sunderland five months later in search of the salary he felt his talent deserved. Whatever the reason, the feeling lingers that his was a potential that was never properly fulfilled.

“He could have been better for longer,” confirms Henderson. “I remember talking to him not long after he took unwell and he said that if he could have done it all again, he would have changed a lot. So he knew within himself he should have been at the top of the tree for longer.”

Johnston agrees. “His lifestyle must have caught up with him. It’s not a surprise if he was doing half the things people said he was doing – and I don’t think he was doing them all. But his fitness wasn’t great towards the end.”

If there are regrets that more people did not get to experience Baxter at his peak, they are superseded by the memories of those fortunate enough to have seen him play. A fresh audience will learn all about him when the documentary airs.

“We’re talking about a guy who hasn’t played for many, many years but is still a legend in many people’s eyes,” says Henderson. “This was a guy chosen to play in a Rest of the World select alongside Puskas, Eusebio and di Stefano. When you’re chosen to play with players of that ilk, it’s not by accident. You can’t hide class.”

And with that the two friends shuffle off, still planning their next rendezvous, and leaving another old pal until the next time.

- Jim Baxter will be shown on BBC Alba on September 24 at 9pm