DOUGLAS Rae OBE may, much to his chagrin, have been unable to oversee a return to the top flight of Scottish football during the 17 years that he spent as chairman of Morton.

The local businessman and lifelong supporter invested a huge amount of his time, not to mention his money, into the team he had cheered on from the terraces as a boy during his lengthy tenure. He made some ambitious managerial appointments as well as some quality signings. His ultimate goal, though, eluded him.

But just having his beloved ‘Ton in any division, never mind the Premiership, was something he could always console himself with. There was a very real danger of the Inverclyde club going out of existence when he took control back in 2001. He intervened and prevented administrators from putting them into liquidation.

Andy Ritchie, the Morton great, remains revered down Greenock way as a result of his wizardry during the late 1970s and early 1980s. But he is in no doubts about the esteem which Rae, who has passed away aged 87, should also be held in by fans. It is not for nothing that both men have been inducted in the Hall of Fame even though the latter never so much as kicked a ball.

“I can remember the dark days well,” said Ritchie. “He had always been a supporter and was in a favourable position to be able to do something about it. The club badly needed it. Fair play to the man. He was the one who put his money where his mouth was. The club could have gone out of the game at that time. He kept it going when over people were giving it a very wide berth.”

Morton’s difficulties by no means ended after Rae took over. Their perilous condition off the field resulted in some difficult times on it and consecutive relegations were suffered. They won promotion from the old Third Division at the first attempt in 2003 with John McCormack as manager.

Yet, returning to the second tier proved altogether more problematic. It was only at their third attempt, when Jim McInally had taken over from McCormack, that they managed it, going up as Second Division champions in 2007.

McInally would ultimately move on as well the following season when results dried up. But he came to regard Rae as a friend as much as an associate and was devastated to learn of his passing this weekend. He recounted an anecdote which he felt summed him up.

“There used to be rumours that Douglas picked the team and interfered,” he said. “I just ignored them. I knew the truth.

“He did used to come into the dressing room before the game, he did used to come in after the game. But I didn’t have a problem with it. It didn’t change what I did. I was quite happy for him to be there. It was his football club. He would never impose anything on you.

“When I joined Morton there were two Australian boys there, John and Marco Maisano. They were getting well-paid. Douglas thought the world of them, of John especially. Early on, I stopped playing John. I could see how disappointed Douglas was. He used to argue his case all the time. But I didn’t budge.

“At the end of the season when I told him I wanted to release John he was shocked. I then had to go into a board meeting with all the directors. When I told them I was freeing John Arthur Montford nearly had a heart attack. But when Arthur challenged me on it who was the first to jump in and back me up? Douglas.

“I thought: ‘What a great chairman you are! You don’t agree with me, but you’ve still got my back!’ It was brilliant. His loyalty to managers was terrific.”

Rae was of the old school and no mistake. His caustic comments about Garry O’Connor, who Kenny Shiels was so keen to bring in during his spell as manager back in 2014, were priceless.

“Have I been disappointed with Garry?” he said. “Yes, he has been hopeless.” So you weren’t impressed then Douglas?

Rae’s son Crawford took over back in April when his ill health prevented him from continuing. He will look to lead Morton to the Premiership place that was denied them when his father was at the helm. It will be a fitting tribute to the man who ensured the 144-year-old Scottish institution survived if he can.