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Tribute To Walter Smith

Date: 26th October 2021

A giant of the Scottish game has sadly passed away. 

You will be hard pressed to find a man in Scottish football who commanded such respect as the great Walter Smith did. 

Even the Green half of Glasgow respected Smith, quite astonishingly when you consider he was the manager that guided their fierce rivals Rangers to twenty-one trophies during his two spells at Ibrox. 

Yet Mr Smith never hated Celtic or those that were associated with the club. He enjoyed beating them and winning trophies at their expense but he always respected them as rivals too. 

That was clearly evident when Walter took over the Scotland job in 2004 and one of his first appointments was to keep former Celtic player and manager Tommy Burns as his assistant alongside an incoming Ally McCoist.

The trio worked tremendously well together and seemed closest at getting us back to major tournament. 

The lure of going back to Rangers in 2007 was too much though as Smith and McCoist headed back to Govan. Hilariously Burns would ask when he was joining them at Ibrox. 

Then when Tommy died tragically in 2008, Smith would again cross the Old Firm divide and be one of his good friend’s pallbearers. It was such a touching moment. 

Celtic tweeted out their condolences to Walter’s family earlier today and it was brilliant to see so many of their fans responding with heartfelt messages showing just how respected the man truly was. 

As a coach, Smith was a winner. He was somewhat pragmatic when called upon, getting notable draws with Barcelona and Manchester United in the Champions League. 

I was lucky enough to be at his press conference at Ibrox before a clash against Man United. He was like a general and that press room was his battle ground. He was serious but had that wry smile waiting to cut away the tension.

Looking back I think he was slightly underrated outside of the Scottish game.

At Man United, Darren Fletcher credited Walter Smith (who served time as an assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson) with toughening up Cristiano Ronaldo and making the player better:

‘Walter Smith came in and decided not to give fouls  in training. So when Ronaldo was doing his skills and taking the mick, the lads would foul him. And for two weeks he was tearing his hair out.’

‘What happened after a few weeks? Ronaldo starts moving the ball because he’s sick of being kicked. Now he starts one or two-touch and running, now he start getting more goals and it’s clicking in his head, he’s having more of an impact on games. That was the beginning of Ronaldo’s transition.’ 

At Rangers fans will never forget the joyous moments the likes Brian Laudrup or Paul Gascoigne brought the club and it was Smith that brought them to Ibrox. He was a manager that allowed geniuses to work their magic. Player loved him and they’d give their all for him. 

Even after the end of his disappointing time at Everton, it was Smith who earmarked David Moyes as his successor and what an appointment that proved to be. 

I’ll leave you with the one time I was face to face with the great man, 

I was working as a barman at a hotel in Glasgow’s city centre. At the time, Walter was Scotland boss and it was a gala charity event. I look up and my hero was right there in front of me. 

As I start to serve him his drinks and older lady approaches him. He instantly knows that she’s going to speak to him. He showed her a bright smile, says ‘hello’ and listened keenly to her as she started to speak. 

‘You are Walter Smith aren’t you?’ 

‘Yes, that’s right’ 

‘Well you know my neighbour’s wee boy then!’ She continues enthusiastically.    

‘Oh really, who is that then?’ 

‘Yes, his name is Kenneth Miller.’ 

‘Oh yes I know Kenny, he’s a great lad’. 

The lady continued ‘His mum says he has been off his work lately with illness’. 

At no point did Walter seem annoyed or flustered by this interaction. He was polite and attentive. He was just this normal man, a gentleman. I didn’t really meet my hero that night but from that interaction I knew that he’d never have disappointed me if we were ever to meet. 

Scottish football has lost a legend. 

My condolences and love go out to his family at this time.

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