Former Scotland and Rangers manager Walter Smith has died aged 73 after a long illness.
His old club said they were ‘profoundly sad’ to announce the Ibrox ‘legend’ had passed away.
They revealed he died in hospital but did not disclose what he died of – with mystery still surrounding an operation he had in March.
Tributes have flooded in for the former defender from his old teams, with Manchester United, Everton and the Scottish national side all sharing condolences.
Meanwhile his former teammates also shared their experiences of the man who ‘means everything to a lot of folk’.
And First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed she was ‘very sad’ to hear of his passing, adding he was a ‘true football great’.
Smith was best known for his storming spell at Rangers where he dominated the league with 10 titles as a manager over two spells.
He also spent time in charge at Everton, taking over at Goodison Park between 1998 and 2002.
From here he took a position as fellow Scot Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant at Manchester United in 2004, during which time they won the FA Cup.
But he moved into international management from 2004 to 2007 and saw Scotland beat France in October 2006 – shooting them up the rankings by 70 places.
Walter Smith, the legendary Rangers and Scotland boss, has passed away at the age of 73
Smith also worked in England as an assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson and as Everton boss
Smith was assistant to Graeme Souness (right) at Rangers, taking over when he left in 1991
Smith appeared at a charity golf day at Loch Lomond last month (pictured, centre with Sir Alex Ferguson), alongside a host of famous faces from the worlds of football, sport and television
Former Celtic star Chris Sutton leads the tributes to ‘true gentleman’ Walter Smith
Former Celtic forward Chris Sutton has led tributes to Walter Smith, describing the former Rangers boss as a ‘true gentleman’ after he passed away at the age of 73.
The Ibrox club announced the death of their former manager – who won 10 league titles as boss over two spells and who also managed Scotland – on Tuesday.
And Sportsmail columnist Sutton was among the first to send out his thoughts to the family of the former Everton boss.
Sutton posted: ‘Really sad news to hear of the passing of Walter Smith. He was a true gentleman. Thoughts and prayers go out to Walter’s family.’
Ranger this morning said Smith had died, saying: ‘It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of our former manager, chairman and club legend, Walter Smith.’
Club chairman Douglas Park added: ‘On behalf of the Rangers board of directors, staff and players, I convey my deep condolences to the Smith family.
‘Walter leaves behind a wife, children and grandchildren, all of whom are in our thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.
‘It is almost impossible to encapsulate what Walter meant to every one of us at Rangers. He embodied everything that a Ranger should be.
‘His character and leadership was second to none, and will live long in the memory of everyone he worked with during his two terms as first team manager.
‘I spoke with Walter as recently as last weekend. Even when he was battling illness, he was still able to provide advice and support.
‘For that, I am personally grateful. I know that he continued also to maintain dialogue with senior members of staff, including our manager, Steven Gerrard.
‘Walter will be sorely missed by all of us at Rangers.’
Rangers held a minute’s silence in tribute to Smith.
They tweeted a photograph of club players and staff bowing their heads on the training pitch, with the caption: ‘A minute’s silence in memory of our former manager, chairman and club legend, Walter Smith.’
Manchester United wrote: ‘Everyone at Manchester United is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Walter Smith.
‘Our thoughts and prayers are with Walter’s friends and family at this extremely difficult time.’
Everton put: ‘A very sad day for football. Walter Smith OBE, former Rangers, Scotland and Everton manager, has passed away.
‘A man held in high regard by all his players. Our thoughts are with Walter’s loved ones at this tough time.’
The Scottish FA added: ‘We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the former Scotland national coach, and one of the most successful managers in Scottish football history, Walter Smith.
‘The thoughts of everyone at the Scottish FA are with his friends and family at this time.’
Rangers’ Old Firm rivals Celtic sent their condolences, in a tweet which read: ‘Celtic Football Club expresses its deepest sympathies following the sad news that former Rangers and Scotland Manager, Walter Smith, has passed away.
‘Walter was a tremendous servant to Scottish football and everyone at CelticFC sends their heartfelt condolences.’
Aberdeen tweeted: ‘All at AFC send their deepest condolences to the family and friends of Walter Smith, and to everyone at Rangers FC, at this terribly sad time.’
Former club Dundee United posted: ‘Dundee United is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of former player, coach, assistant manager, and board member Walter Smith.’
Hearts put: ‘Everyone at Heart of Midlothian Football Club sends their condolences to the family and friends of Walter Smith, and to Rangers Football Club, at this extremely sad time.’
St Johnstone added their own tribute, saying: ‘Everyone at St Johnstone’s thoughts are with the friends and family of Walter Smith during this sad time.
‘Walter was a great manager for both club and country and will be a great loss to the game.’
Greenock Morton tweeted: ‘The thoughts of everyone at Greenock Morton Football Club are with the family and friends of Walter Smith at this very sad time.’
Ally McCoist left ‘devastated’ by death of ‘second father’ Walter Smith
Ally McCoist has paid an emotional tribute to Walter Smith after the former Scotland and Rangers manager died at the age of 73.
The former striker played for Rangers during Smith’s first spell as their manager and was equally successful as Smith’s assistant manager between 2007 and 2011 before taking the top job himself.
And McCoist, speaking on talkSPORT, said Smith’s passing had left him ‘devastated’.
He said: ‘He means everything to a lot of folk, myself included. He was my boss, my coach, my second father and then turned into one of my best friends.
‘The loss is absolutely incredible to tell you the truth.
‘The good thing is he’s not in pain. I went to see Walter recently, I spoke to him on Saturday and I was going to see him on Sunday but he was too unwell and there was an inevitability about this horrible illness and we knew that it would be a matter of time.
‘However, it still does not take away the pain and the grief.
‘I could sit here and tell you about Walter Smith until the cows come home, about how good a manager, how good a coach and a football man he was.
‘But what I will say he was the best husband, father, friend, everything you would expect from a man.
‘I can’t tell you how devastated I am.’
A former Dundee United and Dumbarton defender, Smith was appointed manager at Ibrox in 1991, succeeding Graeme Souness.
He won 13 major trophies in seven years, including seven league titles in succession, before leaving at the end of the 1997/98 season and subsequently joining Everton.
He stayed at Goodison Park for four seasons before a brief stint as assistant manager to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.
Smith was appointed Scotland manager in December 2004 and was in charge for three years before returning to Rangers.
Here he won a further eight trophies before retiring in 2011 after completing another domestic double.
Smith’s former player and assistant Ally McCoist said on talkSPORT: ‘He means everything to a lot of folk.
‘He was my boss, my coach, my second father and then turned into one of my best friends. The loss is absolutely incredible.
‘The good thing is he’s not in pain. I went to see Walter recently, I spoke to him at the weekend and we knew that it would be a matter of time.
‘But it still does not take away the pain and the grief. I could sit here and tell you about Walter Smith until the cows come home.
‘But what I will say he was the best husband, father friend, everything you want from a man. I can’t tell you how devastated I am.’
Current Scotland captain Andy Robertson wrote: ‘Thoughts, prayers and condolences with Walter Smith’s family and loved ones today.
‘Heartbreaking to lose another great of Scottish football. A man of wisdom, dignity and integrity whose legacy will live on. May he rest in peace.’
Alan Shearer tweeted: ‘RIP Legend’. The pair had attended Emmie Smillie golf day at Loch Lomond Golf Club together last month.
Former Newcastle keeper Shay Given also put: ‘Sad news about the passing of Walter Smith, A great football man, thoughts and prayers with his family and friends #RIPWalterSmith.’
Former Rangers midfielder Joey Barton wrote: ‘RIP Walter. Great man.’
Ex-Celtic star Chris Sutton wrote: ‘Really sad news to hear of the passing of Walter Smith. He was a true gentleman. Thoughts and prayers go out to Walter’s family.’
Smith was born in Lanark in 1948 but grew up in post-war Glasgow in the 1950s, at a time when gang warfare was rife.
At the same time there was also a maniac dubbed Bible John going around slaughtering women, according to a biography of Smith.
But it ‘SilverSmith’ says the future Scottish legend was in a community shaped and bonded around football.
He was said to leave school and immediately wrap himself up in comics, magazines and programmes about Rangers, with dreams of playing at Ibrox.
Yet the biography says he had the ‘commitment but not the class, the enthusiasm but not the extra ingredient’.
He would play football all day on Saturdays ad Sundays with his friends even when the ground froze over during winter.
But Smith, like many in Glasgow in those days, was affected by the sectarian conflict in western Scotland.
He recalled an incident where he was pinned up against a wall by two thugs who asked what religion he was.
He said he yelled ‘protestant’ and was grateful it was the right answer because they did not beat him up.
He managed to steer clear of tribal violence but living by the mantra: ‘Treat people as you find them.’
Smith became Scotland boss in 2004 and oversaw a period that saw them jump 70 places in the world rankings
He won 21 major trophies with Rangers during his two spells with the Ibrox side
Smith celebrates his sixth title with Rangers in 1996 alongside Archie Knox (left) and Paul Gascoigne (right)
Politicians and celebrities also paid tribute to Smith today, with Ms Sturgeon saying it was ‘very sad’ to hear of his death.
She tweeted: ‘Very sad to hear of the death of former Rangers and Scotland manager, Walter Smith – he was a true football great.’
She added: ‘My condolences to his family, friends and colleagues across the world of football.’
The SNP’s Stewart McDonald put: ‘Walter Smith was a footballing legend, gent and all round class act.
‘My condolences to his family, friends and all of those in the wider football community who will miss him.’
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote: ‘So sad to hear of Walter Smith’s death. I remember him as a gentle giant of Scottish football.’
Nigel Huddlestone MP posted: ‘Walter Smith was a huge figure in both English and Scottish football. As the tributes show, he will be greatly missed.’
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar posted a tribute to Smith on Twitter, which read: ‘So sorry to hear of the death of Walter Smith – a true football legend.
‘He was a huge figure, especially in Glasgow, when I was growing up. He was loved by many and respected by all. My thoughts are with his wife, family and friends at this sad time.’
Golfer Stephen Gallacher put: ‘Very sad news to hear of the passing of Walter Smith he was a true gent.’
Later in life Smith was a described as a devoted husband and father of two sons and grandfather – often appearing at games in recent years with the youngsters.
He was made an OBE in 1997 while at Glasgow Rangers Football Club ‘for services to association football’.
Smith kept a tight lid on his private life, with his wife Ethel and sons Neil and Stevie rarely speaking publicly.
Little is know about Ethel, but apparently Smith said one of the toughest moments in his life was telling her he would return to manage Rangers after quitting Scotland.
Welsh footballer John Hartson said today Ethel and Smith would attend his charity ball every year and wished her well.
Smith is survived by his Ethel, Neil and Stevie, and his grandchildren.
‘Sir Walter Smith’ belongs to a a rich and illustrious lineage of Scottish coaches… Rangers management, players and fans would gladly hand back recent success for just one more day of the legend at the helm
To Rangers, the capture of a first Scottish league title in ten years felt like the very best of times. The Ibrox club had waited so long to return to the top of the tree that it felt, to many, like a rare and wondrous thing. A feat so precious that management, players and fans would refuse to relinquish it for all the treasure in the world.
It’s a testament to the respect and awe in which Walter Smith is held, then, that almost all of them would gladly hand back the trophy to have him back now. They would do so reluctantly, they would do it with pain in their heart. Yet one more day with ‘Sir Walter’ in charge would be worth the sacrifice.
Study the most successful football managers and history shows most to be imperfect individuals. Their ruthless, relentless pursuit of excellence and perfection bring sacrifice and failings in other important areas of their lives. A devoted husband, father of two sons and grandfather, Smith was unique. He was both a great football manager and an outstanding human being.
Smith had his former player Ally McCoist as assistant during his second spell with the club
As a manager, he belongs to a rich and illustrious lineage of Scottish coaches including his great friends Jock Stein, Sir Alex Ferguson, Jim McLean and Graeme Souness.
As a man, he was universally known by his first name and, to rival fans, that was a persistent source of irritation. Had they actually met the man they would have understood perfectly.
Days before Rangers won the title after Celtic’s draw at Dundee United, Sportsmail called Smith’s mobile seeking his personal contribution to a tribute pull-out. With lunch on the table, an apology was proffered followed by a promise to call back. An indomitable figure of authority with Rangers, Scotland and Everton, the great man was always smart enough to defer to his devoted wife, Ethel.
When we eventually spoke, enquiries over his health and wellbeing were politely swatted aside. They usually were. For two and a half years, a serious health issue had been lurking in the background. A private matter, it was never a subject ripe for public discussion.
He preferred to speak, instead, of Rangers. He expressed his deep and genuine admiration for the job done by Steven Gerrard as the manager of his club. A supporter growing up in Carmyle, Smith was never quite good enough to play for the club but forged a professional career with Dundee United and treasured memories of played against Jim Baxter in a tournament in Canada at the age of 18 and alongside his boyhood heroes Jimmy Millar and Davie Wilson at Tannadice.
Smith led Rangers to the UEFA Cup final during his second spell. where they lost to Zenit
Walter Smith’s 21 trophies:
- 1990/91: Smith is thrust into the hot-seat after Graeme Souness quit for Liverpool. Won title in last day by beating Aberdeen 2-0.
Won by two points. (Two points for a win).
- 1991/92: Rangers cruised to a comfortable title win over second placed Hearts, helped by Ally McCoist’s 31 league goals that season.
Won by nine points.
- 1992/93: Another reasonably comfortable league win with Willie Miller’s Aberdeen Rangers’ closest challengers. McCoist nets 34 goals in 44 league games.
Won by nine points.
- 1993/94: The last season with two points for a win and again Rangers see off a title challenge from the Dons. Motherwell finish above Celtic in third place.
Won by three points.
- 1994/95: It’s a procession for Smith’s Rangers who romp to the title over closest challengers Motherwell. Again Celtic are fourth, behind Hibs.
Won by 15 points. (Three points for a win).
- 1995/96: A Pierre van Hooijdonk-inspired Celtic offer Rangers a real title challenge and the Hoops only lost one league game all season. But still, Smith’s Rangers triumphed.
Won by four points.
- 1996/97: Smith’s Rangers equal Celtic’s nine-in-a-row record and celebrate by winning it at Tannadice. Rangers lost six games, but still won it with relative ease.
Won by five points.
- 2008/09: Now in his second spell as Rangers manager, Smith picked off where he left off by clinching his eighth title and Rangers’ first in four years.
Won by four points.
- 2009/10: Smith won the title at Easter Road with three games to spare after an impressive league campaign against a Celtic side managed by Tony Mowbray.
Won by six points.
- 2010/11: Smith’s tenth and final title for Rangers was clinched by hammering Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on the final day of the season. It was his narrowest points margin of victory.
Won by one point.
- 1991/92: RANGERS 2-1 Airdrie. Mark Hateley and Ally McCoist secure Smith’s first Scottish Cup win as a boss.
- 1992/93: RANGERS 2-1 Aberdeen. It’s a treble for Smith as Mark Hateley and Neil Murray scored the goals at Parkhead.
- 1995/96: RANGERS 5-1 Hearts. A hat-trick from Gordon Durie and a Brian Laudrup double destroys Hearts at Hampden.
- 2007/08: RANGERS 3-2 Queen of the South. Rangers marked their 50th appearance in a Cup Final with a win. It was their fourth game in ten days after they lost the UEFA Cup Final.
- 2008/09: RANGERS 1-0 Falkirk. A Nacho Novo goal just after half time handed Rangers the trophy for the 32nd time.
- 1992/93: RANGERS 2-1 Aberdeen. An own goal from Gary Smith six minutes before the end of extra time handed Rangers the trophy.
- 1993/94: RANGERS 2-1 Hibs. Goals from Ian Durrant and Ally McCoist give Rangers the cup despite Dave MacPherson’s own goal.
- 1996/97: RANGERS 4-3 Hearts. A dramatic Parkhead final saw doubles from Ally McCoist and Paul Gascoigne win it for Rangers.
- 2007/08: RANGERS 2-2 Dundee United (Rangers won 3-2 on penalties). Rangers twice hit back from going behind with Kris Boyd scoring a double and netting the winning penalty.
- 2009/10: RANGERS 1-0 St Mirren. Arguably the most dramatic of Smith’s cup wins when his nine-man Rangers won it with six minutes to go through Kenny Miller’s goal.
- 2010/11: RANGERS 2-1 Celtic. Nikica Jelavic grabbed an extra-time winner as Rangers triumphed after Joe Ledley had cancelled out Steven Davis’ opener.
His playing career was undermined by a pelvic injury at the age of 29. Limited to games for the reserve team, United boss Jim McLean recognised a coach in waiting
Smith’s leadership qualities became apparent when he guided Scotland to success at the 1982 European Youth Championship. He was assistant manager of Dundee United when they won their first league title a year later and assisted Jock Stein with the Scotland set-up until his tragic and untimely death in a Cardiff dug-out in October 1985.
Assisting Alex Ferguson at the 1986 World Cup finals, Smith looked destined to settled into the pigeon hole occupied by football’s perennial No2s.
He moved to Rangers to assist the new player manager Graeme Souness the same summer, providing the calming, local knowledge needed to complement the headstrong global ambitions of an impatient Liverpool icon.
With English teams banned from Europe in the aftermath of Heysel, Rangers managed to attract the England captain Terry Butcher and goalkeeper Chris Woods.
Three league titles were won before Souness upped and left for Liverpool with five games of the 1990-91 season to go. Reluctantly, Smith picked up the baton.
A final-day triumph over Aberdeen secured a first title as manager.
Despite the handicap of the three-foreigner rule, he never looked back, forging a squad of largely homegrown players such as Ally McCoist, Stuart McCall, Ian Durrant and Richard Gough to do the hard lifting.
Every great team needs a sprinkling of stardust. Eyebrows were raised when he signed Danish international Brian Laudrup. In July 1995, he then pulled off the stunning capture of a 28-year-old Paul Gascoigne from Lazio for £4.3million.
At times, the artist known as ‘Gazza’ was an unmanageable and troubled staple of the front pages. At others he was a simple, gentle soul who just wanted to play football. Quite brilliantly during the eight-in-a-row season.
‘If anybody could keep him on a tight rein, then I did,’ Smith once told me. ‘Generally you have a coach and you have a team.
‘The team plays for you, the manager. But, in Paul’s case, we had to play for him; we had to live with all his foibles and his eccentricities to get that little bit of genius into our team.’
Adaptability and intelligence were hallmarks of a man with more to his palate than he was sometimes given credit for.
He plotted nine straight titles before being ‘nicely sacked’ in October 1997 after Rangers crashed out of the Champions League to Gothenburg, suffered a damaging UEFA Cup reverse to Strasbourg and lost at home to Dundee United.
Smith moved to Everton to manage the club for five years, financial restrictions and a change of ownership limiting his impact.
The call to manage Scotland as replacement for Berti Vogts propelled the national team 70 places up the FIFA rankings and secured a memorable victory over World Cup finalists France at Hampden.
He led Scotland to their only international tournament victory in Japan in May 2006, winning the Kirin Cup.
It was there that a generation of younger journalists who once regarded the man with a mixture of trepidation and fear — this one included — stripped away the layers over a pint in an Irish bar in Roppongi and grew to know an individual of immense decency, humour and likeability.
For any journalist, raising a manager of Rangers or Celtic on the phone these days is like calling the White House and asking to be be put through to Joe Biden.
That was never the case with Walter Smith. Right up until the final conversation, when he spoke of how easy Steven Gerrard made it look to manage Rangers, he always called back.
Like any manager, he had his moments. Over the years, the wise media professional learned to word questions carefully for fear of the ‘Walter stare’, a withering, bowel-loosening reaction utilised in response to a poorly-phrased query.
During his first spell in charge of Rangers, when the pressure to match Celtic’s nine-in-a-row was intense, the Walter stare was employed liberally.
Working for DC Thomson’s Weekly News in 1995, this reporter was once dispatched to Ibrox to request an interview with Stuart McCall weeks after criticism of a Rangers performance against Anorthosis Famagusta had appeared in print.
Smith is the second most successful manager in Rangers history, behind only Bill Struth
Smith was Scotland Under-21 boss before he accepted a role as Souness’s assistant in 1986
Smith shares a joke with Celtic boss Tommy Burns before a Premier Division clash in 1995
Tip-toeing towards the top table at the press conference felt like Oliver Twist approaching Mr Bumble with an empty bowl. The ‘naw’ was barked out without a sideways glance before the full question was finished.
By the time he returned to Rangers in 2007 after a brief, but successful, spell with Scotland, age and experience had mellowed him.
The days of pinning a trembling Gascoigne to the dressing room wall by his Armani lapels had gone. Instead he relied on an air of quiet authority to command both respect and a desire to please.
When Paul le Guen’s short-lived reign ended dismally, Rangers needed a safe pair of hands. There were none steadier than Walter Smith’s.
The impact of his first full season was remarkable. Rangers won the League Cup and Scottish Cup and might have won the Treble but for a backlog of fixtures caused by their run to the final of the UEFA Cup in Manchester.
The club’s first European final in 36 years ended in a 2-0 defeat to Zenit St Petersburg. Yet Rangers were, once more, a competitive force.
Success never came cheaply, of course. During Smith’s second spell, the debts spiralled back up to £30m. The financial crash of 2008 saw the business interests of chairman David Murray decline sharply.
By 2010, Murray International Holdings had suffered a £175m loss, prompting Halifax Bank of Scotland to double its stake in the company and squeeze Rangers tight.
‘As far as I’m concerned, the bank is running Rangers,’ declared Smith in October 2009.
Six months later, Rangers faced crippling tax demands from HMRC over the Murray Group’s use of disputed Employee Benefits Trusts. After 21 trophies in total and a final-day title triumph in 2011, Smith retired as manager
He returned to the club as a non-executive director under new owners before a brief tenure as chairman in 2013.
For much of the last nine years, the residue of bitterness created by the liquidation process at Rangers has polluted the well of Scottish football. To his credit, Walter Smith remained resistant to the poison.
When his former Celtic rival and Scotland colleague Tommy Burns died in 2008, the Rangers icon was one of the coffin bearers at his funeral. In a city where tribal rivalries run deep, he treated others with a level of decency, courtesy and humanity all too rare in the modern-day game. For that reason alone, the tributes will not only be long, they will be many and they will be heartfelt.
Walter Smith was an old-school statesman whose death leaves a cavernous hole in Scottish football… the former Rangers boss was unyielding yet generous and commanded respect with his straight-talking, no-nonsense approach
This is more than just the loss of one of Scottish football’s greatest ever managers. More than just the loss of one of the most prominent figures in the storied history of Rangers.
Walter Smith was all of that and more, of course. But this is the loss of a statesman too. A man whose wisdom and voice, with no need to be raised for effect and never a vehicle for hyperbole, demanded attention — and more importantly, respect — across all corners of the game in this fevered, tribal little country and beyond.
A man of humour. And warmth. And steel, when required. An assistant to Jim McLean and Sir Alex Ferguson in his younger days and a talent who more than earned his place beside them and the likes of Jock Stein, Matt Busby and Bill Shankly in the pantheon of Scottish football men whose characters were every bit as essential to their legend as their achievements.
The death of Walter Smith leaves a huge hole as a former Rangers and Scotland boss who played a key role in the country’s storied history
One of the old-school. And whose departure leaves a cavernous hole.
The record books pay testament to what Smith achieved. A solid, if unspectacular, player with Dundee United and Dumbarton, the closest he got to a medal was when losing to Celtic in the Scottish Cup final of 1974 with the Tannadice side.
It was in coaching that he really found his niche. First at United under McLean and with the Scotland Under-18s, whom he led to the 1982 European Youth Championship as Andy Roxburgh’s sidekick, before being headhunted by Graeme Souness to mastermind a revolution at Ibrox.
That is where we first started dealing with each other. And it is where any attempt to put some kind of personal reflection on the personality behind the legend ought to begin.
Smith was warm and friendly to journalists, showing great humour to earn the respect of many
Let it be known that many other journalists were much more friendly with Smith, much closer. There were several occasions during his first stint as manager of Rangers, in particular, in which I fell victim to that infamous, silent glare of his.
And let me tell you, it was everything the stories tell you. You’d take your chances staring Medusa in the eye when faced with a choice between her and Walter Smith.
There was one particularly memorable night in the cramped old press room of the main stand at Tynecastle. He took offence at a question asked about Peter van Vossen, of all people. The hush fell. Such was the intensity of the frost that I swear the earlobes and tips of the fingers of many of those present started turning black.
Such a blessing it was that Hearts were most obliging in providing a stiff drink at the time to unfreeze the blood and settle the heart rate after Smith had eventually decided I really wasn’t worth the bother.
Yet, he was such a helpful, kind man too. In my first proper job in journalism in the late 1980s, aged 16, I used to spend every Tuesday in the main foyer at Ibrox Stadium, sitting around waiting to buttonhole a dressing room full of proper characters such as Ally McCoist, Ian Durrant and Derek Ferguson for an interview.
But he was also a man of steel when required and was infamous for his silent glare
Smith, still Souness’ No 2, would come out of the wood-panelled door to the left on my arrival to ask who was required. It was only later in life it became apparent how ridiculous it was that Walter Smith should be running around demanding international players go out and talk to this little nyaff just out of school in the front lobby.
But he did. And the likes of McCoist and Durrant and Ferguson took some herding.
That job also took me all over Europe with Smith and his team after he had taken charge in the wake of Souness’ defection to Liverpool. To Elland Road and that incredible Battle of Britain. To Marseille and a seat directly behind Durrant when he fizzed that curling right-footed exocet missile into the bottom corner of Fabien Barthez’s net.
Smith’s reputation as a manager of the very highest level was rubberstamped during his second spell in charge at Ibrox, when he somehow took a Rangers side already in the process of being downsized to domestic titles and the final of the UEFA Cup in 2008.
Smith worked wonders at Ibrox despite the team being downsized to mastermind a huge collection of trophies across two separate spells
Smith never created excuses and took things square on – with an honesty that crossed barriers
However, it is easy to forget just how close he came to reaching the final of the first-ever Champions League, too. The loss he suffered to Roma as Tannadice assistant in the semi-final of the European Cup was mired in allegations of bribery. Who knew what would eventually come out with regard to Marseille and their controversial owner Bernard Tapie over the course of time as well?
Smith didn’t use excuses, though. He faced things square-on. A Carmyle boy, an apprentice electrician, he represented so much of what was – and is – good about Scottish working-class culture.
Hard, but fair. And possessing an honesty that crossed barriers.
Carrying the coffin of Tommy Burns along with McCoist at the funeral of Celtic’s favourite son in May 2008 – after bringing him onto the staff during an impressive spell as Scotland boss – was visual evidence of that.
Carrying the coffin of former Celtic player and coach Tommy Burns was evidence of that trait
Yet, there was one afternoon inside the walls of Murray Park three years later in which he showed so much of what he was about. In which his very presence, its weight and the electricity it generated, hung in the air.
Rangers were being investigated, not for the first time, for sectarian singing by their supporters. This time, in a game against PSV Eindhoven. Smith was always good for switching the tapes off and talking at length about sensitive issues off the record. Filling in the blanks for reporters when he didn’t quite want his fingerprints on the evidence.
Not this particular afternoon. Smith dropped the bombshell admission he once used to sing all those same songs himself. With some vigour. He knew about all the traditions of the club, but had to make it clear some of them could no longer be translated to the modern era.
The coach never needed to raise his voice to command respect and spoke in measured tones
He warned of ‘drastic consequences’ if such behaviour continued. Implored fans to stop. He spoke in quiet, measured tones for some time, but his words shook the room like an earthquake.
This was the address of a wartime leader rather than the usual platitudes of the football manager, but Smith had the natural wit and intelligence to find the right tone, pick the right words. To leave an impression and let it be known what he expected.
For all he spent many, many hours giving little away in media briefings, you knew instinctively when he entered the room and had something specific to say.
Ten titles over two spells, including the completion of Nine-In-A-Row in 1997, five Scottish Cups and six League Cups explain the endless love that will exist within Rangers for Smith and within the hearts of all those legendary players who served under him. Unlike a Ferguson or a McLean, perhaps, there are few former charges who have anything than warm words for their old boss.
He adored Rangers and never shied away it, but he was also a football man – tough and loyal
Yet, Smith’s love for that club was unconditional, too.
He never hid the fact he was a Rangers man. It was surely part of the reason he was always regarded kindly by a large percentage of supporters from rival clubs including Celtic.
He was a football man, too. And a man’s man. Unyielding yet generous. As serious in his work or in negotiating the peculiar politics of his trade as he was avuncular over a drink or dinner. Straight. Loyal. Tough. No nonsense. Decent.
These are the traits and qualities you hope for in all great men. And Smith was undoubtedly one of those.
Walter Smith won ten league titles at Rangers but becoming their manager was the greatest moment of his career, while former Gers skipper David Weir was his best signing…here we remember the Scottish football legend in his OWN words
Walter Smith, who has died at the age of 73, is a Scottish football legend and was the mastermind of ten league titles for Rangers across two spells at the club.
Smith also managed Scotland and Everton in a career which also included a period as Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant at Manchester United.
Sportsmail pays tribute to the legendary manager in his own words in which he speaks about some of the defining moments of his life in football.
Legendary Rangers manager Walter Smith has died at the age of 73
ON… BEST MOMENT OF HIS CAREER
‘Being a lifelong Rangers fan and with my family all being supporters becoming the manager of the club for the first time was the best moment of my career.
‘After that of course came winning nine-in-a-row and taking the club to the UEFA Cup final which are great memories while becoming the Scotland manager was also a very proud moment as well.
But becoming the Rangers manager was a massive step for me as it was the first time I had been a manager in my own right at the club I had always supported.
Smith (pictured with his assistant manager Archie Knox) turned from assistant to Rangers manager in 1991 replacing Graeme Souness
After spells at Everton and as Scotland boss, Smith returned to Rangers in January 2007
‘At that stage Graeme (Souness) had asked me to become his assistant at Liverpool but as soon as David Murray offered me the job at Rangers I knew I had to take it.
‘David could easily have gone for a manager with a lot more experience but he put his faith in me and we went on to enjoy a lot of success through the 90s and when he brought me back to the club at the start of 2007.’
ON… HIS BEST SIGNING
‘I’ve been asked a few times in interviews to name the player I felt was my best signing as Rangers manager but it’s a tough question to answer because a lot of the players I brought to Ibrox went on to enjoy a great level of success at the club.
‘If however you were to ask me for my best pound-for-pound signing that is slightly easier because it would have to be Davie Weir who came to us for nothing, we didn’t even pay a pound for him!
‘At the start of my second spell as manager in January 2007 the first thing I wanted to do was bring in an experienced figure in defence and looking back now I couldn’t have gone for anyone better than Davie.
David Weir and Smith after their 2008 UEFA Cup final defeat to Zenit St Petersburg
Smith said former Rangers skipper Weir was the best signing of his management career
‘Initially he only signed for six months because he was 36 but we ended up offering him another year and then another year.
‘It went on like that and aside from his wages he didn’t cost us anything. In his five years at Ibrox he was outstanding both in the way he performed on the pitch and the way he conducted himself off it.
‘In terms of pound-for-pound signings Rangers have made you will struggle to beat Davie and that’s all down the desire he had to be successful at the club.’
ON… LEAVING RANGERS AFTER TITLE WIN IN 2011
‘There will be a regret but I still think it’s the right thing.
‘It’s the right thing for myself and it’s the right thing for Rangers now that they’ve got a new owner and a new manager. It’s the right thing to do.
‘The lads who have been working with me – Ally McCoist, Kenny McDowell and Ian Durrant – have been patiently waiting for an opportunity to take over.
‘I think they thought they would possibly get it a bit earlier but they haven’t and they have been fantastic for me. That was part of my decision and it was the right one.’
Smith holding the Scottish Premier League trophy with Weir in 2011 before leaving the job after the season
ON… POSSIBLY COMING OUT OF RETIREMENT TO MANAGE SCOTLAND IN 2018
‘No, I am categorically finished, done. That was the only one I would have considered.
‘First and foremost I would like to clarify that I really wasn’t asked to take the job. I was asked if I would come out of retirement and in the end I decided not to bother, as you know.
‘That meant Alex (McLeish) got the job and he maybe should have had the job in the first place anyway because he has the credentials from his run in charge the last time.
‘I was not looking at the time for a job. I was asked if it was a job I would consider doing. But I never got to the stage where I sat down and talked to them (SFA) any further on that. After two or three days of media coverage, to be quite honest, I was ticked off.’
Smith was appointed Scotland manager in December 2004 and stayed until January 2007
Smith turned down the chance of returning to manage Scotland in 2018 before Alex McLeish took the role
ON… STEVEN GERRARD
‘The one thing you could say about Steven right from the start is that he is suited to a big club environment.
‘I always loathe to use the word ‘easy’ in connection with managing Rangers. It’s not. But he made it look at times as if he had been doing the job for a few years.
‘Everybody talks about Scottish football and how it’s not the level of England. And you would need to be mad to say that it is. But there is a proportional aspect to football. And running Rangers and Celtic is the same in Scotland as running Liverpool or Manchester United or Manchester City in England.
Steven Gerrard became the first manager since Smith to guide Rangers to the title this year after a turbulent decade for the club
‘It has the same focus and the same problems. The English clubs have significantly more finance and that helps, but Rangers is not only the perfect grounding for somebody to come in and learn.
‘It’s also a very difficult and challenging environment for someone to come in and learn as well.’