In 1986, Walter Smith left his assistant role at Dundee United to take up the same job at his boyhood club, Rangers. He later became manager, leading the club to six (and a half) of their nine-in-a-row league titles, though like a few other legends, he discovered 10 was out of reach. He managed Everton, then Scotland, where he left to return to more success at Rangers, including reaching the 2008 Uefa Cup Final.
As an opponent, he was uncompromising, ruthless, even. He managed to have a congenial nature and to be as hard as nails. His first period in charge of Rangers saw an era of no contest. Celtic finished second only twice during those nine seasons, Aberdeen, Motherwell and Hibs were often the nearest challengers, allowing Rangers space to prepare for Champions League football.
His second spell at Rangers concluded in 2011, having won three successive titles against different Celtic managers: Gordon Strachan, Tony Mowbray and Neil Lennon. He retired the same month that Craig Whyte bought the club from David Murray for £1, with the emerging EBT scandal scattered like confetti over every inch of the Ibrox and Charlotte Square.
Smith was ill advised to get involved in the scrap for Newco a year later, where he was briefly chairman in 2013 before resigning after three months.
For all the battles, my abiding memory of Walter Smith happened days after that Uefa Cup Final in 2008, watching him carry the Tommy Burns’ coffin from St Mary’s, Calton. Everything that had gone before seemed irrelevant. Later on, a Celtic supporting journalist, who was moving on from Scottish football, told me he received a call with best wishes from Smith. No one from Celtic did likewise. What little we really know of the people we cheer and jeer.
73 is no age, may he rest in peace.