Farewell Walter Smith, one of football’s underrated greats

WALTER SMITH 1948-2021

One of football’s most dependable white knights has dismounted his charger for the final time. Walter Smith: now there was a man you’d be happy to see galloping into view when things were in danger of going a sour way out. Take Rangers, who he calmly steered to silverware after Graeme Souness left for Liverpool during the 1990-91 title run-in. Or Scotland, for whom he picked up the very many small pieces left behind by Berti Vogts, the team rising 70-odd spots in the rankings in short order, with the Kirin Cup thrown in. Or Rangers again, whisking them from Paul Le Guen to the Euro Vase final in less than 16 months. As speedy base-metal-to-gold transformations go, that registers a full 10 on the Fiver’s patented and fully trademarked Tuchelometer.

Smith, who has died at the age of 73, was an old-school diplomat, not past delivering a brisk clip around the lug for the purposes of speedy philosophical resolution. He didn’t suffer foolish questions gladly, as poor Chick Young famously discovered when he found himself on the receiving end of that low-volume two-minute seethe, the most intense and frankly worrying kind of seethe, Archie Knox providing light and shade with a beat-perfect comic cameo. And yet he kept it all in perspective, thick as thieves with his mid-90s Old Firm adversary Tommy Burns, getting his pal in to assist with the Scotland gig, and helping carry his coffin when he passed in 2008. Good luck finding someone with a bad word.

The Everton years didn’t quite go to plan, fair enough, but the club was a basket case at the time (behave) with the fixtures, fittings and Duncan Ferguson being sold from under his feet and, in any case, upon leaving he insisted on helping chairman Bill Kenwright source his replacement, and the David Moyes era wasn’t so bad. He assisted Manchester United to the 2004 FA Cup, too, but it’s his work north of the border that will be his true legacy: assisting Jim McLean as they built Dundee United into a championship-winning and Barcelona-bothering force, then leading Rangers to nine in a row, plus a few more, and finally lending current Gers boss Steven Gerrard his ear during last season’s epochal title charge. Not that Smith would boast about any of it; as modest as they come, he was, as a result, one of the underrated greats. But a great nonetheless.