Top manager made burgh his home

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walter-smith-wONE of Helensburgh’s best known residents is the manager of Glasgow Rangers Football Club, Walter Smith, OBE, who is nearing the end of his final season at Ibrox and has already won the first trophy of the season. 

A quiet man who never seeks the limelight, Walter was a popular choice to present the annual Helensburgh and Lomond Community Spirit Awards, a joint venture between Helensburgh Garelochside Rotary Club and the Helensburgh Advertiser which is currently being revamped. He is also the much revered honorary president of Ardencaple Boys Club.

Born on February 24 1948 in Lanark, he and his wife have lived in the upper west area of the burgh for 20 years, and they have two sons. He recently announced that his second spell as Rangers manager, after a short time as Scotland team boss, will end at the close of the season.

Known unflatteringly as ‘the cardigan’ because of his love for that old fashioned item of clothing, he was a boyhood fan of Rangers.

He grew up in Carmyle, and became a South of Scotland Electricity Board employee before launching his football career in the 1960s with junior side Ashfield. He signed as a defender with Dundee United in 1966, joining as a part-timer while working as an electrician.

The highlight came in 1974 when he won a Scottish Cup runners-up medal. In September 1975 he moved to Dumbarton, but returned to United in 1977. At the age of 29, a pelvic injury threatened his career and he was invited to join the Dundee United coaching staff by then manager Jim McLean.

His first team appearances were limited after that, but he remained a signed player and his final club match was in September 1980. He made over 250 senior appearances, scoring three goals, two of which were own goals.

He developed his coaching skills, not only at Tannadice Park as assistant manager to Jim McLean at a time when Dundee United were Scottish champions and European Cup semi-finalists, but also with the SFA.

In 1978 he was appointed coach of Scotland’s under 18 team, and helped them to win the European Youth Championship in 1982. He became coach of the under 21 team, and was Alex Ferguson’s assistant manager during the 1986 Mexico World Cup.

In 1986, Graeme Souness invited him to become assistant manager at Rangers and he was instrumental in their success over the following years. When Souness left, Walter was appointed manager in April 1991.

He won seven successive league titles, including a domestic treble in 1992–93, and won both the Scottish Cup and the League Cup three times each. He was responsible for introducing players such as Brian Laudrup and Mark Hateley — both of whom lived in Helensburgh while at Ibrox — together with Ally McCoist and Paul Gascoigne.

In the early 1990s Walter and Mark Hateley formally switched on the new floodlighting system at Helensburgh Lawn Tennis Club in Suffolk Street.

He signalled his intention to leave Rangers at the club’s AGM in October 1997 after a period of total domination of Scottish football.

Rangers equalled Celtic’s record of nine successive championships in 1997 but were denied a record-breaking tenth success in 1998 as Rangers lost the title to Celtic and lost the Scottish Cup final to Hearts.

This marred a splendid managerial career, but Walter left Ibrox in May of that year with his reputation as one of the most successful Scottish managers still intact. No Rangers manager has ever won so many trophies in such a short spell as Walter, who was awarded the OBE for his services to football.

Next he accepted the challenge to become manager of English premier league club Everton. Undermined continually by a lack of funds to rejuvenate an aging squad, Walter did not have much success on Merseyside and he only managed three successive finishes in the bottom half of the table.

The directors finally ran out of patience, and he was sacked in March 2002 when Everton were in real danger of relegation.

In March 2004, he returned to football when he had a short spell as assistant manager to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United at the end of the 2003–4 season.

He was appointed manager of the Scottish national team on December 2 2004, succeeding Berti Vogts. Despite a revival of fortunes, hopes of reaching the 2006 World Cup were dashed after an unexpected defeat against Belarus.

Scotland’s world ranking shot up by 70 places by the end of his tenure at Hampden, and his best result was when Scotland recorded a historic and vital 1-0 victory over World Cup runners-up France at Hampden Park on October 7 2006 in a UEFA Euro 2008 qualification match.

On January 5 2007, many newspapers reported that Rangers had spoken to him with a view to hiring him to manage Rangers again, but the next day the SFA refused to release him from his contract. However Walter’s return as Rangers manager was announced on January 10.

His first final after his return was against his old club Dundee United in the 2007–08 Scottish League Cup. The game was drawn 1–1 after normal time, and 2–2 after extra time, but Rangers won 3-2 on penalties.

In the UEFA Cup that season, Walter led Rangers to their first European final for 36 years. In the quarter-final, after a 0–0 home draw with Portugese side Sporting, Rangers went on to win the away leg 2–0.

In the semi-final they drew 0–0 in both legs against Italian side Fiorentina and after extra time, they won 4–2 on penalties, taking Rangers to the UEFA Cup final in Manchester, which they lost 2-0 to Zenit St Petersburg from Russia.

In 2009 he led Rangers to the premier league title, and he repeated the feat in 2010, as well as winning the League Cup that year.

Walter was the Clydesdale Bank SPL manager of the year for 2007–08, and has been the Scottish Football Writers Association manager of the year on six occasions, 1991–92, 1992–93, 1993–94, 1995–96, 1996–97, 2007–08.

One of his former players at Rangers and for a time a near neighbour in Helensburgh, Terry Butcher, now Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager, says of Walter: "He has the respect, aura and presence typical of any boss. He's achieved far more than many great managers will — he's one you look up to all the time.

“Being part of his revolution at Ibrox was a real pleasure because he was a gentleman. But if you got on the wrong side of him you soon knew. You didn't want to get him riled, that's for sure, yet at the same time he was one you could approach.”

In a 2011 interview with sports writer Andy Galloway of the Lennox Herald, Walter said: “For me, the best part of my time in charge is being asked to become Rangers manager in the first place.

“I was born and brought up a supporter and, while you always want to play for your boyhood team, you realise at some point you aren’t good enough to do that.

“So the next best thing is being able to work there in a management capacity and I first achieved that when I was asked to be assistant to Graeme. But then being asked to become manager was probably the turning point for me. I was in charge for three games and then we played Aberdeen on the last day of the season.

“They had pushed us hard for the league title, which you always want to win. It was a huge game — probably as important a game as I’ve had in my career. It showed people that I had the ability to handle a team and take them to the next level of success.”

Twenty years later and having just won the League Cup, his 20th major trophy, with a 2-1 extra time victory over old rivals Celtic, he is preparing to stand down again. He said: “There are mixed emotions, but it’s the right time for me to go and the right time for a change of management at the club.

“I believe it is the right thing for me. After four years back at the club I think that will be enough, taking everything into account. Although it has been self-inflicted there will always be a tinge of disappointment at giving up such a prestigious position, but it’s the right decision.

“I haven’t really thought about what I’ll do from the start of next season. I will just wait and see what happens.”

In March 2009 Walter accepted the appointment of honorary president of Ardencaple Boys Club. Both his sons, Neil and Steven, played for the 40 year-old burgh club in their youth, and he said: “When you move from one area to another, it takes a bit of time for the whole family to settle.

“But joining Ardencaple helped introduce my boys to football and let them meet other kids to help them adjust to life in a new area.”