It is always sad to lose a member of the Rangers family but, when it is a legendary figure who has served the club in various roles over several decades, it is so much harder to take. These days the term 'legend' is used far too loosely in football circles but Sandy Jardine was a genuine twenty-four carat Rangers legend and all our thoughts are with his family and friends at this very difficult time.
A year or so ago, when I first became aware of Sandy's fight with cancer, my mind flashed back to a chance encounter I had with him and the rest of the team in a Copenhagen bar at the end of a pre-season tour sometime around the early-1980s. The banter was great but, amidst the hilarity, Sandy got into a serious discussion with one of his younger colleagues about how best to prolong his playing career. It was all pretty deep but I know that, while the younger man laughed off the veteran's words of wisdom, they had a deep effect on him.
Sandy Jardine's advice was well worth listening to because he was, without question, the complete footballer. Signed straight from school as a ball-playing right-half, he broke into the first team in the post-Berwick cull and starred in the Rangers midfield, retaining his place in the side and playing in the 1967 Cup-Winners Cup Final against Bayern Munich at the tender age of eighteen. He continued to feature after the sacking of Scot Symon but it was his versatility which caught new boss Davie White's eye in training and Sandy wore the number nine shirt, scoring a few goals in the process, for a spell prior to the signing of Colin Stein.
It was following the appointment of Willie Waddell as Rangers manager that Sandy was converted into a right-back and from the start of the 1970-71 season he made the slot his own. Good pace and athleticism, astute positional sense and clever use of the ball, allied to a great football brain, were the qualities which identified Jardine as a cut above the rest and international recognition rightly followed. It says it all about our man's ability that Danny McGrain, himself no mug as a right-back, had to switch to left-back to find a place in the Scotland set-up.
During his time at Ibrox, Sandy won three League Championships, five Scottish Cups, five League Cups and, of course, he was part of the team which won the European Cup-Winners Cup with the 3-2 victory over Moscow Dynamo in Barcelona in 1972. In additional to his enviable collection of honours, with 674 competitive appearances and 77 goals, his place in our club's Hall Of Fame is richly deserved.
Sandy Jardine wasn't just a Rangers legend, with 38 full caps and appearances in the 1974 and 1978 World Cups, plus Player Of The Year awards in 1975 and 1986, he was a Scottish football legend. Indeed, with the 1974 World Cup squad sharing the Player Of The Year award, he can claim to be the only player to be so honoured on three occasions. In his pomp he was one of the top players in European and world football, a guy who never looked out of place in even the most illustrious of company. The suggestion that John Greig and Rangers were a bit too hasty in letting Sandy move to Hearts in the summer if 1982 is not without merit.
At Tynecastle he linked up with his good friend and former team-mate Alex MacDonald and gave superb service to the club he supported as a boy, taking his career total of appearances through the 1000-game mark, combining his duties as assistant manager with a vital onfield role and only the cruellest of endings to the 1985-86 season denied Doddie and Sandy a memorable league and cup Double.
Having benefitted greatly from being talked through his early top team appearances at Rangers by more experienced colleagues like John Greig, Davie Provan and Ronnie Mackinnon, Sandy did a similar job for the likes of Robert Russell, Ally Dawson and John MacDonald when their Ibrox careers were in their infancy. And he fulfilled the self-same function as the senior pro at Hearts, easing youngsters like John Robertson, Gary Mackay and Craig Levein through the transition from promising prospects to first team regulars.
After hanging up his boots in 1988, he briefly stayed on at Tynecastle as joint-manager, had a short spell as a media pundit, then returned to Rangers in a PR capacity and worked in various behind-the-scenes roles. It is fair to say he did not go out of his way to curry favour with the fanbase, irritating many in the process, but he stood up to be counted when he played a leading role in the march to Hampden in the summer of 2012 to register our club's abhorrence of the SFA's actions in the wake of our financial troubles.
There is a feeling among many in the Rangers community that, having fired a broadside across the SFA's bows, we failed to build on the good work of Sandy and others to halt the ongoing demonisation of Rangers and Rangers fans. It would perhaps be a fitting tribute to Sandy Jardine if we could recapture the togetherness of that day and unite to address the sources of our club's many problems.
News of Sandy's relapse and confirmation of his death was very sad and again revived recollections of that long-ago night in Copenhagen. It is a memory with a painful sting. The younger player involved in the conversation was Davie Cooper.