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Walter McCrae

Footballer

Born: 1929, in Kilmarnock,

Died: 22 September, 2006, in Kilmarnock, aged 77.

YOU could have picked a representative "all time Kilmarnock XI" from the mourners at Walter McCrae's funeral, even if more than one admitted they were there to make sure that the legendary and seemingly indestructible former Kilmarnock trainer and manager was actually dead.

McCrae never wore the jersey but did more for Kilmarnock than most. He was Kilmarnock through and through, born in the town 77 years ago, a member of both the rugby XV and cricket XI at Kilmarnock Academy and apart from his time in National Service he never left Kilmarnock.

After school, he studied physiotherapy then did his National Service in the Royal Marines. These two years had a profound effect on him. For the rest of his life, his erect military bearing made it clear he could only have served in one of two outfits - the Guards or the Marines.

Returning to Kilmarnock, McCrae became involved in the local junior team, Kilmarnock Juniors, where he was goalkeeper, trainer, committee member and office bearer. Then after the club folded, he went senior as assistant trainer at Rugby Park.

His elevation to first team trainer came at a fortuitous time with Willie Waddell arriving as manager to form a formidable management team with McCrae.

With his Rangers upbringing, Waddell was maybe never as totally at ease as his contemporary and great rival Jock Stein, when tracksuited and on the training field with his players. Waddell was a first-rate tactician and motivator but he tended to delegate the weekday training to McCrae, confident that on a Saturday he would take charge of a Kilmarnock team which was fit, raring to go and able to run for 90 minutes.

In the first half of the Sixties decade, with the pre-Stein Celtic in the doldrums, Kilmarnock and Hearts were the rivals to the then all-conquering Rangers team inspired by Jim Baxter. They pushed Waddell's old club all the way and, fittingly in 1965 in Waddell's final game as manager, Kilmarnock beat Hearts in a winner-take-all last-day match to win the club's only Scottish League title.

Waddell promptly retired to journalism, Stein went to Celtic to change the face of Scottish football while McCrae remained at Kilmarnock.

Sir Matt Busby tried to lure him to Old Trafford as trainer while Waddell, on taking over the Rangers managership, tried to reunite the pairing at Ibrox.

However, neither man could persuade McCrae to leave the club he loved.

Kilmarnock sadly slipped back, managers came and went and even McCrae, such a great number two, failed as number one to resurrect the golden days when he and Waddell had run the team.

He then did quit Kilmarnock but the divorce was short-lived as one of his team-mates in the Kilmarnock Academy Rugby XV, Bob Laughlin, by now a Kilmarnock director, enticed McCrae back to the club as secretary and general manager.

Killie's on-field troubles continued but off the field McCrae ran an efficient club. He also became the shield for an increasingly beleaguered board, bearing the brunt of several fans' demonstrations when more correctly their anger should have been directed at the board. On more than one occasion, however, a post-match glare from the erect figure with the hawk-like stare quietened the anger-filled chants from disgruntled supporters.

Such was his commitment to the club, he had a house just a free kick away from Rugby Park.

How this went down with his wife, Isobel, we do not know, but as she admitted in her eulogy at the funeral, their two daughters, Mairi and Lesley, revelled in the freedom of their Rugby Park summer playground to the extent of even playing with the legendary club mascot, Angus the sheep.

McCrae did his share of globetrotting with Kilmarnock and Scotland, but unlike other football men, he never neglected his family and Mairi, whose birth coincided with an Aberdeen v Kilmarnock match at Pittodrie, and Lesley who entered the world while her dad and Kilmarnock were in Seattle, regularly received welcome presents from all over the world - Italian leather bags, Mexican shawls, African dolls and dresses from Fifth Avenue, New York.

When Bob Fleeting won a somewhat acrimonious takeover of the club in the early Nineties, McCrae stayed on to oversee a seamless transference of power before retiring. He continued, however, to be a welcome visitor to the club and enjoyed Kilmarnock's 1997 Scottish Cup win as much as any native of the town.

Away from football, he was a stalwart member and past president of Kilmarnock Rotary Club and a prominent member of his local kirk. His final year was blighted by illness, but he bore his troubles with the stoicism which had marked his life.

He didn't quite get the full house he deserved at Masonhill Crematorium but there again Kilmarnock fans have always had a reputation for being fickle. Those who did attend, former players, past and present managers and directors, supporters and friends from Rotary and Kilmarnock were united in one thought - they knew they were saying goodbye to a one-off and genuine footballing legend.

 
 
 

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