A WREATH from Rod Stewart, on which was written the simple note “Goodbye Sandy”, as well as a sizeable contingent of mourners from Celtic. As Neil Lennon pointed out just over a week ago, Sandy Jardine transcended Old Firm rivalry. There was no division yesterday.
Players past and present, the great and the good, milled around outside the main chapel at Mortonhall crematorium in Edinburgh, shaking hands, swapping stories. Mostly it was just the great. Sir Alex Ferguson and Walter Smith, Billy McNeill and another Celtic legend, Danny McGrain, who was in Edinburgh to salute the man with whom he formed such a high-end full-back partnership for Scotland.
It was emphasised by John Shields, who conducted the proceedings, and then later by Jardine’s great friend David Ross, that yesterday’s service concerned itself with the man as much as the footballer. There were numerous references to Billy, which might have confused those unfamiliar with the name by which Jardine was known by his family and friends.
But of course, it was impossible to fail to address Jardine’s football career – after all, it spanned until his late 30s and included a glorious Indian summer, when he won a second footballer of the year title at 37.
This is one of the reasons, although of course not the only reason, why Shields quoted from the Stephen Spender poem, The Truly Great, when reflecting on Jardine’s life: “Born of the sun, they travelled a short while toward the sun/And left the vivid air signed with their honour.” Shields focused on the word that carried such resonance now that we had come to celebrate one of Edinburgh’s – and Scottish football’s – finest sons. Honour. “The three things that Billy loved most were football, friends and family,” added Ross later, in a touching, heartfelt eulogy. “We all know about Billy – or should I say Sandy – Jardine’s reputation as the legendary Rangers and Scotland footballer. To all football fans, no matter where their allegiance lies, Billy will be remembered as one of the greatest ambassadors for the game.
“To legions of Rangers fans, he is quite rightly remembered not only for football ability, but also as someone who served the club with great distinction and loyalty, particularly in the recent financial crisis.”
Ross added that he would rather talk about the man rather than the footballer – “so it is Billy the family friend and not Sandy the Rangers legend”. Of course, the anecdotes tended to involve football. There was the time when he thoughtfully left a bottle of champagne with his mother Peggy, who entertained his friends with bubbly and filled rolls while they watched a European tie in which Jardine was playing. “He never forgot us,” said Ross.
And he didn’t. These friends were together again at dinner two years ago, when Jardine complained of a lump on his neck. “That was the beginning of the end,” recalled Ross. “He suffered huge pain for over a year, and then it looked like he had won the battle.” However, it was not to be. Earlier this year, in January, Jardine was informed that the illness was terminal. “Never once did we hear him complain, why me?” noted Ross.
Perhaps this was because Jardine knew he had lived the dream. He had played in European finals for one of the biggest clubs in the country, he had played in two World Cups for the country he loved and he joined the team he supported as a boy, and opposite whose stadium he grew up, for an encore.
This spell at Hearts alone contained more drama than most footballers could hope to experience in their entire careers. Many of a certain age only know Jardine from this time. Even during these later years at Tynecastle he did enough to sign his name in the vivid air.
Craig Levein, one of the mourners yesterday, remembers being approached by Jardine in a match between Hearts and Cowdenbeath, where the former Scotland manager started his career. “I was up for a corner and he was chatting away to me,” recalled Levein. “When’s your contract up? How would you like to come and join Hearts?’ I was just a stupid boy at the time. I didn’t know whether he was trying to distract me or whether it was for real. Shortly after that I got the phone call, and we went through the correct procedures.
“To come into a club where he was in the last three or four years of his career, I didn’t realise how lucky I was,” added Levein, who played alongside Jardine in the centre of defence, following the veteran’s switch from right-back. “Looking back now I can see it had a bigger impact than even I thought at the time.”
Levein was just one of countless recognisable figures yesterday: Gordon Smith, Gary Locke, Colin Stein, Willie Johnston, Willie Henderson, Tommy McLean and, of course, Ally McCoist, who arrived in a coach with the current Rangers squad. John Greig, with whom Jardine travelled to training at Ibrox from Edinburgh each day, helped carry the coffin, as did Martin Bain, the former Rangers chief executive.
“I said to Joe the other day: ‘It’s Sandy’s funeral, can you make it?’ ” said Gordon McQueen, with reference to Joe Jordan, now assistant manager at Queens Park Rangers. “I wasn’t sure he would be able to come because they are at Barnsley tomorrow at lunchtime. But he said: ‘definitely’.”
Like Jardine, McQueen has been struck by throat cancer, and was a sounding board for his former Scotland team-mate during treatment. He was glad to have re-connected with his old friend, to have helped in some small way, though of course he was pained by Jardine’s death last week, at the age of only 65.
“It’s changed days now, but back then we had the two best right-backs in Europe: Sandy and Danny,” recalled McQueen. “Imagine playing with them. It made you look good!”
As recounted by Ross during the eulogy, one of Jardine’s traits, on having driven a shot down the fairway, was to sigh that he had hit it “too well”. There were no complaints heard yesterday. As with his golf drives, Billy “Sandy” Jardine lived life with an intensity few could match.