LIKE Sandy Jardine, whose memory he helped to honour yesterday, Alex MacDonald’s first and most enduring footballing love was Rangers.
Hearts, of course, would come a close second in the affections of both men who ended their playing careers at the Tynecastle club before forming a fine managerial double act there.
“It’s brilliant that the supporters helped get it done. I think Sandy would be really proud”Alex MacDonald
The focus of a remarkable Championship season, in which Hearts have romped to the title and automatic promotion, now turns to the race for the play-offs where Rangers are bidding to join them in the top flight next season.
MacDonald was back at Ibrox yesterday, along with former team-mates Colin Stein, Willie Johnston and Alex Miller, to help unveil a bronze bust of their close friend Jardine who died from cancer in April last year.
The tribute will be formally installed on the marble staircase inside the main stand at Ibrox on Sunday by Jardine’s widow Shona, appropriately enough before the fixture between Rangers and Hearts.
At the start of this season, the Govan Stand at the stadium was re-named the Sandy Jardine Stand before the clubs’ first meeting. The result that day, a late 2-1 win for Hearts, set the tone for a campaign in which Robbie Neilson’s side went from strength to strength while Rangers, beset by off-the-field problems, have struggled badly.
But MacDonald has seen enough evidence since Stuart McCall’s appointment as interim manager three weeks ago to persuade him that Rangers will emerge successfully from the play-offs.
“Hearts have done fantastically well to win the league and it just shows you what a good woman can do!” said the ever-ebullient MacDonald in praise of the Gorgie club’s owner Ann Budge.
“You have to think things are going to get better for Rangers now, with a new board in place. On the pitch too, it looks as if it is turning a wee bit.
“We need the top teams in the top division – Hearts, Rangers and Hibs as well. We need all the top clubs back there, going head to head again, but obviously either Rangers or Hibs won’t be going up this season.
“I think Rangers are going to do it now. Stuart McCall has obviously given the players a lift. You can see that in the way they have played in the last couple of games. They just need to get their confidence back. It can be hard playing out there at Ibrox. There can be a feeling the punters are just waiting for a mistake.
“It shouldn’t be as hard as it once was, because football is more of a possession game nowadays. When I played, there were guys like Willie Henderson and Willie Johnston who had to take players on all the time. Midfield players had to take people on as well, not just pass the ball.
“I learned early on as a Rangers player that if you didn’t make a bad pass at Ibrox, you didn’t get criticised. But that doesn’t satisfy a football player because he has to try things.
“The current Rangers players just need to be a wee bit braver on the ball, because a few of them have got good ability.
“Stuart seems to be a good man-manager from what I can gather. He’s good at talking to players, telling them what they are doing right as well as what they are doing wrong.
“I tried to do that myself when I was a manager. I used to watch the game again on tape on a Sunday and if I’d criticised them wrongly immediately after the game on the Saturday, I would apologise to them when we got back to training.”
MacDonald also believes Rangers will benefit from the input provided by McCall’s assistant Kenny Black. As Hearts manager, MacDonald signed Black in 1984 and then recruited him again when he was in charge of Airdrie.
“Kenny is a fantastic guy,” added MacDonald. “He was a great trainer as a player and I believe that’s also his strength as a coach.
“He got hard training when I was his manager and I’m quite sure that’s what he will be putting the Rangers players through now.”
Seeing the bronze image of Jardine, created by Scottish artist Helen Runciman and funded by Rangers supporters, was clearly emotional for MacDonald who believes his late friend would be heartened by the recent regime change at Ibrox.
“The best thing for Sandy would be to see the club back in the hands of people he would approve of, people who care for Rangers like he did,” said MacDonald. “He played for the club and then later on he helped so many of the managers who came here, working them and giving them advice behind the scenes.
“Sandy did fantastically well in rallying the supporters during the bad times there have been in recent years. He had the respect of the fans.
“It’s fantastic to see the bust and it brings back great memories. It’s as if he’s still here. It’s brilliant that the supporters helped the club to get it done.
“I think Sandy would be really proud of it. The great thing is his family will see it – his wife, kids and grand-kids. It’s something for all of them to be proud of.”
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