Fans pack Ibrox to pay emotional tribute to Ricksen

Fernando Ricksen spends time thanking the thousands of fans that filled Ibrox for his special day. Picture: SNS
Fernando Ricksen spends time thanking the thousands of fans that filled Ibrox for his special day. Picture: SNS
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AN incredible crowd of 41,349 descended on Ibrox yesterday as the acrimony, turmoil and chaos which has ravaged Rangers for the best part of three years was set aside for one rainy afternoon.

The protests were put on hold and those who have been withholding their custom returned in their droves.

Charlie Miller, left, can't contain his laughter as Bob Malcolm thunders into a challenge during yesterday's Fernando Ricksen tribute match. Picture: SNS

Charlie Miller, left, can't contain his laughter as Bob Malcolm thunders into a challenge during yesterday's Fernando Ricksen tribute match. Picture: SNS

It was of course under the auspices of paying tribute to Fernando Ricksen, stricken with an aggressive form of motor neurone disease, the desperately degenerating condition for which there is no cure.

However, it gave the largely unpopular Ibrox board of directors a glaring indication of what they have been missing this season with season tickets down by 15,000 and attendances dropping below 20,000 on occasion.

Kick-off was delayed fully 31 minutes to allow the thousands of Rangers supporters to make their way in to pay their own tribute to a man who was one of the great characters of recent times.

The Easdale brothers and Mike Ashley’s men on the board – Derek Llambias and Barry Leach – can only dream about such a turn-out in the current climate.

There will be more drama in the Rangers story this week with Ashley due to answer SFA charges over his influence at the club tomorrow and the burning issue of necessary funding and who will provide it. However, momentarily the pain and suffering were forgotten as the supporters celebrated Ricksen and enjoyed watching the stars of the past strut their stuff.

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Ricksen has trouble walking now such is the debilitating nature of his condition but he proudly strode between a phalanx of former team-mates and special guests to take the acclaim of the fans.

Heroes of old Jorg Albertz and Peter Lovenkrands kissed his head before he ceremonially started the match. He slipped and ended up on his backside but it mattered little as a cacophony of noise boomed around the stadium.

Ricksen, however, is not the type of person who plays the victim well. He was soon in the “home” technical area laughing and joking with those around him.

It was like the old days as Alex McLeish donned the old yellow, red and blue club tie to take charge of the bulk of his 2005 Championship-winning team along with stars like Michael Mols, Ronald de Boer, Albertz and Arthur Numan.

Some things never change. Albertz still looks elegant in possession, Rino Gattuso goes snarling into every challenge, Barry Ferguson still passes to perfection and Nacho Novo misses sitters.

Celtic donate £10,000 to MND and Fernando Ricksen

There were great cameo moments from Andy Goram and Charlie Miller from the 1990s era and Ricksen lapped it all up on the sidelines.

Of course, there was the usual trade of goals that these occasions produce and in fairness to Novo he grabbed the best one when he took a lovely pass from Mols and lifted the ball over Ronald Watterreus.

In the end, Fernando’s All Stars won the game 7-4 but the real winners were Ricksen and his family, Motor Neurone Disease Scotland and the Rangers 
Charity Foundation.

Ricksen savoured every moment of a special day as old friends, team-mates and rivals joined together with a remarkable Rangers crowd to pay a great tribute to him.

At the end of it all Mols and Miller carried him on their shoulders to give him one final lap of honour at the stadium he called home for six years.