FOR Walter Smith, this was how retirement was supposed to be. On a fine Ayrshire morning, he was at Dundonald Golf Links yesterday for a round of golf and some conviviality in the company of some old friends.
But for the 65-year-old, what he intended as life after Rangers and football has turned out to be anything but.
His diary, which included his appearance at the memorial golf day for the Tommy Burns Cancer Trust, is suddenly much fuller after his appointment as the new Rangers chairman.
Smith was never going to miss yesterday’s commitment in aid of the charity set up by the family of his great friend and former Scotland coaching colleague. But demands on his time are going to be far more intense and firmly focused on events at Ibrox in the weeks and months ahead.
Two years after he stepped down as Rangers manager, Smith is in the front line once again at the club so close to his heart. He has agreed to replace Malcolm Murray as chairman in a bid to bring some desperately needed stability to the fallen Glasgow giants.
Smith admits his new role is not one he ever coveted and that he does not envisage his tenure being a lengthy one. However, that in no way diminishes his determination to help Rangers on the road to recovery following the most ruinous and turbulent period of their history.
“I don’t particularly see myself as a long-term chairman, in the sense that I would always think the job would be for someone who has far more business acumen than I have got,” said Smith.
“But we have been going through a ropey period, even after the club going on the stock market last December and everyone thinking it would settle down. That hasn’t been the case. There has been a wee bit of turmoil.
“So hopefully we can get the club settled down again. If we can do that, then I think that will be the initial phase of what we try to do. We will see what happens after that. But I certainly don’t see myself as being in the position for a long, long time.
“It is obviously a departure for me. When I was asked by Charles Green to go on to the board as a non-executive director last November, I thought ‘Well, that’s a change’.
“So this is something I never expected to happen. I didn’t particularly look for it either. But due to a whole set of circumstances it has come around. For anybody, it is an honour – albeit a surprising one.
“To be quite honest, I don’t think there was anyone else on the board prepared to do it! It’s as simple as that and I can include myself in that a bit.
“When you are asked to become manager, you obviously think you have got the background and credentials to do the job. But when you are asked to be the chairman, you are never sure, because I’ve never been a business person and I was never really a member of the board before.
“So it will be a completely new departure for me. But we have got other experienced people on the board, so hopefully over the next period we will get together and try to take the club forward.
“The immediate priority is just to get everything settled down and get a situation where everyone, first and foremost, starts talking about the football team instead of what is happening in the boardroom or what is happening off the pitch.
“Unfortunately it looks as though there will be some aspects of the previous time, that have rolled over into this one, which will maybe continue for a number of years.
“But we have got to try and separate that and make sure everyone gets back to concentrating on what they should be concentrating on, which is the football.
“The board, including the chairman and everyone else, would leave the chief executive to get on with the day-to-day running of the club. Let what happens on the football pitch make headlines, rather than anything else.”
There is little doubt that a major factor in Smith agreeing to return to Rangers has been a desire to try to ease the burden which off-the-field crises have placed on Ally McCoist’s efforts to prove himself an able successor to his old mentor as manager.
“It’s up to us to try and create a better environment for Alistair to do his job,” added Smith. “When a lot of headlines, which have nothing to do with the footballing side, come to the fore then it is always difficult to concentrate on football.
“We need to make sure we get back to that. I think people have forgotten over the past couple of years that Rangers is about a football team. The football side has suffered enough with what has happened off the pitch, so therefore we’ve got to get back to focusing on the football. Hopefully I can maybe bring that focus to the boardroom, as much as anything else.”
One of Smith’s fellow golfers at yesterday’s event, Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, believes his former Old Firm adversary faces the toughest challenge of his career in his new role, but backs him to succeed.
“Listen, Walter doesn’t really want to retire,” said Strachan. “He is too active. His brain is always ticking over. He has been like that wherever he has gone and in whatever capacity. I remember that as a player he brought a serenity when he was defending, there wasn’t panic.
“As a coach and a manager, he could soothe the waters if there was any trouble. He can do things in a controlled manner and bring a structure to what he is doing.
“I think this will be his hardest one. But I think all Rangers fans and anyone connected with the club will be very pleased. They know they can accept whatever comes out from the club when it comes from Walter.
“He will be dealing with a lot of different things, but I think he is at a stage now where he is wise enough to do that. Walter has been a good leader throughout his time in the game. He was a leader as a player in his own wee way.
“It’s a new thing being a chairman but, as I said, Walter is wise enough. He looks and watches. That’s what he did as a coach and that’s what he did before he became a manager.
“He picks out the best things and then adds the Walter Smith slant to whatever he is going to do.
“I think Ally McCoist would just want stability and to have someone he knows who will be there every day to speak to. It’s imperative that the bond between the head of the club and the manager is good.”