Sandy Jardine tributes fly in for Rangers legend

ALTHOUGH he was still being referred to as Billy or Willie in newspaper reports when he broke into the first-team in his first season at Rangers in the late 1960s, it is as Sandy that everyone grew to know him. Sandy Jardine. The name is now synonymous with excellence.

Sandy Jardine at the peak of his career for Rangers against Celtic. Picture: SNS

Born William Jardine on the last day of 1948, it was Dave Kinnear, a member of Scot Symon’s backroom staff at Rangers, who took one look at Jardine’s then flaxen hair and cried: ‘Hey, Sandy!’ The name eventually stuck. Jardine learned to sign autographs in this new guise, persuaded by fans who quizzed him after looking down on a sheet of paper, on which was scrawled Billy Jardine. “We thought your name was Sandy!” they would exclaim.

“It wasn’t worth fighting against,” wrote Jardine in his autobiography, Score and More, published in 1987. The football world quickly got to know who Sandy Jardine was. He very comfortably assumed an identity as one of British football’s finest-ever full-backs. He did this in the colours of Rangers and Scotland, and later, in the maroon of Hearts, the club he supported as a boy when growing up in Edinburgh, where his first years were spent in a house directly opposite Tynecastle stadium.

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When the family later moved from Gorgie to a house directly opposite Saughton Park, he remembered it as having a big bearing on his football career. Although he was no longer living in the shadow of a football stadium, he now lived near one of the biggest sites for football pitches in the city. He played “morning, noon and night” at Saughton.

Despite being geographically so close to Hearts and, while he did train with the club during the week, it was Rangers who made the first move to sign Jardine. He made his first-team debut the week after Rangers’ most famous defeat, against Berwick Rangers in the Scottish Cup in 1967.

It was a literal case of him going from watching Hearts one week to playing for Rangers the next. Suffering with flu, he had missed training with Rangers all week and decided to accompany his father to watch the Tynecastle side play Dundee United, who came away with a 3-0 win. Although this was a shock, it paled into insignificance next to the result from Berwick.

Unsurprisingly, Symon decided to make changes the following weekend, and Jardine got his chance, making his debut against Hearts of all teams in a 5-1 win. He never looked back.

By the time he left Rangers fifteen years later, Jardine carried with him three league championship medals, five League Cup medals, five Scottish Cup medals, as well as one European Cup winners’ medal and a runners-up medal in the same competition. He had also played in two World Cups.

It is the opinion of Alex MacDonald, his team-mate and long-time compadre, that Jardine re-defined what it meant to be a full-back.

“He was an athlete, people could not run by him,” said MacDonald when contacted by The Scotsman yesterday. “He would jockey them, and stay on his feet. He wouldn’t dive in. And, of course, when he went over the halfway line and got to the last third of the park, he was a winger. He had that wee trick of kidding on he was throwing it into the box, checking back and then throwing it in.”

A clearly emotional MacDonald was struggling with the news of Jardine’s death on Thursday, at the age of just 65. “We were both born in ’48, I am eight months older,” he said. “You cannot say nothing about this guy, this guy was too good.” Others, too, were deeply affected yesterday, including those affiliated to Celtic. Parkhead chief executive Peter Lawwell placed a wreath at Ibrox stadium.

Danny McGrain spoke warmly about someone who became a friend to him as much as anything. McGrain, now first-team coach at Celtic, faced Jardine countless times in Old Firm matches but together they formed a full-back double act for Scotland that was the envy of the world.

“Both my wife and I had tears in my eyes this morning,” he said. “Anytime I went to Ibrox and met Sandy, it was like when old footballers got together. We would talk about the last game we played alongside each other. We would never talk about games we played against each other.”

Celtic manager Neil Lennon, meanwhile, described Jardine as “immaculate”, both on and of the pitch. “He was one of those rare breeds that could transcend the Old Firm,” he added

The first time MacDonald met Jardine was in Musselburgh of all places. Despite Jardine’s now long-standing reputation for being a gentleman, MacDonald reports that they almost came to blows. Of course, Jardine was motivated by concern for someone else’s welfare. “The first time I met him he was wanting to fight with me,” said MacDonald. “It was a five-a-side game in Musselburgh. I was with St Johnstone at the time, and he was with Rangers. I went in and tackled big David Provan, and Davie took off. We were getting changed in a church and Sandy and wee Willie Johnston were really angry.”

The perception of MacDonald and Jardine as close is certainly close to the mark. “Like brothers,” according to MacDonald, who played with Jardine at Rangers and then brought him as his lieutenant at Hearts on becoming the country’s first high-profile player-manager.

A couple of years ago I went into Ibrox, and I said to the girl at reception that I was here to see Sandy Jardine,” he recalled. “She asked who I was, and I said: ‘It’s Alex MacDonald – I slept with him for 20 years!’”

“I roomed with him for 12 years at Rangers and then obviously we came through to Hearts together. I stayed with him, and he stayed with me. You could not get any closer. I never had a bad word with Sandy or him with me – it was total respect.

“He helped me more than I helped him,” he added.

MacDonald remembers getting the player-manager’s job at Tynecastle and then figuring a way to ensure his pal joined him.

“I encouraged Sandy through by saying that Hearts want an Edinburgh manager. I was not that into management. I said come on through, if I get sacked you are in. Hearts want an Edinburgh manager.”

In actual fact, Jardine kept on playing, assisting MacDonald from the pitch. He moved to sweeper, winning his second Scottish player of the year award at the age of 37.

“I was the first player-manager in Scotland,” recalled MacDonald. “Wallace Mercer, the chairman, phoned Jock Stein, and he said it can’t be done. But it was done, though only because I had Sandy as my lieutenant.”

There were of course times when they needed each other’s shoulder to lean on. “I remember when we lost the cup final and we came back to Edinburgh in 1986,” said MacDonald, recalling a devastating week for Hearts.

“We got to the hotel and the two of just sat and cried. We’d lost the league, we’d lost the cup. And there we were, huddled together like bairns.”