Eric Caldow, former Rangers captain and Scotland ace, dies aged 84

Eric Caldow, who has died at the age of 84, broke into the Rangers first team at the end of one hugely successful era for the Ibrox club and went on to play a key role in establishing another trophy-laden spell in their history.

Rangers captain Eric Caldow in 1965. Picture: SNS

The Cumnock-born player, regarded by many Rangers supporters as the finest full-back ever to play for the club, won 10 major honours in his 13 years as a first team player.

Caldow made his debut as a 19-year-old in the 1953-54 season which proved to be the final campaign overseen by legendary Rangers manager Bill Struth, his team-mates including renowned figures such as Willie Woodburn and Willie Waddell who were coming to the end of their playing careers.

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Under Struth’s successor Scot Symon, Caldow became a pivotal figure alongside talents such as Jim Baxter, John Greig and Willie Henderson in the team of the early 1960s which is considered one of the most talented Scottish club sides of all time.

Rangers chairman Dave King led the tributes to Caldow, stating: “I was profoundly saddened to hear of Eric’s passing and I would like to convey my deepest sympathies to his family. Everyone of us at the club share their sense of loss.

“Eric truly was a player who could easily be described as heroic and came to epitomise the standards, characteristics and values associated with this club. He was, of course, also a player of international renown with Scotland. This is a sad day for the club and the country.”

Caldow’s potential was identified by Rangers when he was just 14. Before signing professional forms a few years later, he was farmed out to Muirkirk Juniors.

While not the most physically imposing of players, standing at just 5ft 8ins and weighing in at around 11 stone, Caldow’s pace, positional sense and impeccable technique more than compensated.

His adaptability also allowed him to perform equally effectively at right-back, although left-back was his preferred position. His first two seasons in the Rangers’ first team brought him great experience but without any tangible reward as the transitional period from Struth to Symon delivered no trophies.

But the 1955-56 campaign saw Caldow earn the first of five League championship winners’ medals he would rack up as a Rangers player. The following season saw him attract the attention of the international selectors and he was plunged in at the deep end at Wembley for his Scotland debut against an England side including the peerless winger Stanley Matthews in 1957. The Scots lost 2-1 but Caldow’s performance was widely praised.

“It is Scotland’s one consolation that the young Rangers back was far and away their best player,” read one contemporary match report. “Not once was there a sign of nerves on his part. He tackled vigorously, successfully and always fairly, and unlike some of his more experienced colleagues cleared the ball with some purpose.”

It was the start of a senior international career which brought Caldow 40 caps, a tally which would certainly have been much higher but for the injury he infamously suffered back at Wembley six years later.

Before then, he was part of the Scotland squad which qualified for the 1958 World Cup Finals. Caldow played in all three matches in Sweden that summer against Yugoslavia, Paraguay and France. His Scotland career saw him play 11 times at right-back and 29 times at left-back, underlining the versatility he was able to utilise at the very highest level of the game.

Domestic honours kept rolling in for Caldow at Rangers and he also helped them become the first Scottish club to reach a European final, losing 4-1 on aggregate over two legs to Fiorentina in the 1961 Cup Winners’ Cup showpiece.

It was towards the end of another title-winning season with Rangers that fate dealt Caldow a cruel blow. Just six minutes into Scotland’s home international against England at Wembley, he sustained a multiple leg fracture in a poor challenge from the uncompromising Spurs striker Bobby Smith.

The severity of the injury saw Caldow miss out on most of what proved to be one of Rangers’ greatest ever seasons as, at the peak of their powers under Symon, they won the domestic treble in 1963-64.

Caldow recovered sufficiently to force his way back into a regular place in the Ibrox side the following season, collecting what proved to be his last winners’ medal for the club in the League Cup Final victory over Jock Stein’s emerging Celtic outfit.

In the summer of 1966, he was given a free transfer and played for one season at Stirling Albion before moving into management as player-boss of English non-league club Corby Town.

Caldow returned to Scotland to take charge of Ayrshire junior side Hurlford United before becoming Stranraer manager in the summer of 1973. He guided the Stair Park club to a mid-table finish in the old Second Division in his first season but resigned midway through the following campaign after a Scottish Cup second round exit at home to Queen’s Park.

He retained an involvement with football as a scout for Queen’s Park Rangers before returning to Rangers later in life as a matchday hospitality host. Caldow is a member of the Rangers Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame in 2007.