Loyalty was written in Sandy Jardine’s DNA

Alex Ferguson commiserates Sandy Jardine following Aberdeen's victory over Hearts in the 1986 Cup final. Picture: Getty
Alex Ferguson commiserates Sandy Jardine following Aberdeen's victory over Hearts in the 1986 Cup final. Picture: Getty
Share this article
Have your say

FOR a man with a double identity – to his close friends and family he was Billy, to the world of football, Sandy – it was entirely fitting William Pullar Jardine should enjoy not one but two brilliant careers as a footballer.

First and foremost, of course, Sandy was a Rangers icon, one of the Ibrox club’s most gifted and distinguished servants. He made 674 appearances for Rangers, from his debut at Millport for the third team as a 16-year-old in 1965 through 17 seasons when he won five Scottish Cups, five League Cups (he captained the Glasgow side to victory just once against Dundee United at Hampden in 1981), three Championships and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1972. He twice won the treble and only John Greig and Dougie Gray made more appearances for Rangers.

Unlike his friend Danny McGrain, who, by and large, played over the years in more accomplished Celtic sides, Jardine did not always feature in Rangers’ teams as talented as he was. He found the last couple of seasons of his playing career at Ibrox difficult ones and his last appearance in a blue jersey, the 1982 Scottish Cup final against Aberdeen, was not one he cared to remember. When the score was tied at 1-1, big Doug Rougvie, the Aberdeen defender, collided with Sandy, who had to be carried off with concussion. In extra time, without Jardine, Rangers haemorrhaged three goals.

Another friend, and fully paid-up member of the Ibrox legends club, Greig was manager at the time Sandy left Rangers. Jardine knew John could have made life tricky for him and forced him to stay against his wishes. Instead, Greig favoured Sandy’s extraordinary service with a free transfer that allowed him to join Hearts, the club he had supported as a boy.

Although he would return to Ibrox in due course, leaving was an emotional wrench.

When we collaborated on his autobiography in 1987, Sandy told me: “I took away plenty of medals from my time with Rangers. What I treasured most of all, though, was the memory of the good times I had along the way rather than the prizes. Bill Shankly was wrong when he said football was a more serious matter than life or death. If you can’t have a laugh about the shortcomings of yourself and others, you’re getting your priorities mixed up.”

Never driven by money nor obsessed with either fame or glory, Sandy took a drop in wages to join Hearts that summer. Revived by a family holiday in Corfu, Jardine was asked at his first press conference as a player and a coach for Hearts what he hoped he and Alex MacDonald might achieve at Tynecastle. As meticulous off the field as he was diligent on it, Jardine laid out four ambitions for a great club then languishing in the First Division with just 16 senior professionals.

He wanted to take Hearts back into the Premier Division; to consolidate them in the top flight; to bring European football back and, most of all, he wanted to restore respect to the Tynecastle club’s standing.

Astonishingly, these dreams became reality. This was partly down to the organisational work undertaken by MacDonald and Jardine in the manager’s office and partly due to the influence of Sandy on the pitch. Having started out as a winger who could sprint 100 yards in 10.2 seconds, most of Jardine’s career with Rangers and Scotland was spent as an attacking right-back. He was a thoroughly modern defender – Phillipp Lahm is perhaps his nearest equivalent today – who combined speed of thought with quick feet. If he had played now, my guess is Bayern Munich and Real Madrid would have vied for his services as eagerly as Manchester United and Arsenal.

The first time I saw Sandy move to the centre of defence and play sweeper was when I reported on Rangers’ European Cup tie against Juventus for The Scotsman in the old Stadio Comunale in 1978. He took to the role as to the manner born and was a key figure in helping the Scottish champions eliminate the Italians over two legs.

By the time he arrived in Gorgie four years later, Sandy was shrewd enough to know he was not as fast as he had been in his 20s and would have to rely more on cunning than acceleration. Luckily for Hearts, Jardine was one of the brightest footballers ever to slip into a maroon jersey. His understanding of the geography of the football pitch was critical in turning Craig Levein into a world-class centre-back.

Eamonn Bannon once told me centre-backs have to imagine a 15-yard rope which ties them together when one or the other moves. With some pairings the rope is as jerky as the strings that manipulated those children’s puppet shows on TV in the 1960s. The cord linking Levein and Jardine was elastic.

As early as 1983, Jardine was already looking for his replacement as sweeper with Hearts and Levein, bought from Cowdenbeath for £35,000, was the heir apparent.

Instead, Sandy, who was rarely injured and never missed a match through suspension in 20 years, chose to chase the 1,000-game mark in Scottish football and became Levein’s partner as well as teacher. It proved to be the outstanding central defensive pairing in Hearts’ history and took the club to within a whisker of the title in 1986.

Having made his first-team debut as an 18-year-old for Rangers in a 5-1 win against Hearts, it was fitting Sandy’s 1,000th game should be for Hearts in a 3-0 victory over Rangers in 1985. The first Scot to achieve that distinction, he made 277 appearances for Hearts and would also become the first footballer in Scotland to be named player of the year with two different clubs.

When Sir Alex Ferguson, a former team-mate at Ibrox, left Aberdeen to join Manchester United as manager, Sandy was the Pittodrie club’s first choice to replace the great man. Jardine, though, didn’t believe the Aberdeen job was any bigger than the one he already had. And, of course, loyalty was written in his DNA. Three years later, Hearts dispensed with Jardine’s services, but he never bore any enduring grudges. After a short spell with Scottish Brewers, the door was open to return to Ibrox where he worked in various posts behind the scenes, before becoming the club’s de facto leader during the painful process of administration and liquidation.

I remember meeting him in the boardroom at Tynecastle with his friend, John Murphy, the former Hibs player, when the only other Rangers man present and correct was Andy Cameron. My son, Nick, whom Sandy had last met in my house a quarter of a century earlier, was greeted with the candour and kindness which typified the man.

It brought back to mind the evening when Elaine, my wife, and I went for dinner with Sandy and Shona to celebrate the completion of his book. I wanted to thank him for choosing me to write his story. On the night, of course, when I asked for the bill Sandy, without fuss, had already taken care of it.

Last week Sir Alex described Sandy as “noble and courageous”. He certainly bore the cancer which took his life at 65 on Thursday evening with both those qualities and was as dignified in the dark times as he was ebullient in the good days. He treated those twin imposters, triumph and disaster, with the same equanimity.

Throughout the unforgiving vicissitudes of a life in Scottish football, he was always even-keeled, always a gentleman. And for many of us, the privilege of knowing William “Sandy” Jardine, the man with a double identity, was a singular honour.