In an enchanted spot, overlooking a golf course and a sandy beach, they laid Harold ‘Harry’ Davis to rest in Gairloch yesterday.
Former team-mate Ronnie McKinnon travelled from Stornoway to pay tribute to the Rangers legend, who died last week at the age of 85. This is still nearer, as the crow flies, than Glasgow and Broxburn, from where John Greig and Willie Henderson journeyed respectively to pay tribute to someone they both described as a mentor.
Greig inherited the No 4 jersey from Davis when he broke into the Rangers first team. “He was someone the younger players always looked up to,” said Greig. “He had the principles and standards of Rangers Football Club down to a tee. He helped impose those on others and we grew up with these standards.”
Davis was the closest Greig, someone not given to idolising others, had to a hero. Former winger Henderson was just a teenager as Davis was nearing the end of a celebrated Rangers career, during which he won four league title medals in eight years as well as two League Cups and a Scottish Cup. Davis was belatedly inducted into the Rangers Hall of Fame in 2009.
“He was a very principled man,” said Henderson. “That has endeared him to a lot of people. His word was his bond. Harry was the type of player ball players like myself depended on. When the heavy stuff came in to have a player like Harry Davis in the team was a huge help to those like myself and Ian McMillan.
“I was young and we know it all then – or we think we do. Harry was always like: ‘come here you’. A word in the ear from him was all that was needed. First of all I had huge respect for him and secondly, he had been through the mill – any advice he was willing to give was right.”
The knowledge required to impart this advice was hard-earned. On a battlefield in Korea, just north of the 38th parallel, mostly. Davis sustained injuries that were serious enough for his surgeon to declare his patient’s football days were now over. Davis had signed for East Fife before joining the Black Watch.
In view of his occupation he had the option to stay at home as a physical training inspector. “Typically,” Reverend Stuart Smith recounted yesterday, “he wanted to remain with the colleagues he had trained with – as a team”.
The price of such loyalty was multiple wounds in his stomach combined with a shattered heel bone. He fought the complications stemming from these injuries until the day he died. Davis spent his last months in a nursing home just outside Gairloch.
Remarkably, so severe were his war wounds he never stopped receiving an army pension throughout his time as a professional footballer.
Davis signed for Rangers in 1956 having succeeded to get fit enough to play football while at Bridge of Earn hospital outside Perth, where his parents ran a pub. Following his father’s death aged only 39, the establishment, unusually for the time, was run by his mother alone.
Harry and wife Vi, who he met in Perth, purchased a house just a short distance from Ibrox stadium and bought into “close-knit community tenement life”, as Rev. Smith described it. It was far removed from where they ended up – Gairloch. Well, the tenement part was. Close-knit community life is as characteristic of the Highlands as Govan. And Davis was at the heart of it.
Over 300 mourners attended his funeral yesterday at Gairloch Free Church, set in a stunning location overlooking Gairloch Loch. A wreath shaped like a Rangers jersey, displaying a No 4 picked out in white flowers, was on prominent display.
Davis and his family – a son, Alan, was born in Glasgow – moved to Wester Ross in the mid-1970s, after a period when he combined being assistant manager of Dundee with owning a poultry farm outside Dunfermline.
The man dubbed the Iron Man of Ibrox ran a hotel initially. According to friend Lorne Crerar’s eulogy, it was guaranteed to have “zero trouble in the bar” – Crerar also recalled always referring to Davis simply as “the great man”. But the relocation was inspired chiefly by Davis’ passion for fly fishing. The photograph on the front of yesterday’s service sheet was not of Davis in action for Rangers. Rather, it was an image of the great man casting out a line, looking as content as could be.