Sport – Walter Smith OBE

Walter Smith OBE – One of the most successful Scottish Managers in History

Walter Smith, was born 24 February 1948 in Lanark, but he and his family have spent over 20 years as residents of Helensburgh’s upper west area. He is a Scottish former football player, but is better known as a football manager.

Walter grew up in Carmyle in the east end of Glasgow as a boyhood fan of Rangers. He trained as an electrician and gained employment at the South of Scotland Electricity Board before launching his football career in the 1960s with Junior League team Ashfield.

Walter signed as a defender with Dundee United in 1966, joining as a part-timer while working as an electrician. In September 1975 he moved to Dumbarton, but returned to United in 1977. At the age of 29, a pelvic injury threatened his career and he was invited to join the Dundee United coaching staff by Jim McLean. His first team appearances were limited thereafter, but he remained a signed player and his final club match was in September 1980. In total, he made over 250 senior appearances, scoring three goals.

In 1978 he was appointed coach of the Scotland Under 18 team, and helped Scotland to win the European Youth Championship in 1982. He became coach of the Under 21 team, and was Alex Ferguson’s assistant manager during the 1986 Mexico World Cup. By 1986, Walter became assistant manager at Rangers and he was instrumental in their success over the following years, taking over the first team as manager in April 1991.

Seven successive league titles followed under Smith’s tenure, including a domestic treble in 1992/93. He also won both the Scottish Cup and the League Cup three times each. 1997 was to prove a very memorable year, both professionally and personally, for Walter. He led Rangers to their record-equalling ninth successive League title and was awarded the OBE for services to football in the Queen’s birthday honours list.

In 1998, Walter Smith departed for Everton where he spent 3 eventful seasons, with the club basically being marketed and sold by Chairman Peter Johnson during his tenure. Walter’s next job in English football was a temporary one: he had three months as Alex Ferguson’s assistant while Carlos Queiroz was in Madrid. “Alex asked me to go down and help, and it was the most enjoyable three months I’d had for a long time. I was able to do what I’d done at Dundee United years before, just get on the training pitch and ignore all the things managers have to do at big clubs… the directors, the agents” Walter recalled.

Then his country called. Walter was appointed manager of the Scottish national team on 2 December 2004 following the Berti Vogts “era”. Walter is credited with rejuvenating the national squad. On assuming the post, Walter decided the way forward for the Scotland Squad was to recreate a club environment. In the early 1980s, when he was assistant to Jim McLean at Dundee United, the club had punched massively above its weight, reaching a Uefa Cup final and a European Cup semi-final. This was achieved through rigid organisation and a strong team spirit, and Walter, recognising that in an international sense he possibly had similar personnel in terms of skills and flair, resolved to do things the same way as he had all those years ago. The culmination of Walter’s approach to the Scotland set up was an extraordinary 1-0 victory over the French. “That was great because it showed what we could do in terms of togetherness. It wasn’t my greatest moment in football, but it was up there… France had lost one in 40-odd qualifiers going back to 1994 or something.”

Walter left the Scotland role, leaving Scotland as Group B leaders in the Euro 2008 qualifying phase, ahead of then world champions Italy and World Cup runners-up France, to return to Rangers after Paul Le Guen left his position on January 10th 2007. Walter left Scotland in a healthy position with the national team’s FIFA world ranking improved by 70 places. His departure caused something of a stir at the SFA and legal action for breach of contract was threatened. Undeterred, Walter stated:”I am delighted to return to Rangers as manager. This club has always been in my blood and I can’t wait to get started.”

His return to Rangers proved successful. In the UEFA Cup, Walter Smith booked Rangers’ first European final for 36 years, which they lost 0–2 to Zenit St. Petersburg in Manchester, and the team was to claim the SPL title — Rangers’ 52nd Championship — on 24 May 2009. He followed this up with the Scottish Cup a week later to end the season with a League and Cup double.

On 25 April 2010, Smith led Rangers to their 53rd title and their second in a row. On 25 May 2010, Smith signed a new one-year deal to continue as Rangers manager throughout the 2010–11 campaign, stating that it was to be his last as Rangers manager. His final season resulted in the securing of a domestic double, winning the League Cup as well as a 54th league championship, a world record.

In 2012 Walter briefly returned to Rangers in a Board non executive role but resigned after 10 months.

Walter is Honorary President of the local Ardencaple Boys Club football team, where both his sons enjoyed spells during their early playing days.

Pictures by kind permission of Rangers Football Club.

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