Rangers great of Lewis hoping for a repeat of European glory

The most famous resident of Point has returned home after a star-studded visit to the stadium where he excelled for more than a decade between 1960 and ‘72.
From left to right, Richard Gough with John Greig, Ronnie MacKinnon and Alan Baxter.From left to right, Richard Gough with John Greig, Ronnie MacKinnon and Alan Baxter.
From left to right, Richard Gough with John Greig, Ronnie MacKinnon and Alan Baxter.

On his first visit to Ibrox for three years – owing to a Covid-enforced absence – the famous Greig, MacKinnon, Baxter line up was recreated in the Blue Room with Alan Baxter taking the place of his talented father, who passed away in 2001.

For good measure, they were joined by one of the most recent captains, nine-in-a-row star Richard Gough.

The welcome that 82-year-old Ronnie MacKinnon gets at Ibrox shows the regard that some of the most famous names to have worn the blue shirt have for the quiet man, whom John Greig described in his biography as “the best centre half I ever played with”. They all want to shake his hand.

As the legends chat, John Greig winds up Colin Stein: “You only joined us from Hibs because you could never get past the big man at the back.”

Stein, who regularly shared a room with MacKinnon when they travelled with club and country, was one of the goal scoring stars against Moscow Dynamo in Barcelona when Rangers lifted the European Cup Winners Cup 50 years ago this month.

Sadly, MacKinnon was not on the pitch, having broken his leg in an earlier round against Sport Lisbon, but both men are caught up in the escalating excitement at Ibrox surrounding next week’s Europa Cup final against Eintracht Frankfurt.

Half a century on, Rangers are once again in a European final, in a Spanish city, hoping to emulate the feat of the Barcelona Bears.

If it was down to symmetry alone, the cup would surely be coming to Glasgow.

Earlier in the day, MacKinnon was welcomed to a Glasgow hotel by one of the titans of world football.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s beaming smile showed how delighted he was to meet his old pal from the Govan High School team, Benburb Juniors and Glasgow Rangers. He immediately launched into stories from a shared youth in Govan.

The bond between the two is still strong, with Sir Alex recalling his regular visits to the MacKinnon home at 72 Greenfield Street, where Ronnie’s mother, who came from Carloway, and his Skye-born father made sure the first language of the house was Gaelic.

Sir Alex recalled he and MacKinnon, who played at outside right for the school team, were in a group of six players, including Ronnie’s twin brother Donnie and his own brother Martin, who had played with Benburb. They were all sacked the same day.

Sir Alex said: “This is an incredible story. All six of us, who went on to have long professional careers, were taken in by the new committee and told we were no longer wanted.

"Ronnie shrugged his shoulders and said ‘I’m not worried I’m going to sign for Rangers’. Incredibly, he did just that six months later.”

MacKinnon went on to have a stellar career, playing nearly 500 games at the centre of the Rangers defence, winning two League championships, four Scottish cups and three League cups.

Ronnie also played 28 times for Scotland, including the famous 3-2 win over England at Wembley in 1967 when his pal Jim Baxter, another roommate, taunted and tormented the England players, the reigning world champions.

The Glasgow Gael moved in exalted circles as a player, lining up with and against some of the biggest stars to kick a football, including a frustrated Pele, who famously squared up to the fast, elegant but tough Scottish defender. He reacted with a smile.

MacKinnon now lives a quiet life in Lewis with his footballing memories but no one on the island will cheer more loudly if his team returns from Spain with another European trophy.

(Cluinnear Iain Moireasdan air Spòrs na Seachdain gach madainn Disathairne air Radio nan Gàidheal.)

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