Aberdeen captain Scott Brown has paid tribute to Rangers legend Walter Smith for transcending the Old Firm divide.
Brown will lead out the Dons tonight at Ibrox with Rangers, and Scottish football, in mourning for the loss of a great of the game.
Former Rangers, Everton and Scotland manager Smith passed away at the age of 73.
Having captained Celtic for 11 years of a 14 year career at Parkhead Brown knows all about the bitter divide between the two Glasgow clubs.
He believes Smith narrowed that Old Firm chasm and insists his actions in being a pallbearer at close friend and Celtic great Tommy Burns’ funeral in 2008 sent ‘the most powerful message’.
Brown said: “I remember after Tommy passed away, Walter and Ally (McCoist) helped carry the coffin.
“So I’ve got great respect for the man. He was the one who tried to be bigger than that divide.
“It is the most powerful message that has ever been sent out. You talk about bridging the divide but that picture speaks a thousand words.
“For someone like Tommy who had a huge funeral and you knew how much he loved Celtic and how much Walter loves Rangers.
“But as soon as they went away from that, they spent a lot of time with one another and so did their families.
“They had a fantastic bond and they tried to bridge that divide.
“He was that kind of person who wanted better for everyone.
“You understand that there is a hatred for 90 minutes, it is part and parcel, but you can’t hold a grudge after that.”
No ill feeling when Brown rejected Rangers
Brown rejected a move to Rangers in favour of Celtic and went on to lead the Parkhead club to nine-in-a-row, emulating the feat achieved by Smith at Ibrox.
He said: “Everyone knows I had the chance to go to Rangers. I chose Celtic.
“At the time, I thought maybe Walter and Coisty would hold a grudge.
“They never once did. I met Walter a couple of months later out on the street and he was fantastic.
“He couldn’t have been any more pleased for myself.
“At that same time, I had him at Scotland and it was Walter, Tommy and Coisty.
“It was a great place to be. They made it very welcoming for everybody.
“That was down to the special bond the three of them had.”
Grateful for Scotland international debut
Whilst Scotland manager Smith handed Brown his international debut in a 1-1 friendly draw with the United States at Hampden on November 12, 2005.
Brown would go on to win 55 caps for his country. It was an unforgettable debut, especially as Brown was played in attack.
He said: “I was a bit shocked. I was quite young at the time. We were playing America at home.
“I remember going out to warm up. Walter came up to me and said, ‘Right come on wee man, go warm up, let’s see what you’ve got’.
“So after I warmed up I came back and he goes, ‘Good news for you, you’re going on up front’.
“He told me, ‘Go cause carnage!’
“I was like, ‘I can do that gaffer, no problem!’
“He said ‘Go get yourself a goal and show what you can do’.
“I think it was Faddy (James McFadden) who dropped in and gave me a ball in behind and I scored.
“To be fair it was touch tight whether I was offside or not. VAR would have said I was on these days but back then the linesman called me off.
“I walked back in and Walter goes, ‘Told you wee man you’d score. Just too early but we’ll work on it!’
‘Walter had an aura that you knew hew was in the room’
Brown will tonight lead out an Aberdeen team at Ibrox bidding to build upon a 1-0 defeat of Hibs that ended a 10 game winless drought.
Rangers cancelled their pre-Aberdeen match press conference in respect of the club legend who led the club to 10 top-flight titles, five Scottish Cups, six League Cups as well as to the UEFA Cup final in 2008.
Brown said: “It’s sad and I’m sure all the Scotland fans and Rangers fans will be sending their support to his family.
“I got on really well with Walter on the field and off it too.
“Walter had the aura that you knew he was in the room.
“That wasn’t just in football, that was in general.
“I have been at a lot of charity events and when Walter walked in you knew he was in because there was such a buzz about the place.
“He was so down to earth and would speak to anyone and had time for everyone which made him such a fantastic man.
“Everyone has got huge respect for him. Every single player that has worked under him says that.
“It shows the respect everyone had for him and the mark he leaves on people as well.
“You can see all the messages coming in from all over the world, even ex-professionals who played against him and his Rangers side, managers who came up against him at Ibrox or with Manchester United and Everton too.
“They all have that great respect for him.”