Fielding true passion and loyalty for legend Ricksen
Former team-mates joint with thousands of Rangers fans to support MND fund-raiser
IT was a public embrace that only added to the welling of tears between two strangers, brought together in the rawest of circumstances. It lasted only a matter of seconds, yet it felt like an eternity to the thousands watching on. Many of them filled up until that point with bravado and beer, now reduced to averting their gaze suddenly, dabbing their eyes on the blue, red and white scarves draped around their sunburnt necks.
Sitting largely motionless in a wheelchair and wearing a bright-red Lionbrand Rangers polo shirt and royal-blue scarf of his own, the frail figure of Fernando Ricksen, once a colossus of a revered Ibrox team with a domestic treble at the heart of its legacy, wept. Taking in the moment, he was pushed around the green turf on a lap of honour by former team-mate Jorg Albertz and organiser Stan Gordon at the end of his charity foundation match here on the English coast, receiving the ovation from those who have followed his heart-breaking battle with motor neurone disease since 2013.
Eventually, the 40-year-old came to a stop 10 yards from the main stand, when a fan emerged from the crowd to comfort him as the former Netherlands internationalist’s name bellowed out. There were about 4500 others who all wished they could do the same.
The image brought a bruising dunt of reality on what for the large part had been a day for pageantry at Fleetwood Town’s Highbury Stadium. Not that those in attendance really needed it. Thousands of Rangers supporters had made the three-hour journey south on a pilgrimage to pay tribute to a man whose passion and loyalty during his six years at the club endured through sporting highs and lows. Now in his own incredible time of struggle, both are being returned to him, quite literally, with open arms.
“It’s so hard to see him. In the dressing room when you look at him you can see in his heart he is there but he can’t move,” said Marvin Andrews, the former Rangers defender’s tone reduced to a sombre note. “He sits watching everyone enjoying themselves and you can only picture what is going through his mind.
“You just wish he could get out of the wheelchair and gather round with everyone and be the Fernando we all remember. He has developed an illness that is the opposite to the person he was. That is the sad thing about it. He was in the dressing room and people all came in to see him but he can’t really communicate.
“He tries his best but it’s really difficult. As much as it’s an enjoyable occasion, it’s hard. You can see he wants to do something and take part but he just can’t and that’s the heartbreaking thing about it.”
As a player, Ricksen was a no-nonsense character who was loved by all those on his side and, well, not so much by those who he regularly came up against. It is a measure of the respect he carries that such sporting difference is laid to one side to raise money for an MND foundation in his name and, more importantly, offer words of support to him and his family as his fight continues.
On Saturday the 40-year-old sat at the side of the home dugout in the town just outside Blackpool watching those former team-mates give up their time for such a worthy cause. Names like Charlie Miller – who went in goal during a bizarre second-half cameo – Arthur Numan and Michael Mols all turned out for a Rangers select side, while Paul Ince had the likes of Paul Walsh, Darren Anderton and Des Walker to pick from. Three Rangers supporters also paid £500 to play. “It was a beautiful day,” added Andrews, who managed to grab a goal in a narrow 3-2 defeat. “God arranged everything perfectly.”
Given the gravity of his old friend’s battle, the matter of picking apart the frailties of the current incumbents of the Rangers home dressing room seems almost trivial. However, Andrews is sure in his mind just where Pedro Caixinha’s squad went wrong under Mark Warburton, and what needs to be done to put it right.
For the Trinidadian, the example they must follow is equally clear as it is fitting in the wake of such an occasion.
“When I played at Rangers you had to lose fighting. The manager has to instil that. When you represent Rangers the one thing you always look for is heart, fight and that determination. Yes, you can lose a football game. That is not a problem – it’s how you lose. The five games before the new manager came in there was a lack of heart and urgency.”
RESPECT: Fernando Ricksen greets supporters at Highbury Stadium who turned up in droves to see the former Ibrox star
IN GOOD COMPANY: Dutchman Ricksen joins the Rangers Legends in their dressing room before kick-off in the charity Foundation match.
DIFFERENT MOVIE: Rangers youngster Liam Burt was shocked by news of Mark Warburton’s departure