Field­ing true pas­sion and loy­alty for leg­end Rick­sen

For­mer team-mates joint with thou­sands of Rangers fans to sup­port MND fund-raiser

The Herald - Herald Sport - - FOOTBALL - SCOTT MULLEN

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

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