Yesterday saw Scottish football plunged into mourning after the death of Fernando Ricksen following a long battle with Motor Neurone Disease – but unlike many of his peers and predecessors at Ibrox, it will be the man that Rangers fans remember more than the player when they think of the 43-year-old.

When Ricksen left Rangers after a trophy-laden, albeit sometimes controversial, spell at the Light Blues it felt like a move that was best for both parties at the time – but the Dutchman’s character and tenacity struck a chord with the Ibrox support which meant that he would always be a welcome face in Glasgow in the future.

Fernando Ricksen of Team Fernando Ricksen during the Fernando Ricksen benefit game on May 25, 2014 at the Trendwork Arena in Sittard, The Netherlands.
(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)

The low points of his time as a Rangers were unquestionably outweighed by the positives and his place in Ibrox immortality alongside the likes of John Greig, Richard Gough, Eric Caldow and Tiger Shaw was assured when he lifted the league trophy into the air in Leith one fine Helicopter Sunday.

Even given his place in what is one the most famous title wins in modern Rangers history – there was still something different about Ricksen that left fans feeling as though he was one of us.

He was never the most talented footballer, he wasn’t the faster runner, didn’t take the best free-kicks and wasn’t great in the air but you knew that when Ricksen played he was going to give absolutely everything he had. In a Rangers squad that arguably contained some of the last genuinely world-class footballers to play in this country, he had a very important place.

Ricksen was one of the players who held the squad together and put in the hard graft that often goes under-appreciated before eventually coming into his own as a midfielder. He harried and hassled opponents, backed his team-mates up and was one of those players that opposition fans loved to hate because he was so effective at what he did.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 18: A Celtic fan leaves a tribute at the gates of Ibrox Stadium for former Rangers player Fernando Ricksen, who has died aged 43 after a six-year battle with motor neurone disease on Spetember 18, 2019 in Glasgow, Scotland. The Dutch international had a six season spell at Rangers and had been battling the condition since 2013.
(Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

When it was announced in 2013 that he had been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, fans immediately rallied around the Dutchman. And not just Rangers fans either. Fans of his former clubs, AZ Alkmaar, Zenit St. Petersburg and Fortuna Sittard raised funds and showed their support for their hero and the search for a cure for MND.

Rival fans too got behind the work being done, both by Ricksen and in his name by others, to support various charities and raise the best part of £1million with charity games held in a number of countries as former team-mates and rivals alike came out to honour the Dutchman.

As Ricksen’s body deteriorated as a result of the cruel disease, his standing with fans only grew as he fought the biggest fight of his life with the same tenacity, determination and never-give-up attitude that made him a hero to so many.

With many footballers, their death often leads to much reminiscing about goals scored or tackles won but with Ricksen it has been different. Yes, there have been clips of his free-kick against Aberdeen at Pittodrie doing the rounds and people talking about just how good he was the season he shared the PFA Scotland Player of the Year Award but what caught most people’s attention is the way Ricksen fought.

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - MAY 22: Captain Fernando Ricksen of Rangers lifts the Scottish Premier League trophy as his team mates celebrate during the Bank of Scotland Scottish Premier League match between Hibernian and Rangers at Easter Road Stadium on May 22, 2005 in Edinburgh, Scotland.
(Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

It would have been easy for him and his family to retreat into hiding and vanish from the public eye but the 43-year-old fought his battle with MND in front of the world with his wife Veronika and his daughter Isabella by his side and, hopefully, the impact it had on fans can help continue supporting the work to find a cure.

While there’s little doubt that Ricksen left Rangers fans with plenty of good memories of what he achieved on the pitch – what he has done off the pitch in the last six years is the true mark of exactly what sort of man Fernando Ricksen is.

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