By David Marshall
Fernando Ricksen’s passing after a six-year battle with Motor Neuron Disease was met with sadness by the entire footballing world.
He leaves behind a loving wife, a young daughter and legions of adoring fans with memories from one of the biggest characters to grace the Scottish game.
Ricksen’s footballing career started off with three-year spells at Fortuna Sittard and then AZ Alkmaar before making the move to Rangers in 2000. He was signed by Dick Advocaat and joined a legion of Dutch players already at the club.
As a right-back, Ricksen, at first, found it hard to adapt to the Scottish game and his first few seasons at Ibrox were plagued with bans. However, Ricksen never doubted his own ability and knew he was capable of contributing and could become a key player.
Advocaat would leave Rangers halfway through the 2001/02 season and Ricksen was one of a number of Rangers’ players who would be revitalized by the arrival of Alex McLeish.
He would go on to help Rangers wrestle back the League Cup and Scottish Cup from Celtic, after a trophyless season in 2000/01. The next season got even better for Ricksen and Rangers as they would win the domestic treble in 2003.
By this point, Ricksen was a mainstay in the team. He had developed into a more mature player and was fulfilling his early potential that brought him to Rangers. Importantly, he was becoming the player he knew he could be. He still maintained that passion and fighting spirit that allowed him into the hearts of the Ibrox faithful.
After a disappointing season in 2003/04 which saw Rangers once again go without a trophy and lose many of their big-name players from the previous season. The 2004/05 season was undoubtedly Ricksen’s best at Rangers.
He was named the captain of the club and would be voted the SPFA Player of the Year, alongside Celtic striker John Hartson. Ricksen had transformed from a right back to a centre midfielder for Rangers and played his best football for the club in this position.
He would score a total of nine goals from 40 appearances that season. He was instrumental as Rangers would win the League cup and the title on a dramatic last day. After Rangers defeated Hibernian 1-0 at Easter Road, Celtic fell to a 2-1 defeat at Motherwell to hand the title to Rangers.
This led to Ricksen’s famous quote that is still immortalised by Rangers’ fans to this day: ‘First is everything, second is nothing’.
The following season was a disaster for Rangers finishing third behind Celtic and Hearts and it spelled the end for Alex McLeish’s tenure as manager. Paul Le Guen would come in next and an incident on a flight out to a preseason tour of South Africa would bring Ricksen’s Rangers career to an end.
Ricksen would then rejoin former boss Advocaat at Zenit St. Petersburg before finishing his career at his first club Fortuna Sittard.
In a shocking interview in 2013, Ricksen revealed that he had been diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease. The footballing world gathered round Ricksen and watched with admiration as he bravely battled his illness.
Ricksen passed away on 18 September 2019 at a hospice in Airdrie. Ricksen fought bravely for six years after being initially told he’d only live for 18 months after his diagnosis.
Tributes have come flooding in from fans and rivals alike, truly showing the admiration that this warrior of a man commanded.
Like all of us, Ricksen had his flaws. Many of which he was very open and honest about in his 2014 Autobiography ‘Fighting Spirit’. But it was many of these flaws that endeared him to his fans. They saw themselves in Ricksen, his passion, his fire, his desire and his ability to come back.
It could be argued that no other player to play in the city has ever reflected Glasgow better. At it’s worst, chaotic. But at it’s very best, unforgettable.
Supporters lay tributes to Fernando Ricksen at Ibrox