TRAGIC barely begins to describe the story of Ayrshireman Nicol Smith who was undoubtedly one of the best players of the turn of the 19th century anywhere in the world.

He was just 31 when he died of a gastric infection in 1905 and his death came just a matter of weeks after he had lost his wife to the same ailment.

His team mates were shattered. The effect on them was considerable and his loss coincided with the break-up of the first great Rangers team.

He had been a formidable player for Rangers because defensively he was so strong on the right side and he also regularly contributed in an attacking sense as his ability to pick out front players was considerable.

Smith was already a Junior internationalist when Rangers signed him in 1893 having played for his local team Darvel among others and it didn’t him take long to establish his place in the first team.

A powerfully-built player, Smith was wholly committed and always put the team’s cause ahead of his own personal safety.

In his first season his impressive displays helped the Light Blues secure their long-awaited first-ever Scottish Cup triumph when they defeated Celtic 3-1 in the Final.

Although hardly renowned for scoring, he had helped Rangers get there by scoring the opening goal in the 3-0 semi-final victory over Queen’s Park, who were holders at the time and had been the kings of the Scottish game.

Smith was equally important in another landmark victory – the 5-0 league thrashing of Celtic on September 2, 1893 which remains Rangers’ best over their old rivals.

There was an 8-1 rout on January 1, 1943 but like all wartime matches it is classed as unofficial.

His partnership with left-back Jock Drummond was arguably Rangers’ finest ever and the pair won 25 international caps between them – a fair total for those times.

In that Celtic game he and Drummond were impassable and that was regularly the case during the era.

Of course, the two men were key protagonists as Rangers racked up four successive league championships between 1899 and 1902.

Smith was a key man when Rangers produced the perfect league championship victory in 1898/99 when they won all 18 of their matches.

It is a record which is unlikely to be beaten and the loss of just 18 goals in that remarkable campaign is indicative of the importance of Smith to the team.

Smith can also lay claim to a New Year’s Day goal against Celtic, scoring the first in a vital 4-2 win in 1902 which sent Rangers on their way to their fourth successive crown.

As previously mentioned, Smith was a major Scotland player of the era. He captained his country twice and was involved in some terrific and unusual victories like the 4-1 win over England in 1900 and the 9-1 and 11-0 victories over Northern Ireland in 1899 and 1901!

Of course, medicine was not as advanced then and fate was to deal a cruel blow when in late 1904 Smith was struck down by enteric fever.

It is something that it is eminently treatable now but he died the following January.

Born: December 23, 1873, Darvel.

Appearances: 205. Goals: 5.

Honours:

League – League title – 1890/91, 1898/99, 1899/1900, 1900/01, 1901/02 (5)

Scottish Cup – 1893/94, 1896/97, 1897/98 (3)

Caps: 12, Scotland.