sport news Rangers legend Fernando Ricksen opens up on battle with motor neurone disease

The players who best knew Fernando Ricksen recall the way he would burst through the doors of the Rangers canteen like a cyclone, shattering the silence.

Barry Ferguson doesn't mind admitting that his heart would sink at the prospect and that he would think, as he sat there minding his own business at 8am, 'Oh s**t, here he comes — bang goes my peace'. 

Ferguson always saw something of Paul Gascoigne in Ricksen. 'A big kid who didn't have an off button. A kid on a sugar rush. Sometimes a total pain in the a***, but deep down I loved him for it.'

Former Rangers player Fernando Ricksen gave his time to attend a recent fan event 

Former Rangers player Fernando Ricksen gave his time to attend a recent fan event 

In October 2013 Ricksen was diagnosed with the incurable motor neurone disease

In October 2013 Ricksen was diagnosed with the incurable motor neurone disease

It's that collective memory of the individual voted Scotland's joint PFA Player of the Year in 2004-05 which makes his entrance to a working men's club a stone's throw from Ibrox so terribly haunting.

It's nearly six years since the former Holland international announced, at the age of 37, that he was in the throes of a battle he will not win, with motor neurone disease. 

He declared in his extraordinary autobiography he was not a 'normal guy' and is not 'going to give up' in the face of the illness. Yet his arrival at a packed Tradeston Ex-Servicemen's Club reveals the disease's unremitting nature. Now 42, he is a shadow of the gladiator who wore the No 2 jersey at the stadium up the road.

An audience of 300 has been here since an appointed start time of 7.30pm for a fundraising evening in which he is appearing, though word arrives of a delay in him leaving the hospice which has become his home, half an hour's drive east. 

A standing ovation was given to the 42-year-old as he entered the Tradeston Ex - Servicemen's Club

A standing ovation was given to the 42-year-old as he made his entrance at the Glasgow event

Ricksen's last appearance among Rangers fans, in October, left him struggling for breath and hospitalised for three months with a return home to Spain deemed unsafe, so they're not taking his appearance for granted. 

It's why his sudden appearance through a side door — noiseless, without ceremony, navigating his wheelchair between tables — has the room on their feet.

Ricksen is largely unrecognisable from the suave individual who dated Katie Price — then known as Jordan — and tripped the light fantastic in a six-year Rangers career from 2000, but the eyes are bright and the grin which materialises from the gaunt face is the same as ever.

'Why was it important for you to be here this evening?', he is asked when he has stationed his chair in the centre of the room. 'It's good for me to get out of bed!' he replies, bringing the house down.

He uses the same kind of computer-based voice system employed by Professor Stephen Hawking, who was stricken by a form of the same disease. 

It allows Ricksen to communicate in a way he never thought possible, having been limited to a series of blinks to signal 'yes' or 'no' when his voice failed. Yet responding to the most basic question is onerous. He must train his eyes on each letter of the computer keypad to spell out the word he is trying to say.

'How are you feeling?' 'Very good,' he replies. 'You're feeling well?' 'Absolutely.' But he has seen the potential for awkwardness — long periods of silence while he 'types' out replies — and has prepared some of the stories of his memorable, sometimes hell-raising, Rangers days.

One dates to October 2003 and the club's Champions League clash at Panathinaikos when, after lunch on the day before the game, some of the club's board members put it to Ricksen that he wouldn't have the courage to throw chairman John McClelland into the hotel swimming pool. 

Ricksen met fans and shared laughs, after making the trip from St Andrew’s Hospice in Airdrie

Ricksen met fans and shared laughs, after making the trip from St Andrew's Hospice in Airdrie

'It was a five-star pool on the hotel roof,' Ricksen relates, the smile beginning to play on his face again as the computerised voice takes up the story. 'I jumped up, said, "No problem", ran to the pool and launched the chairman in.

'Then I saw him struggling and gasping for air. That his phone, wallet and £20,000 Rolex were still in his pocket. When I got back, they told me they knew he couldn't swim. Bastards! I was beginning to feel uncomfortable with the joke.'

McClelland's response went along the lines of 'do that again and you're transfer listed', but Ricksen smiles broadly, as the computerised voice concludes the story which took him an hour to compose.

'It makes me laugh even now. I think I did my bit, taking the pressure off everybody's minds. That's my excuse, anyway.'

A break for food creates the chance for photographs with Ricksen, a queue snaking back towards the door he entered

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