It’s an 8.45pm kick-off for Mark Walters today rather than the 3pm start he was used to as a Rangers player, and if the crowd’s lively it’ll still be a whisper compared to the din he experienced in his many Old Firm games.

But that isn’t the biggest difference the 55-year-old will encounter because this Saturday fixture brings him not to his familiar stomping ground of Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow but to the august surrounds of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Here when audiences sit down to listen to a left-winger, it’s not normally the sort who kicked a football for a living.

Tonight, though, it is. The reason for the event is the publication of Wingin’ It: The Mark Walters Story, a memoir about his life in the game, his reflections on his early days at boyhood club Aston Villa, his disappointing time at Liverpool and his subsequent descent through the leagues with clubs such as Southampton.

But taking up the bulk of the story is that glorious four-year spell in Glasgow during which he became Rangers’s first black player of the modern era, won three league titles and two league cups, was capped for his country, scored against the great Bayern Munich and, perhaps the greatest achievement, survived the changing room patter of Ally McCoist.

Marking him, as it were, on behalf of the book festival will be Pat Nevin. A player of the same vintage as Walters, he’s now a respected commentator and broadcaster, and one of football’s most intelligent voices. But even with someone of that calibre asking the questions, Walters admits tonight’s event is taking him a little way out of his comfort zone. So yes, there will be some pre-match nerves.

“I understand it’s something different but it’s something I’m embracing,” he says. “I’ve never been the type of person who’s an extrovert. When I was playing I always kept myself to myself. I was never one of those who was going to be on the front page of the News Of The World or anything like that so it’s definitely different to what I’m used to. So I’ll be nervous, for sure. But because it’s about my life, I should be OK. It’s about what has happened to me, as it were, so there’s nothing I need to remember or not remember. So it should be relatively easy.”

Glasgow Times:

If you’re a Rangers fan, you’ll remember Walters well. He still attends home games fairly regularly and is now almost as adept at doing the half-time prize draw as he was at skinning defenders in his prime. Otherwise you’ll know him by reputation, as a name in the pantheon of great Scottish football imports to he rank alongside English team-mates such as Terry Butcher and Ray Wilkins or Celtic’s dreadlocked Swedish maestro, Henrik Larsson.

In Walters’s case the city of origin was Birmingham and the club was hometown side Aston Villa, where he had been a member of the team which beat Barcelona in the European Super Cup. One of England’s most promising young players at the time, he was set to sign for Everton in late 1987 when Rangers player-manager Graeme Souness made a 12th hour intervention and whisked him north for a peek at Ibrox.

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Souness knew what he was doing. One look at the famous stadium and Walters was, in his words, “smitten”. He describes that first sight of the ground in Wingin’ It: “That incredible façade, those huge blue gates, and then there was the front entrance which leads through to the marble staircase which tops everything off nicely. The stadium oozed class. I was sold”.

He was indeed – for £500,000, a trifle by today’s standards when even young players change hands for transfer fees a hundred times that amount. The deal was done on Hogmanay 1987 and two days later the 23-year-old made his debut, thrown in at the deep end for an Old Firm encounter at Celtic Park. Rangers lost two nil.

Walters spent four seasons at Ranger before leaving for Liverpool and as well as detailing the club’s season-by-season exploits his book lays out the highs and lows of his time in Glasgow. Of the first, the five-one demolition of Celtic in August 1988 ranks near the top. Walters created the fourth goal and scored the fifth in a game in which Ray Wilkins scored a screamer and McCoist managed a brace.

“The five-one game was a great game for the supporters, but there was so many high points,” says Walters. “Winning the league, playing against massive clubs like Bayern Munich and scoring against them, and just being in and around the club. It was a great atmosphere every day, even the fact that we had to go in in a collar and tie. So many high points.”

Glasgow Times:

The low points were mostly the failure to make any significant impact in the European Cup. “Obviously everything was geared towards that and that was one of the reasons I joined Rangers, to do well in that competition. It has always been a big competition for me, I’ve always loved being involved in it. If we had done better in that I might even have stayed a bit longer, which with hindsight is maybe what I should have done”.

One constant theme in Wingin’ It is the sense of camaraderie Walters found among his fellow Rangers players, and their ability to dip into that shared sense of purpose to pull themselves out of difficult situations. It may seem like an old fashioned idea in an era when individual players sometimes see themselves as stand-alone brands which are bigger than the team or even the club, but it’s something which still has its place in the dressing room, he believes.

“I think it helps without a shadow of a doubt. All the successful teams I played in had a very high, exceptional level of camaraderie in the squad, not just the 11 players. And the teams that I’ve played in where we haven’t done well and we’ve been relegated or we’ve been struggling, there have been little cliques. So when I coached for a few years I always tried to make sure the players in the team got on and were good personalities. It’s a cliché, but one bad apple can spoil, the lot. So in my opinion it’s vital if you want to be a successful team.”

Of course success is something which has eluded Rangers of late, at least success of the sort Walters tasted. So how good a job does he think current manager Steven Gerrard is doing as he heads into his second season in charge of Rangers? And how long will it be before the club can challenge seriously for the title?

“As a young manager he has improved and learned from his mistakes so this season we’ll give them [Celtic] a good run and it wouldn’t be surprising to me if it went down to the last few games,” he says. “They’re as close now [to winning the title] as they’ve been since they had all the financial problems, in my opinion”.

BUT Mark Walters is more than just a footballing hero to one half of Glasgow and a painful reminder of past indignities to the other. Pan back from the Old Firm goldfish bowl and his life story is like a lightning rod for some of the biggest societal issues to have afflicted the UK over the last quarter of a century, from racism, child poverty and immigration to the treatment of the so-called Windrush Generation and the still-unfolding child abuse scandal. All these have touched his life in one way or another and he tackles them in Wingin’ It.

Glasgow Times:

Walters dedicates the book to his mother, Ivy, and to his two children – daughter Mischa, a qualified lawyer, and son Marlon, currently studying medicine at university.

“It’s definitely something I’m proud of, the fact that I’ve been able to get them through university and let them be the best they can be,” he says. “It’s an immigrant story and that’s why I can empathise with all the problems a lot of these immigrants are having at the moment because 40 or 50 years ago that was us”.

His relationship with his children is significant in another way, too. His own father, a Nigerian immigrant called Lawrence Wabara, walked out on the family when Walters was young. Though he only moved a mile away, he married and had another family and cut off all ties with Walters and his mother.

“My mother was my mother and father,” says Walters simply. “She helped me with anything I wanted to do, that’s probably why I’m very close to her. But I didn’t know anything different. I’m sure it would have been easier with my father around and with him helping, but it wasn’t the case. So I just got on with it. But I made sure when I had my own children that I didn’t do what he did. I think it made me a better father.”

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Ironically, Walters later learned that his father had played football for Nigeria and had tried unsuccessfully to win a trial at Aston Villa. But when Lawrence did try to enter his son’s life, he was rebuffed.

“We didn’t have a good relationship at all. When I was about 16 or 17 I made a decision for him not to be in my life. He tried to come in and I said: ‘It’s a bit late now’. Do I regret that? Possibly. But at the time that’s how I felt. So I know where he’s from, I know he was an international footballer himself and he tried to get a trial at Aston Villa as well, ironically, but nothing worked out for him. Apart from that I don’t really know an awful lot about him.”

But Walters has given his book another important dedicatee – Rupert Walters, his maternal uncle. It was Rupert who, when Ivy arrived in the UK to work in the late 1950s, made sure she had official documents proving she had the right to live and work in this country. Six decades on it would mean she wasn’t caught up in the Windrush scandal which saw many British people of Caribbean heritage threatened with deportation, a result of the so-called “hostile environment” immigration policy initiated by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary.

“My uncle insisted on my mother applying for a passport because he knew how important it was to get a passport. I’m sure he paid for it as well because he was a bit wealthier than we were, which wasn’t very hard, frankly.”

It was with mixed feelings then that Walters, a lifelong Labour supporter, watched May’s tearful speech outside when Downing Street recently when she stepped down as Prime Minister.

“That was a bit ironic. I thought to myself ‘She’s crying over that but she’s probably ruined some people’s lives by them not being able to come back to the country.’ I’ve heard of people committing suicide, not being able to work for years, which is obviously going to impact on their lifestyle. So I’ve followed the case closely because there but for the grace of God goes my mother.”

Glasgow Times:

Being born in Birmingham to a Jamaican mother and a Nigerian father meant racism was another constant for Walters growing up. But it didn’t stop when he began to win respect as a well-known footballer. Far from it. Rangers may have lost the Old Firm game in which he made his debut in 1988 but the score-line is incidental given what else happened – Celtic fans welcomes Walters to Glasgow by making monkey noises when he was on the ball and hurling bananas onto the pitch.

Television commentator Archie McPherson made scant mention of it at the time and many printed match reports no mention at all but a fortnight later in Edinburgh, at the smaller, tighter ground of Heart of Midlothian, it happened again. This time, with the fans right on top of him, Walters was actually hit by a banana as he went to take a corner. In the aftermath of the game there was, finally, condemnation of the fans’ actions. One writer even raised the spectre of “blatant, fascist racism” coming to Scotland.

But it wasn’t just bananas that were aimed at Walters. In both games he recalls darts and other projectiles coming his way.

“It was scary at the time, there’s no doubt about it. I’d gone from England, where it happened to a certain degree – I’m sure I had bananas thrown at me, and there was definitely verbal abuse – to actual things being physically thrown. I could see them being thrown and that scared me, because obviously if it hits you in the eye or in the wrong place it’s over, not just your football career but your life. So it was definitely a scary time for me. But I had a lot of support at Rangers.”

It remains one of the darkest chapters in Scottish football but, incredibly, the problem is still with us 30 years on. Last year a banana skin was thrown at a black Arsenal player by a fan of rivals Tottenham Hotspur and England internationals Raheem Sterling and Danny Rose have both been the victim of racial abuse. In Scotland last season allegations of racial abuse against black players seemed to be coming almost weekly. If ever the lid was on this sort of behaviour it seems to have come off. Why does Walters think that is?

“I think it’s just the atmosphere now. I think for the last few years it’s been OK to say to people you’re not welcome, go back to your own country. I think with the Trump situation and even Boris Johnson, it has emboldened people to abuse immigrants. Maybe even the referendum we had in 2016, when a lot of the issues were about immigrants coming here and taking jobs.”

Also ongoing is a child abuse scandal which has so far implicated dozens of football clubs and shows no sign of abating. Just last week Chelsea admitted that young players in the 1960s and 1970s were abused by then chief scout Eddie Heath, a man described by the club in an extraordinary public apology as a “prolific and manipulative sexual abuser” who was able to go about his crimes unchallenged. The club also stated that young black players were systematically bullied and racially abused.

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To date, former Manchester City youth coach Barry Bennell is the most notorious offender to be tried and imprisoned, but when Walters was in top Birmingham youth team Dunlop Terriers he came into contact with Ted Langford, also a scout for Aston Villa. Walters was never abused but a friend of his was and he recalls Langford and another man taking pictures in the showers and of Langford cuddling boys and even giving them love bites.

“I remember going home to my family and saying: ‘He’s giving them love bites and doing this and that’. I honestly thought that was normal for English families to be doing but I knew it wasn’t right. Even at eight or nine years of age I knew it wasn’t right for grown men to be play-fighting with children like that. I think there’s a lot more to come out.”

Langford, now dead, was eventually sentenced to three years in prison in 2007 for sexual abuse of young boys. He had been sacked by Aston Villa in 1988 but, in a shameful echo of many of the other sex abuse cases at top clubs, the police were not brought in at that time.

Bill Shankly, the Scot who became Liverpool FC’s most celebrated manager, once said that football wasn’t a matter of life and death, it was far more important than that. Many still hold that to be self-evident but viewed through the prism of wrecked lives, broken dreams, bullying and racial intolerance that these stories throw up it can sometimes seem a little glib. But Shankly said something else that few could argue with, that a football team is like a piano – it needs eight men to carry it and three who can “play the damn thing”. Football has its dark side but not for nothing is it called the Beautiful Game and when Mark Walters steps onto that stage tonight, few in the audience will doubt they’re in the company of one of its virtuoso performers.

Wingin’ It: The Mark Walters Story, written with Jeff Holmes, is out now (Pitch Publishing, £18.99). Mark Walters is in conversation with Pat Nevin at the Edinburgh International Book Festival tonight (8.45pm)