RICHARD FOSTER may have only spent one season playing under the late great Walter Smith, but it is a year he will never forget.

After coming through the ranks at Pittodrie, the versatile full-back was snapped up on loan for Smith’s final campaign at the helm of the Ibrox club. A league title and a League Cup victory were the rewards in terms of silverware, and Foster benefitted from testing himself against the continent’s best in the Champions League and the Europa League. But it is perhaps the lessons learned from a Scottish managerial great that will live longest in the memory for the Thistle veteran.

Smith sadly passed away on Tuesday morning at the age of 73 as tributes and condolences flooded in from across the footballing world. And although Foster’s time working with the Rangers legend was brief, he admits it is one that has left a lasting impression.

“He was just such a good guy,” the 36-year-old recalled. “I think that’s the biggest compliment I can pay him.

“We all know how good he was, how astute he was in terms of football knowledge and the way he was in the game and what a legend he is for the things he’s won with Rangers and managing the national team.

“You’ll hear it so many times but he was just such a gentleman. He was funny, he was firm, he was fair.

“He was great with me. He always made me feel part of the group. Coming from a smaller club it could be overwhelming at times with all the international players. He would keep me very grounded.

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“One special memory was probably walking around the pitch with my son in my hands, he was just a baby at the time, after we’d won the league.

“Walking beside Walter and his grandchildren. Even now my son doesn’t realise the significance of that and what a man Walter was.

“We’ve seen by the outpouring of messages that he meant so much to so many. A great football guy but a fantastic man.”

One memory in particular stands out for Foster. In October 2010, Rangers were preparing to host Spanish giants Valencia in the group stages of the Champions League, and Foster admits that he probably would have felt a little daunted by the occasion – it was his debut in Europe’s top club competition, after all – were it not for a quiet word on the training ground from Smith.

He explained: “Before the Valencia game, as we were walking in from training he pulled me over, put his arm over my shoulder and said ‘Fozz, what do you think about playing tomorrow?’.

“I was like ‘aye, great’. And he said ‘all right’. That was it. That’s how he told me I was starting against Valencia.

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“I think he realised what it would mean to me. My first start for Rangers – playing in the Champions League at Ibrox, a huge occasion, coming from Aberdeen. I think he realised that if he made a big deal of it then it could be overwhelming. He didn’t want me to get too nervous and let the occasion get the better of me. Thankfully it didn’t.

“The way he delivered the news was just perfect. It allowed me to relax. I went away, phoned my dad and said ‘I think I’m playing I’m not entirely sure’.

“But he struck the right balance, as he did with everyone. And he was different with everyone but he was fair to everyone.”

Foster reckons there is one aspect of Smith’s coaching style in particular that allowed the former Scotland boss to stand out amongst his contemporaries: his man-management. And as an aspiring coach himself, Foster is keen to put those lessons into practice with the women’s team at Firhill, of which he is a member of the backroom staff.

“The way he managed players, he was able to individualise his man management but still keep it fair in the group,” he explained. “He’s managed some big characters over the years. [Paul] Gascoigne, [Ally] McCoist, [Ian] Durrant if you go back – not easy guys to manage but he just got the balance right all the time.

“He knew when to have a go, when to put an arm around the shoulder, he knew when to pull you aside for a chat. Just so good with people. You’ve got to send your condolences to his family and wish them all the best at this hard time.

“He was able to get the best out of players. With all respect to Kyle Lafferty, he’s a bit of an enigma. Great player. But tough to manage.

“The gaffer was just great at being able to get the best out of him whether it was giving him a kick up the backside, whether it was pulling him aside, put his arm round his shoulder.

“He just seemed to strike the balance. He was one of those guys that never seemed to get it wrong in terms of how he treated people. And he knew the ones who needed a blast and who were more fragile. His timing was the best.”

Thistle manager Ian McCall can certainly count himself as a member of the former camp. Back in his playing days, the 57-year-old spent two years as a fringe player at Ibrox during Smith’s first stint in Govan when he assisted Graeme Souness.

Like most who worked with Smith who have gone on to manage, McCall counts the Rangers great as a big influence on his coaching style – and knows first-hand just how voracious Smith could be when the situation called for it.

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“Listen I won’t tell you when it happened but he gave me the biggest doing that I’ve ever had verbally at half-time in a game, you had to tear me back off the wall,” McCall said.

“I worked under Jock Wallace way more than that, worked under Eddie Hunter way more than that, so as much as he was a lovely, lovely, beautiful man, he was capable of giving you it and he certainly gave me it that day. It’s a lesson I never, ever forgot. He’ll be sadly missed, I miss him.

“I wouldn’t go into what it was. You look back at these things, I’ve been a manager full-time over 900 games now and I’d have done the same thing I think, probably not with as much impact as Walter though. He’s touched so many people and he certainly touched my life.

“He was an influence on me, yes – amongst other people but yeah he was. The great managers, you can’t replicate what they’ve got and you don’t learn it on a coaching field, it’s just something they’ve got.”