There is not one iota of doubt in my mind that Ronnie MacKinnon, who has died aged 83,  was the best centre-half to play for Rangers for the last 60 years.

And when you consider some of the competition he has had for that accolade, particularly since the mid-1980s, it gives some indication of just what a fabulous player he was.

Think of some of the men who have stood sentinel at the heart of the Rangers rearguard in the past 40 years. Giants such as Terry Butcher, Graham Roberts, Richard Gough and, more recently in Walter Smith’s fine three-in-a-row outfit, Davie Weir.

That is a pretty illustrious list of central defenders. Yet, for me, MacKinnon stands supreme as the very best of the best.

One of the reasons for this is that he was the last of a breed, a centre-half and not a central defender.  During the first half of the decade in which his name was one of the first penned onto the team sheet, he stood guard alone, before the arrival of the era of twin central defenders, a tactic which emerged as the 1960s marched to their close and which persists to this day.

Yet Ronnie MacKinnon, who barely touched the six foot mark, did not start his career at Ibrox as a centre-half, but as a clever ball playing right-half.

That is the position he occupied in a Rangers Reserve team when I first clapped my schoolboy eyes on him. It was a second-string bristling with embryonic talent, including someone else who would rise to the dizzy heights of being voted the Great Ever Ranger. In fact, like MacKinnon, John Greig did not start out in the position which saw him become famous.

Back in those days he was at inside right to Willie Henderson, who was to go on to displace the then Rangers and Scotland outside right, Alex Scott for club and country.

In fact, MacKinnon’s fist team debut came at right-half in a midweek game against Hearts at Ibrox in March 1961. I was in the Wee Enclosure with my dad and grandad that night and well recall how impressed they were by his skilful use of the ball and snappy interceptions.

However, the following season MacKinnon was back learning his trade in the Reserves until fate took a hand in the spring of 1962 with Rangers due to face a fine Motherwell side at Hampden in the Scottish Cup semi- final.

Manager Scot Symon faced a crisis. Jim Baxter, who was on National Service with the Black Watch at Stirling Castle, but who had managed to get away to play in most matches, was on duty for Queen and country that weekend. And the man who had previously been first choice at left-half before Baxter arrived, Billy Stevenson, had domestic problems and had skedaddled to Australia chasing his wife.

Symon turned to MacKinnon, who rose to the occasion as Rangers beat Motherwell 3-1 with two goals from Max Murray, in for the injured Jimmy Millar, and the clincher from Davie Wilson.

There were more problems for Symon in the lead up to the final, due against St Mirren just three weeks after that semi. His two centre-halves, Bill Paterson and Doug Baillie were injured, so in the closing games of the league campaign, as Rangers came up just short in their chase of eventual champions Dundee, MacKinnon was his choice.

And yet again, as Rangers beat St Mirren 2-0, the calm and composed MacKinnon did not let his manager down as he started to grow into a role that was to be his own for the next decade.

Though he did face a crisis in the autumn of the next season when Rangers were undone by that outstanding Tottenham Hotspur side fashioned by Bill Nicholson in the early sixties. In the first leg of this great European Cup Winners’ Cup Battle of Britain, MacKinnon had a torrid time and failed to command his box in the air with the rugged Bobby Smith bustling him and unsettling him, while the ghost of White Hart Lane, Scotland’s John White, and Jimmy Greaves delivered devilishly delicious crosses. Rangers lost 5-2, going down 3-2 in the return at Ibrox.

MacKinnon was a lot more assured that night at Ibrox and thereby hangs a tale, which barely surfaced at the time but which Doug Bailie told me many years later when we were both Sunday newspaper reporters.

According to big Dougie, in the immediate aftermath of that night in North London, Symon told Baillie he would be in for the league match against Dunfermline. But, in an effort to ensure MacKinnon was not seen as a scapegoat for the Spurs debacle, he moved him to left-back and told the youngster to watch the way Baillie commanded everything that came into the box in the air.

Again, according to Baillie, in training, Symon ensured MacKinnon was placed near Baillie in a defence which was bombarded with swinging corners and high balls from all angles. It speaks volumes for the character of my old pal Dougie that, despite knowing an improving MacKinnon would hasten his departure from Ibrox, which proved to be the case, he did everything to help his eventual usurper.

For Ronnie was a quick learner and developed a spring-heeled leap, based on his nimble fleet-footed movement across the ground. He was not only the best centre-half I have seen in a Rangers jersey, he was also by far the quickest.

His trademark shorts hitched up with the waistband turned over was much copied, not least by a schoolboy centre-half playing for his school team on the brutal black ash pitches of Cowlairs. No prizes for guessing who.

During an era when Symon’s sides carried all before them the half-back line of fame and magnificence, which still trips easily of the tongue was Greig, MacKinnon and Baxter.

There is no surprise that two years after Baxter left Rangers, when those three were brought together in the spring of 1967, Scotland beat the Word Cup holders, England, at Wembley. The 28 caps MacKinnon earned would have been treble that in any other era, but a succession of Scottish selectors, at a time when the manager did not pick the team, often favoured Ian Ure, Billy McNeill and Ron Yates above him. None had the polish and poise of MacKinnon.

The year before that Wembley triumph, he had been outstanding as Kai Johansen’s strike beat Celtic in the Scottish Cup Final replay. MacKinnon was always the consummate professional and the quiet man of Ibrox, but he showed he could rise to the occasion and provide sterling leadership qualities when he took over as captain from the injured Greig as Rangers ended a four-year wait for a trophy by beating Celtic 1-0 to the carry off the League Cup.

MacKinnon was still only 31-years-of-age when he suffered a broken leg against Sporting Lisbon, an injury which – apart from a short-lived comeback in South Africa - ended his career, and robbed him of the chance of being part of the Barcelona Cup Winners’ Cup legend, something which would have more than made up for his disappointment of being a losing finalist against Bayern Munch five years earlier.

His impact on Rangers, when he settled into the centre-half role can never be over-estimated. At the time that was the position which had caused Symon headache after headache for eight years. First Willie Woodburn was suspended sine die, then George Young retired. Rugged veteran St Mirren defender Willie Telfer plugged the gap for two seasons, then Bill Paterson arrived, but never completely convinced the manager who paid a near Scottish record fee of £17,000 to Airdrie for Doug Baillie, who never really recovered from a shaky Old Firm debut.

Then came Ronnie MacKinnon and Symon’s worries were over. That spring-heeled leap, those long, tanned legs eating up the ground as he closed out another opposition attack and his calm composure under pressure are embedded in my memory bank.

Even my grandad, who cut his teeth on Jimmy Simpson and Davie Meiklejohn and my dad, who idolized Woodburn, were full of praise for him.

Which is why I have no hesitation in naming Ronnie MacKinnon as the best Rangers centre half for the last 60 years.