Walter Smith didn’t speak to Jim McLean for days when he rejected the chance to replace John Greig as Rangers manager in 1983.
Smith, who died on Monday at the age of 73, would have walked bare-footed from Tannadice to Ibrox for the chance to join his beloved Rangers.
Thinking his chance of fulfilling a boyhood dream had gone forever, Smith was understandably distraught.
Smith started his coaching career under McLean in 1977 and was his right-hand man when United won the Premier Division in 1983.
The Rangers board turned to McLean in the tumultuous autumn of 1983 when John Greig was sacked following a five-year spell in charge.
The Ibrox club thought they’d lured Alex Ferguson away from Aberdeen, only for an eleventh hour about turn by their target.
Then McLean was offered the position.
He initially indicated his willingness to leave Tannadice for Ibrox and even invited Smith to remain his number two and join him.
Then came the change of mind despite an offer to double his wages.
He was sorely tempted but decided not to expose his family to the goldfish-bowl existence that came with the job.
was sitting on his own in the dressing room during a month’s loan spell from Chelsea when Smith burst in and lost the rag.
“He was obviously in a bad mood,” said Johnstone.
“He threw down a bag of balls and said: ‘I guess I’ll just have to put the scarf back in the cupboard’.
“He went on to explain United boss Jim McLean had just turned down the offer to replace John Greig as Rangers manager.
“Walter was all ready to move with him to his boyhood idols, so no wonder he was annoyed.”
A great coach in the making
Johnstone’s first encounter with Smith was at Tannadice in 1967 when he was invited to train with United’s part-timers while he was still at Linlathen High.
Johnstone was soon signed by Rangers in 1968 and crossed paths with Smith more than once on the pitch.
Walter Smith in 1977, after being given a coaching role by Jim McLean at Tannadice.
During Johnstone’s month at Tannadice, he saw enough of Smith’s coaching ability to realise he’d make it to Ibrox on his own one day.
“That spell at Tannadice really opened my eyes, ” said Johnstone.
“Walter took most of the coaching at United, and he really knew what he was talking about
“Everything was geared towards technique, whereas I’d been used to everything being geared towards fitness under big Jock Wallace at Ibrox.
“Right away I knew I was experiencing a great coach in the making.
“Walter treated everyone as individuals and knew how to bring the best out of players.”
Derek Johnstone at Rangers in the 1970/1971 season.
Eventually, Rangers had to bring back Jock Wallace, who had led the club to two trebles in three seasons in the 1970s.
Wallace never came close to attaining the same success second time round.
McLean later said: “As a football manager, I made the wrong decision to stay with United.
“But as an individual, I was right to stay at Tannadice and I’ve never regretted it.”
Three years later, however, Graeme Souness was named Rangers’ first player-manager and appointed Smith his number two.
Walter Smith finally got his move to Ibrox in 1986.
He’d won five league titles, three European Cups and four League Cups with Liverpool by the time he moved on to Sampdoria in 1984.
Souness was still contracted to the Italian side and Smith took charge of Rangers for the final three league fixtures of the 1985-86 season.
Smith’s first game as caretaker turned out to be Johnstone’s 547th and last outing for Rangers following his return for a second spell in 1985.
“We lost 2-1 to St Mirren at Love Street and Walter was furious,” said Johnstone.
“He had just arrived from Dundee United as assistant manager, and was in charge until Graeme Souness could get away from Sampdoria.
“I’ll never forget Walter blowing his top at time up.
“The result left us well adrift of Celtic, Hearts, Dundee United and Aberdeen, who were all fighting for the title.
“In fact, that defeat meant Rangers were left battling with Dundee for the final Uefa Cup spot.
“Right away Walter told the players major changes were on the cards.
“It was to be the start of the Rangers revolution, but sadly I had no part to play in it.”
One month later, Johnstone was freed.
The rest is history.
Rangers captain Terry Butcher kisses the Scottish Premier Division trophy in 1987.
Souness changed the landscape of Scottish football by persuading top-ranked English internationals like Terry Butcher, Trevor Steven and Ray Wilkins to go to Ibrox.
When Souness left to join Liverpool in 1991, Smith replaced him as manager and went on to lift 21 major trophies over two periods in charge.
Rangers emulated Old Firm rivals Celtic in winning nine titles in a row and were just one game away from reaching the Champions League final in 1993.
He also led Rangers to the Uefa Cup Final in 2008, losing 2-0 to Zenit St Petersburg.