Reclaiming the Rangers
- 03 May 2012
The Rangers brand is currently perceived as toxic. Not from the supporters of-course, but from many in wider society. This may be a difficult statement for a Rangers fan to read, but it must be acknowledged before the club and supporters can move forward.
The recent crisis at Ibrox has been hard for all of us who love the club. Due to recent events the perception of Rangers could hardly be worse, but it has also given us an opportunity to re-evaluate our direction.
As well as financial negligence, there has been little management of the club and fans image over the last decade and that needs to change.
There are three areas I believe we should action to bring the club back from the clutches of misunderstanding, exaggeration and stereotype. We need to focus on ‘Internal challenges’, ‘External challenges’ and ‘Engagement’.
Rangers have been subject to much unfair condemnation over the last few years, but there is no doubt some of the criticism has been valid. One of the important parts of ‘The Rangers Standard’ project will be tough questions about Rangers and fan culture. These questions will no doubt lead to criticism and some might feel that their core values are being challenged, but if we become too frightened to ask questions about our history and culture then we will sleepwalk into oblivion.
Rangers fans are not a group of bigots or racists or any of the other rubbish that is taken for fact among many non-Rangers fans. I would even suggest – shock, horror – that the Rangers supporters are ordinary people. The problem is that much of the language and symbolism attached to the fanbase needs to catch up to the actual beliefs of most fans.
Some of the songs at games, and terms used on messageboards, are a complete own goal for the support. Scottish society has deemed words like ‘Fenian’ to mean a derogatory term for a Catholic and that won’t change anytime soon. In any case, let’s stop pretending it’s never used in such a way.
Saying that certain terms only represent Irish Republicanism and that you alone have a superior and more actual form of language than the rest of society just won’t cut it. You are still giving Rangers detractors a moral weapon to beat the club over the head.
When it seems that some fans use The Rangers as a stage for their own political or religious views, then you must question who are they really supporting? Are Rangers only a means to pursue a political or religious view? Is using Rangers as a proxy for other beliefs – hurting Rangers in the process – not just selfishness? Can we not just put Rangers first? These are the questions we must ask.
This not about denying your support for Rangers; it’s the opposite. It’s about allowing the club to be itself. Pretending that Rangers have not been important to the cultural identity of British Unionism and Protestantism in the West of Scotland and Northern Ireland from around the 1920’s onwards is foolish.
But, so is denying that a group of young lads founded a football team just to play football or that even sixty years after The Rangers formation the club was buying proud Dubliners like Alex Stevenson - who went on to manage the Republic of Ireland national team - and playing friendlies in the Irish capital with no fuss.
I would suggest that the views of the fans today are much closer to those of the ‘Gallant Pioneers’ than to the staunch Protestant and Unionist views of the 1960’s. There is still a Unionist and Protestant ethos among many fans – I am a Unionist - but it’s never a problem if a Rangers fan doesn’t share these views. Supporting Rangers is all that matters.
Fans also couldn’t care about the religion or nationality of someone who plays or works for the club as Neil McCann, Sone Aluko, Lorenzo Amoruso or Jorg Albertz will testify. If anything, these players are treated like demi-gods. It is undeniably true that Rangers did not deliberately sign Catholics for decades. But it is also true that this is something we would oppose today.
If we forget that today we are a completely inclusive club with traditions that have always been fluid; we can end up idealising and pining for a stagnant form of exclusive sub-culture that in reality we have already rejected.
The other necessary part will be defending the supporters and club from the deluge of nonsense that purports to be the ‘truth’ of who or what Rangers fans believe. A line was crossed somewhere so that anything derogatory or hateful can said about the support and it will be accepted as the truth.
Anecdotally most Rangers fan will have suffered in person, or on social media, a disagreement about football followed by an accusation of bigotry and racism - sometimes even to the extreme of Fascism or National Socialism. Not just from the usual suspects, but also by otherwise intelligent people.
On twitter, I and fellow ‘The Rangers Standard’ contributor Chris Graham, have at different times been called ‘anti-Catholic bigots’. This would no-doubt come as a surprise to my Catholic mother or Chris’s Catholic wife, but it shows how the scatter-gun approach to bigotry doesn’t care about silly things like evidence. Being a Rangers fan is enough.
The inability of Sir David Murray, Martin Bain and Craig Whyte to care about the fans or club (as long as they were not personally insulted) has led to a feeding frenzy. By refusing to ‘nip in the bud’ the silly nonsense of a Sash cut in the grass, Eggs Benedict off the menu at Ibrox, or more seriously, challenge the views of journalists like Graham Spiers that Rangers fans are "the most socially-backward fans in British football” - the club has allowed stereotypes to fester and grow.
An environment has been allowed to accumulate where individuals, who have done no more than support a certain sports team, are classed as not quite like other people. In effect, individuals who support Rangers have become demonised.
Reading the website of Irish journalist Phil Mac Giolla Bhain is to enter a world of anti-Rangers monomania. In case anyone is unaware, Phil is lauded by the likes of highly respected journalist Roy Greenslade and honoured composer James MacMillan. He also has a huge following among Celtic fans, and if twitter conversation is anything to go by, he is deemed important by many in the Scottish media.
Disliking Rangers is hardly a crime, but he often goes well beyond that into far darker territory. In one memorable article Phil writes a “satire” about an “abomination” created by “Professor Struth” from “the sperm of a criminally insane murderer” and a “ten thousand pound gorilla”. This intolerant “creature” will even give dogs a “disease” and “could be programmed to hate any ethnic minority.”
I’ll spare you the rest, but the anger and ill-will is disturbing. Almost more telling are the comments. Thankfully, some commenters realise this isn’t healthy, but most seem delighted and feel that his post validates their own prejudice. Rangers fans are subsequently mentioned as “creatures” and “subhumans”.
When such demonisation becomes normalised, even usually excellent media outlets such as Scottish Television, can fail to see they are stereotyping Rangers fans in a way they wouldn’t for anyone else.
When Trevor Muirhead and Neil McKenzie were sent to jail, STV lost all sense of perspective and finished one of their articles with a paragraph which was subsequently removed:
“Death threats against the men [Muirhead and McKenzie] have come from both sides of the Old Firm divide. Celtic supporters are said to be angry that their club was targeted, while Rangers supporters have threatened them for failing to carry out their plot successfully.” (my italics)
I should hardly need to say, but I will anyway: I have spoken to many Rangers fans in person and on social media. They were all disgusted with these men because they acted like thugs.
There are many examples of this sort of thing, from the silly to serious, but the idea that if you support Rangers you will have a different form of social mores to everyone else has become ubiquitous. It has to be challenged head-on. Not just on places like ‘The Rangers Standard’ but by the club itself.
(It may seem like a contradiction to bring up Muirhead and McKenzie then defend Rangers fans as ordinary, but it’s not. The vast majority of Rangers fans are decent people - with some not so decent thrown in - just like every other group on the planet. Unlike others, I find it laughably absurd that supporting a football team somehow labels an individual as morally inferior or superior.)
Whereas challenging ourselves and others is essential to negate false views – the final piece of the puzzle is engagement. It overlaps the other two areas we have discussed, but overall is a more positive activity.
The one thing that Rangers fans are surprisingly poor at is networking with politicians and the media. Groups like the Rangers Supporters Trust and the Assembly do great work, but they need more help. The recent financial troubles at Ibrox have shown that the ability to get our views across in politics and the media world is abysmal. We need to open more channels of communication in these areas and engage much more.
At present it seems Rangers fans prefer to cut themselves off if there is a sign that they are being unfairly treated. It does nothing more than take away your voice and allows others full leverage when they fill the vacuum. Miracles won’t happen overnight, but with dialogue comes a chance of changing minds, or at least showing that your viewpoint actually exists. This has to be a priority.
Another major form of engagement should be in the local community. Already Rangers fans do great work for the veterans at Erskine and Poppy Scotland. Ideas like the ‘Red and Black Rangers’ promotion were inspired. The fans helped the club and by doing so gave free tickets to Govan schoolchildren. (Rangers fans have even helped people outside the UK like fund-raising for Malawi). These successful campaigns should be motivation for us to rediscover our roots as a community club that helps the social welfare of ordinary people.
One of the areas I am deeply interested in is the anti-sectarianism and anti-racism activity in football and elsewhere. I wear anti-sectarianism and anti-racism wristbands from ‘Show Racism the Red Card’ and it surprises me how many people therefore assume I support Celtic. Rangers fans are not racists or bigots, so why should we leave the arena to others and see the club and fans stereotyped as something we are not?
I understand that historically there has been a lack of trust with some anti-sectarian groups. Many Rangers fans feel they have been unfairly labelled as bigots for ideological reasons. There is an element of truth to this, but I believe the time is right to re-engage fully with these organisations. Discussions I have had have shown this to be reciprocated. We should participate more against hate in society. Not for great public relations, but because it’s what we actually do believe.
I’ll repeat what I said earlier because it’s important: look at our players, staff and fanbase. No-one is excluded. Not Catholics or Muslims or Jews. From Ireland to Nigeria and Algeria to Australia we don’t care. All are welcome. These are the facts on the ground and the crude stereotype of bigotry and racism that others force onto us needs to be blown away - because it’s a lie.
Being a Rangers fan is an important part of our lives and identity. The previous regimes in charge looked out from their ivory tower and laughed as we forgot it is our club. We have many difficult periods ahead, but where there is life, there is hope – and opportunity for change and growth. It’s time to reclaim The Rangers.