No-one likes us - we should care

It is fair to say that, since February 14th, it has not been much fun to be a Rangers supporter. As a fan of any club, ups and downs are part of the package. You come to accept it – no matter how sore it is at the time. But these ups and downs are almost exclusively limited to on the field activities. What we as Rangers supporters have had to endure in the last four months has gone way beyond the pain of a last minute goal inflicting defeat or a right good old fashioned humping.

It has been hard to watch at times. I have to admit I have turned off to it now. There has been so much information and misinformation flying around – and for such a long time – that I have simply given up reading every paper, every day to see where we are. It is too painful, and too laborious. I now just want it fixed to allow the club to heal and recover.

It seems – we hope – the all the main issues are about to reach an end game and we’ll finally know how the land lies for Rangers Football Club for the coming months and possibly years. We have to be prepared for the worst and take it on the chin and be ready to support the club through what could be some very dark times.

There have been many issues that have surprised me in this farce. One of the main things has been the lust by almost every other club chairman and supporter to put the boot into Rangers in their weakest moment. As a big club, which is not overly popular, I’d prepared for the mocking etc, but the level of hatred and abuse directed at the club has been staggering at times. And, as the club gets ready to move forward, this catastrophic chain of events has given the club, and more importantly us, the fans, a chance to re-evaluate our place in modern Scottish society.

The main positive coming out of this is that the fans have a chance to reconnect with the club. Reclaim if you like. The club, I suspect, would be in a similar frame of mind, particularly if Walter Smith and his consortium gain control. It has overstretched itself for too long, and ignored its core fan-base while doing so. This is an opportunity for a reconnection of the club with its core fan base and its Govan roots. But to move on completely, we also have to ask some hard questions of ourselves, the main one being why are Rangers so unpopular out with its own support.

There was once a time when Rangers were anything but unpopular in this country. Those who didn’t support us certainly bore us no harm, and would rather see us win an Old Firm game than Celtic. That landscape has changed almost to an unrecognisable level. So what has happened?

There is littler doubt that the events in Lisbon in 1967 had a sizeable effect. By winning the European Cup, Jock Stein’s Celtic changed a mindset in many non-Catholic football supporters. It created a scenario where people of a non “Celtic-minded” background who wouldn’t have dreamed of supporting Celtic before, now would.  But that alone doesn’t explain the position Rangers are in today in the popularity stakes.

When I was growing up as a boy in the 80s Rangers were still popular among non-Rangers supporters. Even the fact that they hadn’t openly signed a Catholic for the best part of 60 years did not make us as unpopular as we are in the current day. Why?

The signing of Maurice Johnston – a watershed moment in the clubs history – should have caused for any lingering dislike of the club to evaporate, but the very opposite has happened. We are in a worse place now than I can remember in living memory, where it is almost accepted that if you are not a Rangers supporter you at the very least dislike Rangers, or are openly aggressive to them.  Why?   

As supporters of the club at this crucial part of our history, we have a duty to explore the reasons and address them.

My theory is that Scotland has changed dramatically in the last 40 years. Where it was once rooted in similar traditions of those of the club: conservative, unionist and monarchist, the country has now moved on from those traditions and as a result we have become isolated.

There was also the issue of the “England-ification” of the club from the Souness era onwards. When Woods, Butcher and co arrived it invoked a swathe of England top wearing, St George’s Cross waving and Swing Low Sweet Chariot singing supporters. Some supporters even chose to start supporting England over Scotland.

Now, to harp back to my early memories of supporting Rangers, this was never the case. We were, and always had been, a club very proud of its roots which were very much in Govan, Glasgow and Scotland. Somewhere down the line, in the ecstasy of nine-in-a-row and the trophy laden years, it could be suggested that too many of us were too quick to abandon those roots for the short, sharp fix of winning.

Add to that the bastardising of our song lyrics with constant FTP’s and the Red Hand salute. This is too similar to another, rather nasty, salute with totally different connotations. Taking these aspects into account, it is not hard to see why the image of our club and its supporters has diminished in recent years.     

I am not for a minute suggesting that we are completely to blame for the current situation. It has been open season where Rangers are concerned within elements of our media for some time now, and the club itself has been sluggish and half-hearted in dealing with the issue. But there is little doubt that we have to take a look at ourselves and ask if we are completely innocent in the downfall of our public persona. I think the answer is that we are not completely innocent, but the situation right now gives us a platform to move on and improve things dramatically.

First things first, I think we need to look at our set-list of songs. Stuff like Rule Britannia etc – which were never part of our repertoire before – have to go. The club has its values and they are very much unionist and pro-Monarchy. We, the supporters, do not need to remind everyone about those values. We as supporters should focus on the songs of old that are all about the club and great players – without the FTP add-ons and bastardised lyrics.

The Red Hand salute also has to go. I know what it means. You all know what it means. Christ, even our detractors know what it means. But they’ll still claim it means something else. So it has to go. The protestations to correct them have not worked – so we have to bin it. We can celebrate our connections to Ulster without resorting to something which is too easily misconstrued and does nothing but damage the club.

I am not suggesting that these things alone will improve our image overnight. But if we become a more responsible support, one who cares about what our actions do to our club’s image, then gradually we’ll give those who want to put the boot in no ammunition. The days of “no-one likes us, we don’t care” have to end. We don’t have to attempt to be everybody’s best pal – like our esteemed neighbours – but we have to protect our own image and the clubs.

If there is to be a share issue, and we take up those shares in great numbers, then we have a duty to take care of the sporting institution that is Rangers. It has been under internal and external attack for too long now and the result of that is what you see today: a once great club on its knees gasping for air.  

It is time for us to realise that we have a duty to look after the club and its image, and through unpleasant circumstances we have the opportunity to do that. We are not talking about a seismic change but failure to do it may permanently render the club a shadow of what it once was: the sporting pride of this country.

Colin Armstrong sits in the Govan Rear at someone else’s expense. He is a former columnist for the Rangers News and match-day programme. He contributed to the book ‘Ten Days That Shook Rangers’ and has also written for the football magazine ‘When Saturday Comes’.    

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