Who Do We Think We Are?

One way or another, Rangers is moving into a new era, and given the public battering the club has taken over the last decade or two, some of us are wondering what Rangers stands for in the 21st century.

The Rangers support has a traditional affection for the Monarchy, the Union and Protestant religious belief, but the passage of time has seen an erosion of their importance.

The growth of nationalism in Scotland has attracted many from within the Rangers support, and it is surely undeniable that young Scots don't endorse the monarchy as readily as their fathers and grandfathers. The drift away from organised religion has lessened the role of Protestantism, and the Rangers support is certainly not immune from society's trends and influences.

So who do we think we are in the 21st century?

It's easy to dismiss the sectarian aspect of the club's history in the unseemly haste to 'move on' but instead of running from it, we should embrace the club's past and not apologise for it.

In much of the last century, Rangers and Celtic knowingly employed an unusually high percentage of their 'own kind', but Celtic's role during this period has been glossed over while Rangers, most noticeably, has been held to account.

Sixty and seventy years ago the Protestant aspect of Rangers and the Catholic ethos at Celtic were facts of life, and few thought that it was a problem. Rangers were Protestant - Celtic were Catholic - and the world kept spinning

Just as the Rangers scout asked young prospects what school they attended, Catholic employers in the Glasgow area weeded out Protestants by asking them what parish they were in. A Celtic-supporting acquaintance once assured me that the only Protestants at Parkhead were on the park.

Today then, in a politically sensitive era, why do we support a team in blue which plays in a part of Glasgow that few of us come from?

More than anything else, it's a shared Protestant heritage. We may not be churchgoers any more, but we are as 'culturally' Protestant as many of our rivals are 'culturally' Catholic.

Some are unionists and others are royalists, but the overwhelming majority of Rangers fans share a Protestant background, and it is this which keeps us beating a path to Ibrox and Rangers: 'the last Protestant Castle', according to one writer on Follow Follow.

This does not mean that Rangers won't welcome all-comers to Ibrox as employees and spectators, but the heart of the support today still beats to the sound of a 'cultural' Protestant drum. Our history lives on within us, and while the future will see evolution and change, the past, for now at least, has not been forgotten.

We support Rangers because it stands for something: something that is important to us. We don't support Rangers because it has no identity. We support it because it has an identity that we can embrace.

The very act of supporting one club over the rest is discriminatory. If clubs are all the same, why should we choose a club in Govan and not Maryhill or Mount Florida? We want our club to set itself apart from the rest. We want it to be unique and distinctive: we want it to be special.

And it is distinctive. And it is unique. And it is special.

Over the years, I've been privileged to be in large crowds watching scintillating football; amongst the best we ever had in this country, but despite being in the company of personal friends, I did not share in the joy of the spectacular triumphs witnessed.

I was watching Celtic, and yet I didn't belong in their number. They annihilated teams with style and flair, and played the game the way I like to see it played, but my admiration for their class and quality did not develop into a lifelong love of that club. It couldn't. Celtic is my club like Mars is my planet.

I am more at home amongst strangers at Ibrox than I am amongst friends at Parkhead - and my Celtic pals know and understand this because their club at Parkhead belongs to them in a way that Rangers never could. They feel about Celtic the way I feel about Rangers - and we each respect and appreciate this. More than that: we love it.

It's about being different and celebrating, understanding and respecting that difference. It's about being civil and democratic, and being mature enough to understand that we need not be the same to be both friends and rivals.

Unfortunately, wisdom and basic commonsense have taken a back seat to an anti-libertarian agenda in a devolved Scotland, and the country is now in a dark place.

The answer is not to discard, criminalise and fear identity. It is to enjoy it and be glad of it - and to respect the identity of others.

As the past slips away, and as the old ways seem less important than before, we wonder what the future has in store. If we are not fully paid-up monarchists, unionists and Protestants, what exactly will the identity of the Rangers support be - and be agreed to be?

It will be this: it will be libertarian. It will be a freedom-loving ethos handed down from our Protestant past, but it will only be credible if we remember our Protestant years.

If we deny our Protestantism, or run from it, there will be no moving on. Embrace it and the future will have no limits. Hide from it, and it will stalk us for a thousand years.

G.M Semple

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