A Response To Harry Reid

Despite launching only a month ago, The Rangers Standard has attracted contributors of the very highest calibre. A number of these contributors have been self-confessed fans of other clubs but nevertheless they have taken the time to engage with the site and offer thoughtful and challenging contributions. These have provided different perspectives and, we hope, have helped to distinguish the site. Andrew Sanders, Alan Bairner and Harry Reid are due vote of thanks for their efforts. We hope others will follow their example and provide measured and constructive criticism without which our discussions might fall prey to myopia.

Commissioning dissenting voices has always been a central objective for those of us responsible for the site. Being able to accept and utilise reasonable criticism is a mark of maturity and actually testifies to strength of character. Whether criticism comes from external or internal sources, the response should always be determined by an honest assessment of its content, justification and motivation. A defensive mindset is understandable given some of the outrageous abuse the club and fans have received recently. There is a feeling that criticism has had us on the back foot for some considerable time. However, as John DC Gow bravely argued in one of our first articles ‘there is no doubt some of the criticism has been valid.’ Now more than ever there is a tendency to dig in, shut-down internal debate and denounce critical voices from out-with our own ranks. This is a mistake. We should make the attempt to recognise that some criticisms are valid, well-intentioned and contain no real malice. A dogmatic, defensive monoculture is not something I would consider to be desirable: others can provide ample evidence to suggest this is achievable.

We should try and respond to this type of criticism in the spirit in which it was intended. This isn’t to suggest that we shouldn’t offer different interpretations, contextualisation or even challenge the perpetuation of myths and stereotypes, whether intentional or not. Harry Reid’s contribution is undeniably challenging, occasionally troubling and, some will inevitably feel, downright provocative. What should be recognised is that he clearly harbours a conflicted affection for the club based on the enjoyment he derived from watching some of the great Rangers teams of the past. Closely associated with Church of Scotland, his article on Rangers, Protestantism and Scottish society was exceptional in its empathy and rightfully earned a wide audience. Harry Reid, in short, is not Phil Mac Giolla Bhain. He isn’t even Jim Spence.

That being said, some of the arguments in his second piece need to be challenged, hopefully in an equally magnanimous spirit. Dialogue rather than monologue is the objective. The unifying theme of the piece was consideration of why Rangers are so disliked. The tone was questioning rather than the more common self-righteous denunciation. Harry draws on a number of personal experiences and compliments them with references to attitudes and perceptions he has encountered. Certain purely footballing examples are offered but it is unclear how these differentiate Rangers from other clubs (Neil Simpson anyone?). The cumulative effect is extremely unflattering. But if that is the perception that exists of us then we would do well acknowledge it before trying to do something about it. It is incumbent upon us not to shirk this difficult task, it will serve as useful training for future battles.

What I would ask is whether there is a qualitative difference between the dislike of Rangers and any other successful, big city club. This is difficult to measure but I would be surprised if it were the case. I think we could all cite examples of times we could have behaved better when on Rangers duty. We have not always lived up to the values which we like to project onto the club. Is this not something we could improve on? I think we could also cite plenty of examples of other fans behaving pretty abysmally and Aberdeen fans have often disgraced their club when they have visited the friendly confines of Ibrox. Harry acknowledged this point.

Manchester and Barcelona. The names evoke conflicting feelings. On the one hand they are the scenes of two of our greatest triumphs as a football club. On the other hand, each was tarnished by the actions of some fans. In Manchester especially, the actions of a minority of fans were disgraceful. They inflicted serious damage on the reputation of the club and detracted from what should have been a communal celebration of support for our team. Harry gave 15,000 as an example of a minority of over 100,000 plus. I don’t think he was suggesting that anything like this number were actually involved in the violence but it was a potentially inflammatory example.

The Manchester City Council report into the events of that night said ‘hundreds’ were involved in the trouble. That was ‘hundreds’ too many. But as a percentage of the overall crowd we are into ‘zero point something’ territory. Appropriate denunciation of the minority should, however, be coupled with some contextualisation. The report, for example, also criticises the police and city authorities for the way they handled the event, it is clear that adequate preparations were not made. To give one example: Vodaphone, the company operating the big screen that was to fail in the unsuitable Picadilly Gardens, didn’t know until the day of the game that one its screens was to be used. The failings of the authorities contributed to the sense of chaos, although perhaps not to the same extent as the belligerence induced by the vast quantities of alcohol consumed. It should also be noted that the negative coverage and framing of the events was conditioned by past bad behaviour. As Graham Walker argued in Rangers: Triumphs, Troubles, Traditions ‘the story wrote itself: there was a ready template to which the Manchester events could conform.’ Harry might have mentioned these important contextualising factors had space permitted but it is important that they should appear one way or another. Furthermore, when Celtic played Porto in 2003, the majority of their fans got in to see the game. This was not the case in Manchester where the numbers were more than double. The conditions were thus very different.

As an interesting aside, we might quickly make reference to Alan Bissett’s novel Pack Men. In one of the last acts of the book, he has the character Alvin, who isn’t even a committed Rangers fan, attack the police. Might we take this as a comment on the febrile and intoxicating nature of the day from an author who himself has a complex relationship with the club?

Barcelona is more complicated still. The trouble in 1972 was prompted by Rangers fans invading the pitch in what was a common, if exuberant, form of celebration at the time. Pitch invasions seem to be returning to fashion if the end of last season is anything to go by. Sky Sports News even made a great play of some of them, lingering on the fans as the reporters talked glowingly. What needs to be recognised is that pitch invasions are usually prompted by high spirits rather than malevolence (although this wasn’t the case in the early days of football). The potential for violence usually lies with the authorities and how they choose to handle such events. It might be suggested that the most memorable pitch invasions have been the ones where the authorities have reacted in an overzealous fashion-or where supporters have been ‘Cloughed’.

This is what happened in Barcelona. Rangers fans had the misfortune of coming up against the police force of the fascist Franco regime which wasn’t conditioned to tolerate even the good-natured flouting of rules and they overreacted. It has even been said that many traditional detractors of the club forgave the fans their sins on this occasion given the nature of the opposition. Those who continue to call the supporters fascists might do well to make reference to this night. It is important to complicate the picture in this way, the alternative risks encouraging one-dimensional stereotypes.    

It might also be pointed out that there was no documented trouble when Rangers reached European finals in 1961 and 1967. We are not predisposed to violence and disorder on these occasions, not even ‘the minority’. It would also be misleading to suggest that fans of other clubs always behave impeccably-just ask the stewards in Udine. Michel Platini is being kept in the most exquisite suits because of the fines paid by Celtic in recent times. As for Aberdeen, well they are no longer in Europe with enough regularity for their behaviour to be seriously scrutinised....

His comments about Ally McCoist will probably prove to be the most troubling for Rangers fans. I think he does the manager a disservice. Comments such as ‘the mask slipped’ and ‘For many this was the time when Mr McCoist revealed a deep underlying arrogance’ misrepresent the event in question. McCoist has been placed in an unenviable, terrible position since February 14. As one of the few figures associated with the club who actually had its best interests at heart, McCoist was the proxy for all of our considerable hopes and fears. This goes some way to explaining his prominence as a spokesman. At times he has been called upon to perform duties he is unaccustomed to under the most serious duress and he has done so in a manner little short of heroic. Rather than having the mask slip I think it would be fairer to say that this was the one occasion he was wearing a mask forged during a period of unimaginable strain. In addition, what some saw as ‘a deep underlying arrogance’ could be more sympathetically characterised as a deep underlying protectiveness of the club he both supports and serves.    

I hope Harry takes these points in the spirit in which they were intended. I for one am of the opinion that he wishes the club no ill will. Indeed, he seems to share our desire to see Rangers live up to the best of its past.  

Discuss this article in the forums (26 replies).