Being a Rangers Fan in 2012

It is hard to articulate to others what it has been like to follow Rangers Football Club during 2012. The perpetual sense of crisis has been difficult to live with at times and the feeling of constant pressure has had a number of effects. It has acted to bring the fans together and create a bond forged by adversity. It has also strengthened our sense of identification with the club that was on the verge of being taken away from us. But it must be said that this combination of crisis and pressure has occasionally produced something toxic. Let me be clear from the outset: if any Rangers fan has indeed threatened any individual then they should be condemned unreservedly. As a statement released by the Rangers Supporters Trust said, ‘It is unacceptable that innocent people should be made to feel vulnerable or have their families safety jeopardised in any way.’ For all that these are probably misguided attempts to respond to those perceived to be damaging the club, the reality is the threats do us much more harm. Those responsible, the statement went on to note, ‘are the stick used to beat other fans.’

There was much that was objectionable about Alex Thomson’s recent Channel 4 News report. It lacked any balance, for example, in terms of the individuals who provided commentary to accompany the story. Angela Haggerty, Gerry Hassan and Paul Holleran are not friends of Rangers. The club provided a perfunctory statement but surely someone slightly more sympathetic and knowledgeable might have provided a different perspective. A segment needlessly filmed at Cathkin Park, once home to Third Lanark, was as subtle as a plug for a Phil Mac Giolla Bhain book crow-barred into an NUJ delegate meeting motion. Towards the end, there was also the implication that the Scottish FA wouldn’t issue a statement or grant an interview because they feared Johnny Adair turning up at Hampden. What was also objectionable, however, was the clip from a Rangers podcast (neither Heart and Hand nor We Are The People) which talked about Haggerty in the most disgraceful terms. Few things have made me more embarrassed to be a Rangers fan and thus ever so tenuously connected to someone who would talk about a woman in that way. Her role in publishing a book by a man whose hatred for Rangers is undisguised is irrelevant.

Earlier in the piece, Paul Holleran, the National Organiser for the National Union of Journalists and a man who seems to take a selective approach to defending fellow journalists, told Thomson on camera that he had a list of 32 journalists who had been threatened since last December. He explained this in the following terms: ‘because of the nature of the Rangers story and what’s happened to them I think there is a real problem there...’ There was apparently ‘no doubt’ Rangers have a worse problem than other clubs. It is still unclear if either Holleran or Mac Giolla Bhain has shown Thomson the list. Holleran didn’t say if Rangers fans were responsible but given the context it isn’t surprising that this was taken to be the implication. Since then, Tom English has said he hasn’t been threatened. Paul Hughes, a football writer for The Sun said on Twitter: ‘Scottish football writers are the biggest gossips in the world. If 32 of us had been threatened, everyone would know.’ Another high-profile journalist told me he hadn’t been threatened and didn’t know any fellow journalists who had. It has to be said it’s remarkable this seemingly Russian-level of alleged intimidation has remained concealed until now. Thomson and some of his associates have sometimes shown an undignified eagerness to overplay their hand in such matters. They trivialise any threats that have been made by exploiting them in pursuit of what looks like a concerted ideological campaign against Rangers and those who follow the club. By doing so, they allow us a glimpse of a far less noble agenda lurking beneath the surface of their often sanctimonious and sombre pronouncements.  

Gerry Hassan, who once accused a Rangers-supporting MSP of ‘colluding with bigotry’, was introduced and we were told he had been ‘following the problems of Rangers closely’. He said, ‘I think Rangers do have a cultural programme and part of the Rangers support particularly has a problem.’ Note the initial generalisation: some are just worse than others. He continued, ‘I think it comes from being the dominant club of Scotland and they don’t like being challenged, they don’t like having things that are uncomfortable about their traditions brought up, basically.’

Basic indeed. Hassan, writing in the Scotsman in 2010, argued, ‘Scottish men have poor health, life expectancy, and record levels of drinking, inflicting crime and violence on themselves and others.’ He added, ‘At the same time much of our public debate has now degenerated into a whole host of negative images which pathologises Scottish men and aid the whole “men behaving badly” feeling which has percolated through society.’ And he later noted that his own Glasgow 2020 project found ‘a deep sense of pessimism about the future in many men which was informed by a feeling of loss and looking to the past for identity and meaning.’ One possible interpretation of last night’s report is that Hassan helped to perpetuate ‘negative images’ of Scottish men for a UK-wide audience. At the very least, it is unclear how it contributed positively to the regeneration of public debate. Hassan subsequently tweeted that Channel 4 News and Thomson, ‘have done us proud on Rangers story. Delighted to be part of Alex’s latest film on issues public life shies away from.’ If anything, I would say the report probably reinforced outdated and caricatured perceptions of Glasgow and the west of Scotland for people in the rest of the UK. Delighted? He assisted a journalist who referred to some Scottish men as an ‘underclass’. Still delighted? There has been a strangely sycophantic reaction to Thomson from some people in Scotland and it has long since become rather unedifying.

Hassan was quoted again towards the end of the report and he said, ‘there are good Rangers fans and they need to speak up and find voice and speak up for all of us.’ For the record, I believe Gerry Hassan has little or no interest in ‘good Rangers fans’. He, like many others, has his narrative. The story is a familiar one, the characters, their exploits and motivations are well known and an alternative ending is not really desired. I say this because if he were aware of this site, Gersnet, or Seventy 2 magazine, to name but a few, then he would know that ‘good Rangers fans’ have a multitude of voices. Following the story closely? He is like an uncomprehending anthropologist watching through binoculars.

When the debate is reduced to subjectively measuring the properties of ‘cultures’, we are venturing onto dangerous ground indeed. People can make claims that are difficult to prove or disprove and too often they make these claims about cultures of which they have little or no understanding. To provide one more example, Hassan once said on Newsnight Scotland that Rangers fans hate Celtic fans more than Celtic fans hate Rangers fans-that is an assertion, not an argument. Ask Chris Graham or John DC Gow about the hate of Celtic fans. Here we come to the most problematic aspect of Hassan’s contribution: the way he framed the claimed behaviour of some Rangers fans as somehow a product of our culture. And by ‘our’ I mean Rangers as opposed to Scotland. Gone was any acknowledgement of the issues he outlined in his Scotsman piece, rather the alleged activity was attributable to the angry superiority complex (Mac Giolla Bhain would say ‘Herrenvolk attitude’ or something equally objectionable) nurtured by following Rangers. Are we really to believe that societal factors, or rather failings, aren’t more or at least equally relevant? Or are we saying that following Rangers makes one more susceptible to some of the behaviours and actions described by Hassan? Does the Rangers culture exist in splendid isolation from societal problems, quietly but angrily manufacturing its own pathologies? A more nuanced explanation (but not justification) would have made reference to the wider problems bedevilling Scottish masculinity and explained how these too often find expression while wearing a football strip.

It is difficult to believe that the problems Hassan has outlined elsewhere would not apply to fans of all clubs. The truth is too many Scottish men are too quick to embrace aggression and drink too much. It is lamentable but not entirely surprising that this aggression should find expression in a tribal and antagonistic football environment. But attitudes and values are not taught at our football stadia. To use the example of the Haggerty attack mentioned above, nothing to do with following Rangers can explain that. The argument that the Rangers culture is somehow uniquely violent-and Hassan is by no means alone in making it-eventually boils down to ‘because I said so’ levels of justification. This type of argument also taints the ‘good Rangers fans’ Hassan is concerned to liberate. It makes them complicit in and possibly contaminated by a culture of violence (Northern Irish flags=loyalist paramilitary culture-it’s like join-the-dots) that utterly fails to do justice to the complexity of following Rangers.

It is time the stubborn and reckless few recognised that there are people who want, people who need Rangers fans to conform to a certain stereotype in order for us to buttress their understanding of the world. Unfortunately there are a small number among us who still seem only too happy to oblige as they pull on the baddie costume, thus allowing the goodies(or so they think) to self-righteously back themselves on the back for knowing exactly how the world works. They don’t and they know even less about what is means to follow Rangers in 2012. I’m tired of demands to condemn actions that I find abhorrent simply because I follow the same team as the perpetrators. Usually the sorry demanded is to be added to the old tribal point-scoring book and used for a future attack: it has been ruthlessly stripped of any other meaning or value. These people do not act in my name or in the name of the many Rangers fans I know. They did not come to do these things because they sit in the same stadium as me on a Saturday afternoon nor because they wear the same football strip as me. In fact, they know as little about what it means to support Rangers as Thomson, Hassan and Mac Giolla Bhain who are only encouraged to generalise and fantasise as a result.        

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