A word of sense from Graham Spiers


May 16, 2008

A club with a poison at its core

Utterly predictably, the fate of Rangers is once again to find excitement on the field marred by loutishness and delinquency off it. Losing the Uefa Cup final in Manchester on Wednesday night was no disgrace for Walter Smith or his team, whose very presence at the game was a triumph in itself. Beyond the stadium, however, before and after the match, events told their own story of how accursed Rangers remain as a club.

Willie Waddell, a memorable Rangers manager of the early 1970s, whose team brought the 1972 European Cup Winners’ Cup back to Glasgow, once aimed the following simmering words in the direction of his club’s supporters: “It is to these tikes, hooligans, louts and drunkards that I pinpoint my message. It is because of your gutter-rat behaviour that we are being publicly tarred and feathered like this.”

After that European triumph of 36 years ago, Rangers were banned by Uefa for the rioting of their fans, causing Waddell to implode with rage. The blight of Rangers – defined by loutish behaviour and bigoted chanting among groups of supporters – is proving a durable social poison. Here we are four decades on, still lamenting the seemingly endemic way in which these supporters behave like primitives.

The chaotic scenes in Manchester on Wednesday night – a Zenit fan stabbed, rioting Rangers fans, and 15 policemen getting injured – were frightening to behold. Moreover, the footage released yesterday and shown on Sky News, of hundreds of Rangers fans charging at police and setting upon one who stumbled to the ground, will make the already weary Ibrox hierarchy cringe.

Rangers have a repeated get-out for these episodes: the script always says this is “just a small minority” of fans. Moreover, as incident upon incident passes with the club’s supporters – at Villarreal in 2006, in Pamplona in 2007 and now in Manchester in 2008 – it is always “heavy-handed policing” and not the Rangers fans themselves who are said to be the blame.

Well, this is no small minority of Rangers supporters, and nor are the Greater Manchester Police renowned for their truncheon-wielding brutality. Instead, this is a football club with a poison somewhere at its core.

Such scenes will enrage those legions of decent Rangers supporters who love their club and follow it with impressive ardour. The postmatch eruptions were all the more depressing on Wednesday because the vast Rangers support gathered inside the City of Manchester Stadium had created a brilliant spectacle of colour and noise, including many who stayed on to applaud the Zenit St Petersburg players on their 2-0 triumph.

Other aspects, however, were familiarly ugly. During the day before the match, and certainly in the drunken aftermath, there was too much evidence of the sort of primitivism that enraged Waddell 36 years ago. In particular, bigoted or sectarian chanting remains an excruciating pastime for too many Rangers supporters, despite repeated pleas by the club to give these anthems a rest. For two days in Manchester, if you were based in the city centre as I was, you woke up to these dirges in the morning and you went to sleep to them at night.

Since being punished by Uefa two years ago for such antics by their supporters, Rangers have hired PR people, as well as Kenny Scott, a seasoned and former high-ranking Glasgow policeman, to try to gouge out the social disease which has clamped itself to the club. Scott, in particular, knew very well the inherent dangers of 100,000 Rangers fans descending upon Manchester for the Uefa Cup final.

The downside of Rangers reaching such a prestigious game in as close an area as the north of England was that it was an open invitation for the club’s less impressive followers to display their capacity for drinking, aggression, and sectarian abuse. I would go so far as to say that Scott, as head of security at Rangers, will have been cringeing at the very prospect from the moment the club qualified for the final.

Some spoke yesterday of another Uefa investigation of Rangers, but this surely won’t occur. It is almost impossible for Uefa, however much they care about the image of football, to weigh in on such affairs as public disorder in the city centres of Britain.

But who has the answer to this blight? Can anyone offer Rangers a cure for this ugly delinquency which afflicts a sizeable group of their supporters?

Until that cure is found, the once-proud name of Rangers FC will always trigger thoughts of yobbishness and bigotry. The club, to be blunt, is paying a heavy price for its century-long antipathy towards signing Catholic players, a policy which planted this bitter harvest.

© Copyright 2008 Times Newspapers Ltd.


6 Responses to A word of sense from Graham Spiers

  1. Jay says:

    No mention in the article of the lack of organisation in Manchester by either the City council or the police. The lack of organisation extended as well to the train stations. In Glasgow people were organised in orderly ques etc, in Manchester it was literally every man for himself.

    The council had sent mixed messages to fans before the game, originally telling fans not to come. At such short notice they frantically put in place plans for fan zones. I was in the Piccadily fan zone where the screen broke down – there were thousands of fans packed in with provision of only 40 toilets and no bins.

    Again the council put to one side bylaws that prevented drinking in the streets – why did they do this? Because they saw the financial gain in the Scots flocking to manchester – estimated at £25million. The city council knew and ALLOWED fans to drink all day – they must have been aware of the conquences of that. Manchester were happy to take money off the Scots but couldn’t provide what they promised.

    Part of the frustration came as thousands of fans travelled to Manchester to watch a game that they were promised would be showed. That didn’t happen. The fault came as the signal was blocked by the computers firewall. Surely this was an easy problem to overcome.

    Again no mention in the article about the Casuals from various English football teams that descended on Manchester (including Chelsea, Millwall, Man City and Carlisle.


    The fact that Manchester City Council banned fan zones for the Champs League Final in the city adds credence to the News of the World theory.

  2. Stewart says:

    You’re right Jay. Thanks for your comments. I almost posted a link to the News of the World story myself. There was no mention of any of those things in Spiers’ column, probably because they came out after his piece was written. But I’m pretty sure Spiers is not talking about the vast majority of Rangers fans who went to Manchester and had a great time.

    Let’s leave the violence to the side. I think it’s probable that the News of the World is at least partially correct in this case.

    Spiers’ point , I think, is that it is too easy for people who want to cause trouble to associate themselves with Rangers (and Celtic for that matter) and in Spiers’ opinion Rangers have made that easier by their historic policy of not signing Catholic players.

    I’m sure that as well as the circumstances that you have rightly highlighted you also wouldn’t deny that there were ‘supporters’ wearing orange and singing sectarian songs or that there were too many people in Manchester for a drunken day out. The fact that the council ‘allowed’ people to drink doesn’t mean that they forced people to get drunk. There surely has to be some level of personal responsibility?

    Rangers as a club can’t do anything about those things. What they can do is discourage sectarianism inside Ibrox, which over the last few years they have taken seriously. It’s not that long since Donald Findlay was ‘caught’ singing sectarian songs. It’s going to take a long time to get past this type of rubbish because like it or not, believe in or or not, that is the reputation of the club. Decent supporters like you have a responsibility to change that.

    What saddens me most about both Old Firm clubs is that sensible people who in the rest of their lives are not bigots sing along on a Saturday (or monday, thursday and saturday if you’re a rangers fan). Until that stops (and I don’t mean changing the one ‘offending’ word) then both clubs will remain easy targets for idiots and hooligans to attach themselves to and cause trouble and I think that’s a shame.

    I enjoyed Ranger’s run in europe. I wanted them to win because they are a scottish club, just like I wanted celtic in seville, or aberdeen this year and motherwell and queen of the south next season, but I cringe every time I hear the old firm fans singing their songs. I don’t want that to be the impression the rest of the world has of my country.

  3. Jay says:

    Hey Stuart! You said in your comments that Manchester Council didn’t force people to get drunk and that there has to be an element of personal responsibility. I think that is very true, but surely the same principle should apply to the idiots who go to Ibrox and sing Sectarian songs.

    The club have made efforts in recent years to encourage fans to cut out the sectarianian singing. Pridge over Prejudice is just one example of that. But what can the club do when people excercise their own personal choice and sing that rubbish? (Other than banning them from Ibrox/Rangers games, and seeking prosecution). Regrettably there is a large problem with the away support – I’m not sure what other grounds and teams do to discourage Sectarian singing.

    People like Spiers talk about the historic policy’s of not signing Catholics players etc. If we are looking at finidng ways to tackle the problem of Sectarianism we need to concentrate on aspects that we can change.

  4. Stewart says:

    I always wonder what would happen if the team walked off the park? The ticketing of away games is just as tight as at Ibrox. The club know exactly who gets the tickets because they are administered through Rangers. If there is a problem with the away support then don’t take an away allocation?

    You’re right about personal choice. Mine would be not to go to a game involving the Old Firm until they cut it out.

    A guy on a radio phone in suggested that Rangers and Celtic play a start of season friendly but not against each other. They should field a mixed team and play someone else. I think that’s a great idea. What do you think?

  5. Jay says:

    I think a mixed team friendly would be a great idea – how about Old Firm XI v ICC students and lecturers XI?

  6. Stewart says:

    too easy for us!!! lol. Even I’m younger than Davie Weir!!!

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