By John DC Gow:
“John, Jock Stein has died. Come on up son.” Those were the words that woke me from my sleep and out of my bed on the night of 10 September 1985. Only a few hours previously, I had been jumping about the living room in a state of delirium when Davie Cooper slotted home the penalty that would effectively see Scotland reach the World Cup finals.
That should have been all I remembered, but now seared into my memory is the unknown tribute my family paid to the loss of a great man and a great manager. That night for an hour or so, I was allowed to quietly sit and join in with the mourning of a nation. I had only really known Jock Stein as the Scotland Manager at that time and it was only years later I realised that to my Rangers supporting Dad, Jock Stein would have been his footballing nemesis. Here was the man who had led Celtic's nine-in-a-row and European Cup winning team when my Dad was a young boy. But it didn't matter and why should it? That night showed me how to pay respect to what is important in life, but also how Scottish football could be a conduit for the solidarity that working-class Scots could feel for each other. We might be rivals, but we were not enemies.
Before that day I cheered when Aberdeen won the Cup Winners Cup. I also went on to feel immensely proud of Dundee Utd when they managed to beat Barcelona, and remember being aggrieved when they were shamefully treated by Roma. I didn't support these teams but they were not separate from the wonderful tapestry of Scottish football. I respected them.
As a Rangers fan I don't know if I feel that about Scottish football any more.
Rangers fans are left wondering what is coming next for their club.
Since February there has been a desire from many non-Rangers fans for the complete obliteration of the team I love. I didn't expect non-Rangers fans to turn into Mary Poppins, but the lack of basic decency from many Scottish football fans came as a surprise. Wanting to see a weakened Rangers would be understandable; the near-begging to see a football team loved by many fellow Scots turned to dust, makes Scotland look twisted.
One of my favourite Rangers songs is called “Paisley Road West”. It's the story of a father taking his son to Ibrox for the first time, remembering when his own father did the same. That is what football is about. It's not just about goals and fancy flicks, it's a community and family link from the past through the present and into the future. That many (most?) in Scottish football want to take that away from me and my fellow Rangers fans isn't a sign of “integrity” or moral superiority. It's the sign of a sport obsessed with hatred.
I've witnessed fans on twitter who are such big Celtic, Hearts, Dundee or Dunfermline fans that literally 90% of their tweets are about Rangers – and not just since February. Instead of the web bringing fans together through dialogue, many fan groups in Scotland – Rangers fans included – have become even less likely to communicate with each other. Instead, forums feed on their own stereotypes. Each form of 'knowledge' confirms how self-righteous one fan group is against another. Every post about 'them' is proof that 'they' are not like 'us'.
This happens to a greater or lesser extent with all fan groups, but I think it's safe to say Rangers fans have become the most hated in Scottish society, never mind Scottish football. There has been no shortage of people wanting to 'prove' that the ordinary Rangers supporter is bigoted, racist and even fascist. It would be too mild a response to say that this is unfair – it's lies. Pretending there is not a minority of loonies among the Rangers support would be foolish - since every group on the planet has them - but the attempt to demonise a whole group of people has become shameful. That it's controversial to say Rangers fans are ordinary folk just like everyone else should tell you something.
But we can't just blame the web. Some important voices in journalism have lost all sense of perspective. Listening to Jim Spence on BBC Sportsound is like hearing the ambassador for 'anyone but Rangers'. Never mind trying to occasionally give a Rangers point-of-view, he doesn't even pretend he sympathises with Rangers fans. In response to a statement from Walter Smith about preserving what Rangers fans would see as the “magical nature” of the club, Jim shouted, “well it's gone...haha”. I doubt there is any other football club in the world where Jim would admit such base feelings, never mind broadcast them.
Another example of this is a recent article by the Sunday Mail's Gordon Waddell. In the footballing sense he admits to himself and the reader that justice is not what sporting integrity is about – it's about “inflicting enough hurt on newco Rangers”. Fans want Rangers “emptied” and he can see why. “It makes you want to see them get theirs - and get it big-time” says a supposedly grown man. But even worse is to follow. When discussing Rangers “punishment” and how it should be balanced with keeping the Rangers cash-cow in Division 1 he says:
“But think on it this way. It's like punching someone you detest in the face over and over again. Sure, you may derive satisfaction - but is it worth breaking your knuckles?”
Gordon defended himself later by stating that it's just a metaphor. But what is this metaphor? It's one where you hate another human being so much you punch their face again and again, so hard that you break your own bones. He must be very naive if he didn't think that there would be readers imagining the person getting their face pulped was a Rangers fan.
In his defence though at least he was honest. The “sporting integrity” mantra has never been about justice, but rather it's about getting 'them'. We can see this proven with the fact that the SPL will proudly declare “no to newco” yet will threaten the SFL division 1 clubs who make the same choice. (Rangers should be in the SPL or SFL division 3. No exceptions.)
We even have the utter madness of 80% of St Mirren fans in a recent poll telling their club they would rather have no Rangers in the SPL, even if it means possible administration for the Saints. It's bizarre to think 80% would rather see job losses; players leaving and possible liquidation as long as another team couldn't play in a league. I was even told by a Kilmarnock fan that he would rather his club ceased to exist than have Rangers in the SPL. I wouldn't be surprised if this lunacy is widespread among most SPL clubs.
But whether you can cope with this or not, the truth is that the SPL cannot function for 3+ years without Rangers. Even those who would survive would find themselves with far less resources – and that includes Celtic. I believe many fans – including the SPL bean-counters and the SFA – have forgotten that Rangers make up around a third of all Scottish football fans. You cannot lose 30% of the fanbase/resource/income for that length of time without financial disaster. If you think you can then please contact the EU Finance Ministers so you can solve the Eurozone crisis.
And there is something else most fail to consider. The Rangers are not going to leave Scottish football. In all my years as a Rangers supporter I have never felt or saw more passion for the club. Middlesbrough and Fiorentina have went through the same company liquidation and the club came out stronger after a few years of hardship - and so will Rangers. The club existed before the company was formed, and it will exist after it has gone. It will be a difficult road, but nothing worthwhile or meaningful ever came without struggle.
However, the relationship between Rangers fans and Scottish football may be damaged beyond repair. I know most won't care – Rangers fans included – but we should. If we love our game we need to start having a proper perspective. Only time will tell if we can do that and it won't be easy. It will need mature and magnanimous gestures on all 'sides' and there is little evidence that will happen any time soon. If Jock Stein had lived to see this day what would he say? I won't put words in the great man's mouth - but if you believe he would agree with the self-destructive and petty hatred we see around Scottish football today - I think you would be mistaken.
John DC Gow is a writer and blogger. You can find his articles at johndcgow.com and therangersstandard.co.uk.
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