Wed, Jul

The Great, the Good and the Unacceptable

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Saturday saw the best of a football support and when it is good, it’s very, very good.

An early walk to the stadium was met with fair weather and pockets of fans and flags drawn to the occasion. Crowds had already formed along Edmiston Drive. The party had started long before and was already in full swing for many by late morning. The police were present in numbers and their policy was stand-off and fair. There’s something surreal about standing outside a football ground with thousands of people whilst a game unfolds relatively unwatched inside. If anything this quirk added to the occasion. Not that it needed any more, there was enough energy and emotion for a dozen title parties – brought by each and every person, all wanting to be part of history.

Cheers would erupt as the news of the goals got through. Beaming smiles obligatory. The movement of limbs on the horizon would indicate that another chant was radiating in this direction and it would wash over in the very near future. A moment of still anticipation. And then that uncontainable emotion and joy would erupt again. The imagery provided by the coloured plumes rushing out from the smoke bombs – a billowing outpouring of fascinating red and blue magic that demands to be watched, that heightens the experience and accents the crowd as our crowd. Fireworks crackle and boom from all directions. Flags, hats, scarves and hands form the skyline that the photographs will capture and preserve. Half-bottles of Buckfast distinguish the young team (and some of the old team). The lamp posts silently challenge the young men to climb them. The metal barriers around the new site of Edmiston house challenge young men to move them aside and the site site is soon filled with overflow from a crowd that has been steadily growing for many hours now.

I make a point of trying to absorb every spectacle and savour every available moment. The last time I was at Ibrox in similar circumstances was 11 years before and I’ll never take that occasion for granted again. A decade of absence gives a deep appreciation of what can be lost in the blink of an eye. News filters through that the trophy has collected by our Captain and his players. It is ours. We are the Champions. Glasgow Rangers are Champions. This team, this title, this manager are all special. And then the crowd are on the move and the city centre beckons.

Football is nothing without a crowd and the best crowds, or best moments, are the ones where the energy sits on the edge between euphoria and chaos. Nobody does that better than the Rangers support. Everybody’s world view, circumstances, standards are valid and they are entitled to that. We’ve had a season of positivity and praise; I want that to last forever. And so, we need to talk about what is allowed under a Rangers banner.

Some stuff goes without saying. Physical violence or lawlessness is inexcusable. If you’re rolling about or smashing bottles in the middle of the city then you are own your own. Learn your lesson in your own time, not behind a Rangers crest. This was a very small number out of 10s of thousands. Loutish behaviour is not a Rangers issue, it's an issue common across many places, but it is somehow more saddening and disappointing to see it in our name.

The next part should be obvious by now too and I don’t think we can ignore it. Songs or chants that damage Rangers or show Rangers in a poor light are on the way out and have to stop. We are here because of Steven Gerrard and his players and the club. Gerrard talks about standards. His team has devoted themselves to those standards. They’ve applied an almost unthinkable level of dedication. Every single Rangers great has talked about standards, about representing the club and doing the best for the club. That is the over-arching message that leads to our shared success.

F-T-P isn’t that. Religion should be challenged and ridiculed, often, but it’s not Rangers' place to do that. I know that for most of it is banter or defiance, it doesn’t matter. Whether it was valid or was before is beside the point, because it’s not now. Let’s face facts, the enemy has changed clothes since those days and any chants are now against their empty shirts. Worse than that, these chants are now against many in our own squad and support. This is several own goals at once. Make no mistake, our enemies want this to continue.

Everyone has the right to support and follow the club in whatever way they choose but there’s an equation that needs balanced at some point. If your way of supporting the club damages the club then you’re doing it wrong. One thing I hear a lot is traditions and an immobility surrounding those. Let me tell you where short-sighted, stubbornness gets you. Look at the empty or repurposed church buildings in every town and city. Here’s the symbol for institutions and their people that refused to change or that didn’t want to heed that the world had changed. Empty buildings and diminishing influence, to the point of insignificance and oblivion. Take that lesson hard, my friends, because I won’t see that happen to Rangers for some pig-headed adherence to any arbitrary, ill-informed, self-defeating value or tradition. Rangers tradition is winning. Our job is to assist and enable that tradition. Forever. Do not fail the club.

On a personal level, I couldn’t care less if people choose to express their dislike of our historic enemies in their own free time. Our enemies are actively engaged in a war against us, they deserve contempt. Here's a telling characteristic to consider, sectarianism in the press only really deals with selected words - not the why or how, or context, or the bigger picture. Not practised bigotry. Integration or the lack of, and segregation is seldom discussed. Targeted dehumanisation, othering, mud-throwing, selective legislation, burying criminal behaviour, selective reporting of bigoted chants to down-right dishonest gutter-level propaganda (from the higher seats in the land) through fabricated stories is fair game. You had better believe that sectarianism is allowed, encouraged if it suits, but certain words aren't..

The actions of some in the press, specifically, the BBC, STV, writers at the Scotsman, Clyde FM, the SFA, and more worryingly Police Scotland and from the Justice Secretary, are down to our enemies taking up positions and opening fire. Uninhibited bigoted actions. Sometimes with fabricated nonsense and sometimes with ammunition that we’ve foolishly provided. To retaliate we need get our message clear and get smarter. Roaring at old ladies queuing up outside a café isn’t smarter. It achieves less than nothing. It damages Rangers. A big, mindless, negative number.

But what I’m really concerned about is what happens next. UEFA and the Scottish press will be all over us at our next European game. Domestically I expect the goal posts may change too. And as a support we have to concede that nothing has really changed in the 15 years since The Billy Boys started getting us in trouble. A strategy to replace or displace across the board was required. Judging by Saturday, in my opinion we have failed in that regard. We have many in a new generation that have picked up that bad habit, along with other bad habits. We have neither got smarter nor adapted. Here’s the nightmare scenario. First game of the Champions League we get Ibrox closed because some clown can’t handle his drink, doesn’t know where he is and opens his unthinking mouth. I don’t think anyone would find that acceptable, and yet at this moment in time it’s still feels more likely than not. That aspect of our existing sub-culture has to change to the extent that this cannot be allowed to happen.

The new 'Every Saturday We Follow' song is excellent. The pyro on banks of the Clyde on Friday night is one of the most impressive football spectacles I’ve ever seen. FFS, we even lit up the Burj Khalifa! We are at an exciting and historic place as a club. The environment should be fertile for new songs and positivity – unstoppable positivity. Only Rangers. Collectively we have to learn and find a way to filter that through to every section of the support. You want to really hurt the enemies - get smarter and keep winning. This situation has partly arose through disengagement, an element of denial and a lack of leadership and communication to our wider communities. The solution surely lies in addressing that?

I made a point to myself on Saturday of not singing anything that I wouldn’t sing inside the stadium. I noticed plenty others did too. There's a tipping point below which certain songs will die out but we're not there yet. I have no firm answers on how to bring everyone up to speed with what has to happen. Can we put the 15th of May down as a necessary, inevitable release? An exception, a bookend to our journey? Perhaps. But it’ll need introspective and leadership to move on from that place. Some stuff just needs left behind quickly.

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