Let’s be honest from the outset. In the same way Rangers deserved to beat Celtic earlier in the competition, Hibernian dominated us in Saturday’s Scottish Cup final. For the majority of the game they were a yard quicker, they worked incredibly hard and, unlike the previous five games this season, were the better team by a fair distance. Ergo, as I cautioned in my match preview on Friday, there was no shock here in an exciting final that mirrored the free-scoring games between the clubs already this season. In the same way we were emotional in April, generations of Hibs fans must be beyond delighted and, after almost 115 years of disappointment, no-one can deny them in their moment of glory.
With that in mind, as the final whistle blew just before 5pm on Saturday afternoon and around ten thousand Hibs supporters entered the field of play, I wasn’t initially concerned. Just as happened in Barcelona in 1972 and Aberdeen in 1986, emotion can overcome the best of us. It’s easy to criticise such ordinary people and even easier to judge them without knowing the facts. Personally I sympathise with the large numbers of Hibbees that stayed in their seats and avoided any controversy. To their embarrassment, these fans – genuine football supporters – have had their once in one hundred year’s success ruined by morons.
In many ways there’s an irony in what happened. Rangers fans – sometimes correctly, sometimes not – have been vilified for well over ten years now when it comes to such conduct. Behavioural issues abroad and domestically in Manchester in 2008 have made our club an easy target in the media. In fact, legislation called for by commentators across the political and media spectrum in recent years was based on our obvious lack of savoir-faire. As such, while our fans have complained of being singled out – again sometimes correctly, sometimes not – it’s difficult to expect the club to challenge such coverage when hooliganism and a politically incorrect songbook were so prevalent. And, for what it’s worth, we’ve been punished.
Nevertheless, opposition sides haven’t had their problems to seek either. Celtic fans routinely glorify in terrorism whilst supporters of other clubs – and media commentators – use and defend terms like h*n. Moreover, since the administration of the oldco in 2012, relations between Rangers and other clubs have worsened. Yes, the actions of an obsessive minority online often lack credibility but there appears to be a tangible desperation around any subject involving our club. Be it new players, the winning of trophies or our undeniable proud history, social media appears to being out the worst in those indisposed towards the Light Blues. Worse, this seems to extend itself beyond such folk and permeates itself into supposedly credible mainstream media outlets. Scottish Law and the footballing authorities have informed us all that Rangers remain Rangers but some just won’t have it. Graham Spiers, Jim Spence and various other time-served journalists refuse to consider us anything less than occasional or ‘industrial’ cheats and this exhibits itself throughout Scottish footballing society. Meanwhile, BBC Scotland – the national broadcaster – cannot cover Rangers’ affairs fairly over a fallout with their senior football reporter’s imbalance.
Thus, is it really a surprise when ordinary football fans – fed on a diet of daily mischief-making – take such provocation to the next level? Last season, in a match with similarities to Saturday’s final, Motherwell routed Rangers over two legs in a play-off for a position in the top division. During the game the Rangers captain Lee McCulloch was assaulted by a ‘Well fan and, after the final whistle, thousands of excited Steelmen invaded the pitch to goad their Glasgow counterparts. Fortunately, despite their disappointment, the much-maligned away Rangers support didn’t react. However, a year later, there remains uncertainty over any punishment for what happened that day with the SPFL delaying their findings in February 2016 for a further 18 months. Bilel Mohsni seems the usual scapegoat – let’s blame him.
Unfortunately, at the end of the Scottish Cup final this Saturday a similar story unfolded. Recovering from a 1-2 deficit midway through the second half, Hibs equalised before scoring early in injury time to take a 3-2 lead. Bizarrely, the Hampden stewards and police failed to react and, as the final whistle blew, thousands of Hibs fans invaded the pitch and, according to Rangers FC and some media commentators, various Rangers players and officials were assaulted. Once again including their captain and, I’m reliably informed, assistant manager David Weir. Understandably Wallace and his fellow players could not return to the pitch to receive their runners-up medals due to safety concerns. I think it’s safe to say this embarrasses all of Scottish football.
The real-time aftermath of the trouble was fascinating. BBC Scotland radio and television were keen to avoid footage of the issues on the park and their commentators underplayed any problems whilst, on social media, senior politicians were more concerned about congratulating their family members than the violence. Similarly, the leader of Glasgow City Council Frank McAveety found the hooliganism funny and made jokes about the issue. Meanwhile SFA board member and Hibs chairman Rod Petrie felt the stewards and police deserved ‘great credit’ for dealing with ‘114 years of over-exuberance’. Although there are some fake tweets online, credible video evidence suggests it went well beyond that. Bilel Mohsni certainly wasn’t there.
Let’s again be honest. Let’s say Rangers won this game today in injury time. Let’s say ten thousand bears invaded the pitch. Let’s say Hibs skipper David Gray was assaulted. Let’s say, many more fans went on to goad those Hibees left in the stands. Let’s say dozens of mounted police and their colleagues had to restore order. Let’s say the Hibs team didn’t feel safe enough to collect their medals. Genuinely, what would the reaction be?
Do we think the First Minister of Scotland and the Member of Scottish Parliament for the constituency that Ibrox Stadium sits within would take time to comfort their Hibs supporting husband and ignore such behaviour or would they be convening the kind of summit her predecessor seemed to enjoy? Would journalists be taking time to consider their thoughts before blaming any Hibs fans that reacted? Would the inevitable handful of Hibs fans that reacted have the finger pointed at them instead?
In conclusion, there’s no doubt Hibs won fairly and squarely on Saturday. Unfortunately, their win won’t dominate the headlines tomorrow and it’s a real shame the majority of Hibs fans who want to revel in their long-awaited success may be ignored. However, what happened at Hampden is a manifestation of something we can no longer overlook. For many years Rangers Football Club and its loyal fans have been tarred continually with a brush that others seem to avoid. Last year it was Motherwell, previously it was Celtic fans glorifying in terrorism and for many more in Scottish football excuses are made when they sing about H*ns. Quite simply it often appears Rangers fans are only to be blamed and have no right to complain.
We must confront such bigotry and hatred head on. I’m glad Rangers FC highlighted this after the game and it’s now time others – supposedly neutrals crusading against sectarianism or monitoring Scottish football did the same. Kicking such issues 18 months into the long grass is wholly unacceptable. If not, scenes like Saturday’s Scottish Cup final are just the beginning. Surely none of us want that?
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