Fan-zones, politicians and community spirit

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Football and politics don’t mix, they say, and most agree they shouldn’t be mixed. Unfortunately they are being mixed. A common phrase read on social media is “my voting won’t be decided by my football team”. That’s all well and good but the system of party politics is flawed in that regard. Football may be well down your list of voting priorities, and rightly so, but it may be very high on the agenda of the candidate that you are voting for. Just because you might take your vote seriously, you think through how it affects your family circumstance or sensibilities, it is naïve to assume that everyone else does – most importantly including the guy who’s got the badge pinned on his chest. So when you think you’ve voted for better working conditions or far reaching government contracts, what you’re actually going to get that term is major upgrades for the Parkhead footprint and obstructions to any progress in the area around Ibrox.

Stephen Dornan was the councillor to deliver the recent bad news and supply the sound-bites accompanying the community council’s rejection of Rangers proposed fan-zone.

Some of his comments were as barbed and, as they were, wide of the mark. Rangers had increased and better plans for the space than simply “beer and burgers”. As important as kids’ football and access to pitches are as issues, these over-priced, under-used pitches barely tick those boxes as things stand. And when they do it is Rangers themselves and initiatives like their summer soccer schools that are involved. So providing entertainment and fan/club culture to thousands of supporters for a few hours every fortnight seems to me a small concession - the essence of community, even. Considering the size and import of the Rangers institution to the Ibrox area and the paucity of progressive, interactive, match-day initiatives and facilities to supporters, for the council to knock back some much needed forward thinking is disappointing. I would have at least expected them to put forward event recommendations, alternatives or solutions.

You don’t have to dig far to find where Stephen Dornan’s allegiances lie. His voting history is suggested to be pro-football club applications but only for a club that wears the right colours for him. He has been active in the Govan area for a long time. Development wise there has been some fairly major changes to that area in recent years, with much of it needed to be fair. That said, if he has been happy for flats to be built on old playing pitches in the past that would contradict his current stance. Another influential individual with input to the Govan community council decision appears to be the Rangers-baiting Celtic-calamity that is Humza Yousaf, also of the SNP, so draw your own conclusions on that one.

Dornan’s political allegiances appear to be fairly malleable. He jumped from Labour to the SNP in 2014. He also flip-flopped on the Indy vote. So whilst his football allegiances are set his political leanings seem to follow the prevailing wind. Of course, a career in politics will rely on a degree of back scratching, with the currency of councillors being favours. Assuming his direction involvement in this decision then maybe his actions returned a favour or maybe he looks to bag some credit amongst his peers at a later date. Who knows?

A look at the Govan Community Council website shows minutes from the monthly meetings, including various issues and discussion points and of course planning applications. Interestingly, the minutes from May 2018 show that provision for 36 fairground rides was endorsed for three whole days in August at Elder Park, Govan - no objections. Correct me if I’m wrong but this is a public space which can be used for sports and football by kids for zero cost. This space is being replaced by burgers and candy floss for the best part of a week during the school holidays. Now Stephen Dornan and Humza Yousaf weren’t present at that meeting to raise any objections. At time of writing the minutes for June haven’t been published so maybe those would shed some light on the decision making process and those involved.

So consider who you’re voting for. Look beyond the badge. Judge them as individuals and question where their priorities lie. Not just the sound-bites you happen to like but what they will actually work on and deliver. And whom of their electorate are they going to give greater service to and go the extra mile for?

A prime example of this is Brendan O’Hara and Argyll and Bute. There are many are of a Rangers leaning in Argyll. Demographics and freedom of choice see some who are minded to push for independence and for them football and politics aren’t mixed. However, they are for Mr O’Hara. When he’s not scattering sectarian epithets across the internet he’s making guest appearances at Celtic supporters clubs and tacitly condoning all the associated add-ons. It’s safe to say his motives for independence won’t mirror the bulk of his electorate and his journey and steps towards it will be at odds with a lot of these people’s values and interests. Stephen and Brendan aren't an exception in their views amongst those that wield significant influence.

In an ideal world this wouldn’t even be a consideration. There would be choice and a decent, neutral candidate (or god forbid a Rangers-friendly one) fulfilling voters’ requirements - there often isn’t. Culturally we’ve neglected the importance of politics and political involvement and influence. There has simply not been any pressure within Rangers society to get involved in politics. Football and politics aren’t mixed. Any persons that do get involved do so for other reasons and do not consider Rangers, the club or cause, to be a viable component of Scottish politics. This is perhaps the legacy of a subconscious comfort of past generations that has resulted what we have today – a general indifference to politics and its importance and a failure to recognise, accept and respond to a changing environment.

What is clear though is that politically the Celtic-minded have been the opposite. The plight of their football club is very high on the agenda of those who get involved - perhaps not surprising when it bends backwards to attach itself to every identity going. There appears to be a supporters club mentality well developed in throughout the corridors of government. Cheap stunts and shameless signalling are not beneath them as Trish Godman’s putzing around Holyrood in a Celtic top in 2012 embarrassingly proved. Of course, all of this would be tolerable and barely worthy of comment if the same game was being played for all. However, the time, money, effort, loop-holes found and squirmed through, regulations manipulated and ultimately gifts presented to Celtic football club from the political elite in recent years provide a stark contrast that Rangers fans cannot overlook.

It is one thing being pro- something and getting involved to influence that cause, whether that thing should ever be a football club is debatable. It is another thing when pro-politics switches to anti-politics. That appears to be what has happened within Scotland. At a base level this is sectarian bigotry being played out. Wilfully obstructing one section of society, just because. Actions that pass silently by instead of words that make the tabloid headlines. Considering the environment, a duopoly in the west of Scotland, it was a logical step for one to turn on the other at some point. Add in the increasingly aggressive public rhetoric from Celtic football club against which until recently has been a very anaemic and docile Rangers. It was to be expected that politically-minded fanatics would follow suit.

Here’s a point to consider, these are well paid positions and there are possible career opportunities in this. These positions exist and need filled to some degree. Quality and common-sense do not seem to be requirements for many of the jobs – just look at some who have risen to the upper echelons of the Scottish government. Stephen Dornan's name-sake, James (no relation) being a prime example. No one’s telling me that better talent doesn’t exist within the Rangers support?

So are we missing a trick here? Do we need programmes or structures that offer Rangers fans a way into politics: where friendly or influential faces can guide and bring through future councillors and MSPs and say look, there is a career here if you want it? Undoubtedly, Scotland needs better people involved in this field. There are some real life issues that would benefit with input from a range of backgrounds and differing experience. It would be nice if that was done without trying to shaft rival football clubs and by extension, the entire support of that football club. At the very least everyone will benefit from a bit of diversity.

And, if we need to, play the culturally downtrodden and politically excluded card to get some parity, because we currently are.

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