On our last visit to Celtic Park, the home fans held aloft two banners, one above the other. It gave the watching Rangers fans a single sentence: ‘Your Grandchildren will be Celtic fans!’
As these things go, it was quite clever. In those strange days, which lasted three more years, it was never certain if it was a cutting jibe or a possible future. We should never forget there was more than one moment when our club’s existence was at stake. Until the current Board took over in 2015, it was still possible Rangers would be sucked dry. There’s only so much the club could take before the remaining husk was thrown away. And no amount of resuscitation could have given life to what was left.
It’s this memory which should be used when results don’t go our way in the future. The last year has been a success story – even if the Scottish Cup finds its way to Easter Road. The foundations are at last being built. We have a Board who care, and a management team second-to-none. It’s no exaggeration to suggest we would want no-one else other than Warburton and Weir in charge.
As a football team Rangers are ahead of schedule, but too much pressure shouldn’t be put on them just yet. Regardless of the semi-final result at Hampden, Celtic still have the bigger resources. We are competing while having a retail deal which means we are disadvantaged from the start. It’s like two equally matched swimmers going for gold. Both are wearing speedos, but only one has to swim with a backpack. The league isn’t a sprint, and their bigger squad might make a difference until we grow our own. We will win the title soon enough, but we shouldn’t become hysterical if it doesn’t happen in the next few seasons.
Other than financial obstacles, Rangers face other off-field issues which need addressed. One is with the media, and protecting ourselves. Over the last decade and more we have been famously terrible in responding to half-truths, lies, stereotypes and outright prejudice. Previous owners may have done well to look after their own reputation, but they allowed the club’s image to become tarnished beyond recognition. It’s pleasing the current Board seem to grasp this to a certain extent, but more needs to be done.
No-one wishes the club to comment on every lunatic tweet from strange people obsessed by the Rangers. But as soon as anyone with a semblance of responsibility regurgitate nonsense they find online, or stereotypes the support, then the club should come down hard. ‘But’, you might say, ‘this is exactly what we are doing when removing press privileges’. It’s not. It’s weak and counter-productive. You don’t punish journalists by taking away their press privileges, you only make them look good while Rangers become the big, bad bullies they say we are. It only confirms the stereotype.
The goal shouldn’t be to stifle crazy opinions, but expose them. They are often so muddled or dangerous that simply repeating what they say to a wider audience is enough. What was better for Rangers, Chris Graham humiliating Graham Spiers on STV’s ‘Scotland Tonight’ by reminding viewers of the nonsense and inconsistencies he spouts, or removing press privileges which mean nothing since he can still watch Rangers and write about anything he wishes anyway? If the club pointed out Spiers has called some Gers fans a ‘sub-species’, would that not be better than turning him into a martyr? Who is going to defend that? And those that do will be seen for what they are.
When Dave King was declared ‘fit and proper’ by the SFA, Radio Scotland’s ‘Sportsound’ programme featured Richard Wilson, Kenny Macintyre, Jim Spence and Tom English. Wilson and Macintyre showed the BBC at its best, giving different viewpoints and holding both Rangers and the BBC to account. Predictably Spence and English seemed to believe they were the prosecution against King. It was the usual stuff from them, but for the first time they were challenged on their views by none other than John ‘Bomber’ Brown. He directly told them they should, “stop keep sticking the knife in, and the boot in, as Jim Spence and yourself Tom [English] have done for the previous years”. Both seemed shocked they were openly called out. It had never happened before.
In another ‘Sportsound’ programme, Craig Houston of ‘Sons of Struth’ again showed how to give the Rangers version of events better than the club. Rather unfortunately, although not unexpectedly, it was Tom English having a go at Rangers. He seems to have no understanding his remit is objectivity. When Craig Houston pointed out the majority of BBC Scotland journalists do not care about Rangers either way, except for a small amount who he said are “anti-Rangers” including Tom English. English demanded evidence to back up such an allegation.
Houston was prepared. He pointed out only the week before Tom English tweeted to him to say the Rangers fan was “enjoying” Hibs fans threatening Scott Allan. (Remember at that moment Gers fans thought he was going to Ibrox). Houston said he had repeatedly asked for an apology to such a weird claim and a flustered English doubled down to repeat that Craig Houston and other Rangers fans were in “glee” at the death threats. There was no evidence for this “glee”, either with Houston or other supporters, but Tom English seemed to be projecting what he thought Rangers fans believe rather than what they said. Once again, merely challenging and repeating bizarre comments was more enlightening than any removal of press privileges or back-channel discussions. And if former players and supporters can defend Rangers on these minor issues, what would happen if the club finally found its voice? The club must start openly and directly protecting itself and us in clear language.
The other main off-field issue, other than finances, which will be raised is sectarian singing. This topic has been covered before, and there’s no point going over old ground except to say the Board and the supporters group need to stop reacting and be proactive. Rangers are an inclusive club. No-one cares about religion, colour, creed or nationality. We pick our heroes by what they do on the park alone. Their personal beliefs or place of birth is of no interest. This is a fact anyone can see. But since a minority of songs and terms shouted from the terraces are from another age, the club and fans are stereotyped as bigots. Even if you don’t accept that argument, eventually the club will face sanctions from the SFA. It’s coming, and the Board and fan representatives cannot say they weren’t warned. The focused effort to dissuade a couple of songs and words will be minimal. The consequences of inaction are not.
As for Club 1872, there was a minority opposed to a united supporters group because they worried the fan reps would be too close to the Board and represent them instead of the fans. Our current directors have the Gers at heart, but the argument wasn’t against them. What if ten years from now there are less enlightened characters in the boardroom again? With our recent history that should not be dismissed lightly.
But the overwhelming majority have spoken, and those for the unified group have said autonomy is guaranteed. This should be accepted by all, and the new supporters’ body should be given every chance to progress in the way we hope. Mistakes will be made, but errors should not be jumped on and the new organisation must be given the space to grow. Every Gers fan should be behind Club 1872 now. It should not be forgotten that if Club 1872 succeeds, then the Rangers support – and of-course Rangers FC – succeed.
We are finally on the right path. The club we dearly love beyond reason was nearly lost, or even worse, functional but with nothing left of what it is to be Rangers. But through effort and a bit of luck (which we deserved) we have our team and its soul back. A complete recovery is still years away, but we know it will be reached. It’s not ‘if’ we can overcome the on and off-field obstacles in our way, but how quickly. We can now look back at the Celtic banner with a smile. Our Grandchildren will not be Celtic fans. Our Grandchildren will be Rangers fans – and even better – happy Rangers fans.
Authors Note – I wrote this article the week before the cup final in preparation for the launch of Club 1872 . The first instinct by some in positions of responsibility to downplay the assaults on Rangers players and staff was sickening. It was, however, the perfect example of why I asked Rangers to openly challenge the minority in the media and elsewhere who put their grudges and tribalism before objectivity.
John DC Gow is a co-founder of "The Rangers Standard" and co-editor of the book "Follow We Will". He has blogged for ESPN on Rangers and was co-editor of "WATP Magazine". He has written for Gersnet and has also been published in "The Daily Record", "Scottish Review" and the book "Born under a Union Flag".