Around 18 months ago, I wrote an article here about the St. Louis Rams move to Los Angeles, and perhaps surprisingly, one of the most salient points from it was how some of the magic of football comes from everyone being born in proximity to a team; and in fact, that everyone almost spiritually finds a team as something of a birth rite. In my case, Glasgow Rangers were the team I was born to. That will never change and Rangers will always be “my team”, almost in the way that you can’t remove a birthmark, but I am facing a bit of a crossroads in my fandom that is making me fall out of love with the team, and that I can’t ignore any more. There is a problem with Rangers and it’s culture, and it’s time it get’s challenged more by a progressive fanbase willing to push for a more progressive rebirth of the club.
Being a Rangers fan has been a bit of a blessed experience, certainly at least, in my life time. At it’s height, Rangers have been a significant European power featuring iconic greats like McCoist, Gattuso, Laudrup, Kanchelskis, van Bronckhorst, Gascoigne, De Boer, and so on, won 9 league titles in a row, made it to a Uefa Cup Final, and is one half of what I still feel is the greatest derby match in the world. I would often wonder what the experience of fans of a truly middling club, in the middle of Division 1 or 2 in England was in comparison. It wasn’t all rosy, like with Le Guen’s time, but they were always a power, and felt like a power. As a younger man, less politically engaged, and addicted to that feeling of blissful success, I never really questioned much about the iconography surrounding Rangers. Frankly, I never really paid much attention to it. As the years have gone on, and I’ve talked football with fans of both Rangers and other teams, and when talking about Rangers I’ve defended my team’s culture with some justified refrains:
“What you see is just skin deep.”
“Both Rangers and Celtic have insincere fanbases.”
“There’s bad on both sides.”
“Of course not all Rangers fans are like that – i’m not.”
That last point is both crucial and obvious. People characterise both Rangers and Celtic fans in fairly one-dimensional ways, and it isn’t always justified. In many ways, I am the opposite of a typical Rangers fan: socialist, independence-supporting, anti-monarchy. You can find better, extensive descriptions of how we got here elsewhere, but my view of the “Old Firm” is that each fan-base reacts primarily to each other, and the political/cultural stands that are taken are largely (though not exclusively) paper thin. It’s common sense that there’s nothing drastically different between the actual fans of each teams where they are, to a person, so vastly politically separated; there are progressive Rangers fans, there are xenophobic Celtic fans, and so on and so on. I think Celtic fans (in terms of the common outward symbolism they often share, at least) have a mix of insincere, and even nonsensical allegiances, as well as some positive aspects which are hard to criticise (as much as I hate Celtic as rivals). However, this is the thought process that leaves Rangers off the hook. Both fanbases share divisive nonsense, but I think the culture of Rangers is worse, and one that is not dissuaded enough by the Club as an institution. I have a healthy sporting hatred for Celtic the football team, but they aren’t my team – Rangers are, and as a fan, I need to hold them to account.
The turning of my stomach regarding the culture of my team, Rangers FC, has intensified specifically in the last couple of months. The Orange march is something I’ve always – again – largely ignored, and i’ve probably given it too easy a pass, seeing it as something more silly than problematic. It’s not my thing, but let them march, I guess. To be fair, I’ve seen the positives of it. I used to work in youth work in Sighthill and with one boy in particular who didn’t really have much in his life. He was unspectacular but dying for attention, and as a young lad, got to feel like he was part of something to be proud of when marching. That is undoubtedly positive, but unfortunately, it is tied to a kind of generational violence like most intolerance is. He would sing songs that he heard from his dad and his friends, some of which were fine, but some of which were really not ok, sprinkled with words like ‘Fenian’ and the rest. I would talk to him about the songs, but overcoming that sort of part of a young kid’s life is difficult. In the Ibrox stands, you will sometimes hear these songs (though again, by what is noticeably a minority), and that is something it is nigh-on impossible to control, though they have tried to publicly. That doesn’t change the fact though that there is a definite cross-pollination of that toxicity from the march to the stands. This year, some footage came out and was widely-shared locally of the march as it went down the Broomielaw showing drunken louts, many of whom in Rangers shirts, singing “the Famine is over, why don’t you go home?” – a sentiment aimed at the largely Celtic-alligned Glaswegians of (albeit, often insubstantial) Irish descent to the tune of the absurdly-dressed marchers drumbeat.
As bad as that is, in the past I have given Rangers FC a pass with the somewhat logical position that while the Orange marchers are overwhelmingly Rangers fans, that isn’t something Rangers as a club have real control over. But the reality is that they do, and far from trying to discourage it, if anything, they tacitly support it through their iconography. The red, white, and blue of the home shirt is fine. It’s mainly blue and white and never, in itself, reminds me of the Union flag that is so symbolic of the politics of the loony Orangemen. Even then, there’s nothing inherently wrong with support for the Union, even if I disagree with it. When it comes to sectarianism though, choosing orange as a kit colour is significant, and though the home shirt has never featured it, I have personally owned orange coloured Rangers shirts (namely the 2002 away kit and an orange goalkeeper shirt from around the same time) and orange is a colour that has consistently featured in Rangers away and goalie kits. That is a conscious choice by the club, and one only made to play to the ugly part of the fanbase. Making an orange shirt gives orangemen an excuse to express their societal views through the prism of the team while providing plausible deniability for both fans and team. Admittedly, I think that 2002 kit was the last orange outing, but it’s impact remains. One of the catalysts for writing this was seeing a man wearing this kit recently on the street. You still see it occasionally, and hints that certain fans held on to that shirt due to it’s political significance.
Rangers as an institution don’t avoid orange altogether though. Like all big organisations, they have a carefully curated social media presence, and while most of it is innocuous, bits of Orange Order/Ulster iconography continues to sneak in. Below is an image I saw last week which made my heart sink for several reasons.
Among the litany of things in this image is the orange-coloured Ulster flag being held by a fan. While the picture I think aims to show the busy, lively atmosphere of a Rangers game (which it absolutely is), I know from my time there that it would be super easy to get a picture without an orange flag in it, and in fact, it’s probably hard to find a flag like that. I won’t go so far as to say without evidence that it was a conscious choice on the Rangers social media team’s part, but it is certainly a reckless from them given what it tacitly waves on through as acceptable and even laudable from fans. This is the public image of Rangers, and there;s an orange flag in it.
More undoubtedly clear through the club’s outward image is the utilisation of the word ‘loyal’. Now of course, loyalty is great, and other teams talk about it too. Unfortunately, when paired with the Ulster/Union flags and iconography, it takes on a more sinister tone and is easily conflated with ‘loyalism’ – the more militant, fundamentalist clique of Unionists. Again, at best, this is careless, but I fear in this case especially that there is a degree of consciousness of what they are doing, playing up to this divisive part of the fanbase. What is worse is the picture below of t-shirts was one I got from the Rangers Youth Development Co., instilling that message in to young fans from the start.
Rangers (alongside Celtic) do work in the community to publicly combat sectarianism, but with all of this use of iconography, I think the club are, at best, unconsciously undermining their efforts, or at worst, deliberately cultivating that part of the some of the fanbase’s identity. Right now, it feels like this sort of imagery will remain part of the Rangers furniture.
The final straw before writing this article was an altogether sadder experience. I work in the east end of Glasgow, and on the bus home with colleagues, we traveled past the Dennistoun location of the Louden Tavern. Said colleagues aren’t big football fans and asked why there were so many people there; and when I mentioned that Celtic were playing Linfield, I of course had to explain why Rangers fans were turning out in such numbers for a different team. For the uninitiated, Linfield are a team from Belfast (the spiritual home of sectarianism) with a traditionally Unionist/Protestant following, and therefore have something of a spiritual bond with Rangers. So when Linfield lined up against Celtic, Rangers fans publicly supported them. On the surface this is fine, but to outsiders, this ridiculous layered proxy war between Rangers and Celtic is just a bizarre turn off. As I was explaining it, it just struck me how pathetic it all was. Jumping at any chance to oppose Celtic, especially when it’s a vessel for a political identity which I think is fairly hollow anyway just made me feel pathetic as a Rangers fan.
In some ways, all of these things seem small, but together, it has created and continues to allow a culture among some of the fanbase that undermines the best of the club overall. I remain convinced that the worst of the fans, when it comes to xenophobia, sectarianism, etc, are a minority, but as in most arenas, the minority have a voice louder than their size, and it has started to dampen my love for the team. No one likes us, and i’ve started to care. Last year, Rangers scored a historic victory over Celtic in the league cup. Their first Old Firm victory in years, and a sign, it seemed, that Rangers were back to relevance. That hasn’t really materialised yet, but at that moment, jumping up and down hugging strangers after a dramatic meaningful victory was (and will always be) a powerful memory for me. That elation though has been ripped away by the consistent visions of the dark side of the Rangers culture, and now, finally, the shite surrounding the club has started to overcome that pure love.
When Rangers were demoted to the bottom tier of Scottish football in 2012, it was certainly a justifiable punishment for the club at the administrative level, though it was a tragedy for fans, and I think self-evidently, for Scottish football. The only winners, in the short-term, are Celtic, but while they have dominated Scottish football in the mean time, what real historical significance is there in beating a group of nobodies? Rangers, Celtic, and Scottish football are stronger in an even rivalry, and while they are enjoying the trophies, I think the fans of Celtic have felt a similar way, begrudgingly missing their nemesis. Through this destabilising period though, which was so difficult for Rangers fans, there was, for me, something romantic therein. Many players understandably left, but the likes of Lee McCulloch stayed, Rangers started to base itself on young players, and hungry players drawn to the opportunity to play for the Famous Glasgow Rangers. The quest back to the top was on, and Rangers were suddenly on a journey it was easy to get behind while bringing the aura of such a big club to tiny grounds around Scotland. Though the notion that the Rangers of 2012-onwards is a new club in any real way is a nonsense narrative peddled by gloating rival fans, the journey did feel like something of a rebirth. This was full of potential, but increasingly, Rangers have fallen back in to their old ways.
So what do I want? I want to reclaim this feeling of a rebirth, keep the history of the club, but show less tolerance for the bullshit sectarian iconography, active or passive. While i’m happy that the likes of Bruno Alves and Niko Kranjčar want to come to the club, and there is limited room for such talented veterans, I would love to see the club return to that 2012-2016 spirit where young Scottish players were the backbone of the squad, led by a club legend like Ally McCoist (as Rangers were for a number of years). Rangers have the facilities and money to pursue this, and even if it extends the length of time for Rangers to truly challenge Celtic, I think that would make for a more admirable club and playing mentality. Thinking of the rise of Swansea which was based on hungry, talented, home-grown players based around an exciting style, this is something I would like to see approximated by Rangers.
But more than that, I think this rebirth could be used as a whole opportunity to build a wider club mentality that really allows fans and even outsiders to “Follow With Pride.” Don’t get me wrong at all, Rangers and the Rangers Charity Foundation do a lot of good charitable work, they could certainly push the boat out more and make that something of their identity. In terms of the Glasgow fishbowl, Rangers don’t do any less than Celtic in terms of charitable work, but Celtic – for whatever reason – are better known for it, perhaps even just publicising it more, and this is something I would like to see Rangers focus on: more charitable work and more promotion of it. When I talk of promotion, I don’t mean just for good PR, but working for a charity in the east end, I see how much Celtic publicise what they do, and how it encourages others to get involved. That is key. The club should be a bastion for the community, and I want to see Rangers doing as much as possible, and lead by example. The fans and community stuck with the team through their plight for the most part, now it’s time for the team to do all it can for the community.
That is fairly vague, but I have a specific desire for Rangers that would address some of it’s aesthetic concerns as well as a specific need on it’s doorstep. Ibrox stadium is in Govan, and Govan is where the majority of asylum seekers who find themselves in Glasgow are based initially. As a result, a collection of new communities and fantastic projects such as the Govan Community Project and Unity have sprung up in the area to address this reality. Football is a powerful medium to swing public opinion more positively, and indeed a number of football teams and projects have done a great job of popularising a welcoming atmosphere for refugees which other professional teams (especially in Germany) have also adopted. Rangers and Ibrox will be an ornamental fixture of life for asylum seekers in Glasgow, at least until they are dispersed throughout the city, and I would love my club, in that context, to make an extra effort to welcome them. There are countless ways you can do this, and it’s not just financial. Fundraising events at Ibrox with club legends, donations of boots to football programmes, celebrating different cultures on match days, and so on and so on.
Rangers have long been associated with the Union flag, and that’s fair enough – I wouldn’t insist on that being wiped away or anything, but as well as the Union flag and the Saltire flying above Ibrox, I would like to see the flags of troubled countries to, in solidarity. Rangers will always be red, white and blue, but rather than that being divisive and unwelcoming, I want the club to be a pillar of the whole community.
FINAL, KEY NOTE
While having this crisis of love for my team, I have been wondering how to progress. Should I try to build up shares and try to influence the team in whatever small way I can in that way? Or do I even have the energy?
Though I have plenty of progressive pals who are Rangers fans, I want to tap in to this even more, so in the event that you happen to read this and agree, I would like to hear from you. If there’s a taste for it, I think there’s a gaping need for a progressive Rangers fan group who could try and influence the club a bit. If that’s you, comment below or feel free to tweet me @RTVWOW.
Also, I have now started what I would initially call, a ‘Fan Group’ on Facebook. More information can be found there, but in a nutshell, riffing off the idea of ‘Follow With Pride’, I had the idea of a fan group called ‘Together With Pride’ which would essentially pressure the club to follow the ideas in this article and more. Let’s see how it goes. The link is here.