My Disappointment With the Rebirth of Rangers, and Losing Love for My Football Team

231016_betfred_semi_final_fans_rangers_display_02

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.

raa

Rangers’ choice of orange in previous kits was significant and deliberate. Credit: FootyVintage.com

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.

DEijktVXYAAuGyk

Almost parody: begging for royal dominion and complimentary aggressive, divisive images, and all from official Rangers twitter. Credit: Rangers FC

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.

DEsnUsOWAAA1zog

Credit: Rangers FC

DD5rHhHXgAE8Hok

A lot of ‘loyalty’, again published by Rangers social media. Credit: Rangers FC

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.

Annan+Athletic+FC+v+Rangers+IRN+BRU+Scottish+KDQI8zv5wKAl

The world famous Glasgow Rangers playing in the Third Division in front of small crowds on their way back to the top. Credit: Zimbio

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.

The RAW View (26/09/11): Del Rio Thrives in Hell

A furious, envigorated, Alberto Del Rio stands over his two competitors inside the cell they will return to on Sunday

One of the most pervasive themes in WWE of late has been chaos, and the chaos surrounding COO Triple H specifically, and this was certainly the mood on RAW last night. It started, as if often has recently, with Trips himself coming out to address the Universe. He was out to explain why he fired Miz and Truth last week. Last week, I speculated that, because of his apparent change of mind, any bombshell to be revealed would be about why his mind changed so abruptly. That, for the moment, seems like it isn’t the case as Trips brushed it off by saying that he only stalled the firings to keep them main event players around for another main event. I don’t think this was a sign of nonsense though. I think it was a move to show HHH’s reckless and even hypocritical management style. Here are some tweets from The Miz himself that are not only based on truth, but follow this vein of storytelling:
“Triple H fires us for “savagely attacking a WWE official” I wonder if Triple H ever put his hands on a WWE Official. Let’s see../Triple H vs Stone Cold No Mercy 1999 Triple H pushes ref. #hypocrite Triple H vs Y2J April 2000 Triple H beats up n pedigrees ref #hypocrite/And my favorite Triple H vs Kevin Nash Judgement Day 2003 Triple H “Savagely” hits ref with a SLEDGEHAMMER. Just to name a few.#hypocrite.”
This shows a sort of storytelling that engages more with the Reality Era; the ‘reality’ here being a cogent memory of storyline history, but presented as more true than historical storylines usually are. It shows the characteristic malleability of the burgeoning Reality Era, which spans from the storyline reality of Miz to the shoot reality of CM Punk. Meanwhile, the chaos continued as superstars were not afraid to confront HHH and air their grievances, which is an interesting, and makes complete sense in the crazy world of WWE. Not only that, but rising talents like Dolph Ziggler and Cody Rhodes interacting with HHH and to a lesser extent, Christian, can only be good for him. It’s not something that can or should be done every week, but it fit the atmosphere of last night perfectly. HHH’s reaction to this was brilliant too, making seemingly arbitrary, rushed decisions, which not only fed in to the idea of him being a bad leader, but led to some great and unusual booking, foremost of which was the match following immediately after, the 10-man battle royal for the Intercontinental Championship.

I was so pleased to see Drew McIntyre in the match (apparently with a Rangers crest emblazoned on his trunks), because he deserves it. Seriously, every time I see him, i’m more and more impressed. I think not only that he can get over, but that he, in a way, already is over. After all, how many superstars would trend so high and so long after being eliminated first for a battle royal? Hopefully what i’m about to point out suggests that WWE recognise this (though it may just be wishful thinking). Around a year ago, McIntyre was Tag Champion with Cody Rhodes, and on RAW, the two were seemingly conspiring before the match started. At the very least this is good continuity, but perhaps it suggests a way back to the limelight for McIntyre. Indeed, as the match started, it seemed that the two had agreed on Cody rolling out of the ring, and, perhaps as a reaction, the other eight guys all piled on McIntyre and dumped him out. At the time I was disappointed (and I still am), but it again suggests a link as the other competitors were booked to see McIntyre as some sort of confidant to Rhodes and so threat to them. Anyway, enough hopeful speculation! The match itself was really fun and really well-booked, with interesting match-ups and cool eliminations. Sin Cara being scuppered by his imposter, Big Zeke backdropping Bryan and Morrison over the ropes and to either side of the ringsteps. The end of the match saw Rhodes (who had been wily in vacating the ring early on) retain his title against the huge star of Sheamus, though with the help of The Great White’s new nemesis, and with the tool of his mask. Despite this, Rhodes again looked fantastic, not only because he beat Sheamus, but because he defied the ‘punishment’ of HHH.

After a lot of frustration, Beth Phoenix finally got a win over Divas Champ Kelly Kelly. Hopefully this is the sign of a landmark part of this storyline. Not only that, but Natalya INVENTED a new submission move, and it was awesome; some sort of modified surfboard which she’s calling the Pin Up Strong. That just goes to show how great she is. That is all.

That opening shot with Mark Henry’s back enveloping the camera shot, with Cole verbalising our awe, was amazing and just the perfect way to shoot Henry as this monster heel. I was so pleased he just beat up Khali (with another amazing show of strength in World’s Strongest Slamming Khali) instead of having an awkward match with the Punjabi Pensioner. He is doing the best work of his life now, and is always ‘must-see’, not that you can help it!

John Cena continues to be something of a interest void to me. He came out to promo under the Cell, which is a good idea in itself, but Cena didn’t sell much to me. I liked him referring to the controversy surrounding the title, but the rest, I wasn’t too keen on. For one thing, while he was trying to ‘sell the hell’, he was smiling a lot, which to me is completely the wrong demenour to have underneath that structure. His match with Christian was pretty good, as it allowed him to get more ring time with a top top talent and position himself around that stature. What was really good about this match though, was CM Punk on commentary. Again, he was just brilliant on the mic – and so much easier to listen to than Cena – talking up the match while being hugely entertaining, be it just be wearing his sports coat, by calling Del Rio out on commentating while ‘half naked’, or by renewing his ‘you spilled my diet soda’ line. Excellent. After Cena did this by throwing Del Rio in to the announce booth, Del Rio blind-sided Punk before attacking Cena to get a small but definite upper-hand feel. This would only be built on later.

Next up was Zack Ryder’s United States Championship Match against Dolph Ziggler w/ Vickie Guerrero … and Jack Swagger! Yes indeed, it seems Vickie’s management stable may have taken a step towards fruition, and I couldn’t be happier. Guerrero brings a shine to whoever she’s associated with; she’s already been a great help to Ziggler, who, to me, is ready for the main event, and will hopefully  do the same for Swagger. As for the match, Ryder took this opportunity by the scruff of the neck and had a good match with Ziggler, taking him right to the limit with his bravado-laced signatures. So much so that it took help from new apparent partner, Jack Swagger, who hot-shotted Ryder, allowing Ziggler to hit the Zig Zag for the retention. This wasn’t all though as Vickie’s men set upon Ryder. Fortunately the heroic AirBoom were around to literally boom out to Ryder’s aid. This led to some apparent kharma booking (from Teddy Long, again, instead of the RAW GM or HHH) pitting Ryder and AirBoom against Ziggler and Swagger. This is the second time Ziggler and Swagger have been given double-duty, and I don’t quite understand why they are booked in this way; maybe it’s to lend them a unique sense of spontaneity? Nonetheless, I didn’t think the second match was necessary. It seems it’s goal was to reintroduce Mason Ryan to TV, as he came out seemingly to join Team Guerrero, only to turn on the heels.  A lot of people were critical of this as it seemed like they were providing minimal build for a cheap pop for a face-turn, but the way I saw it was that Ryan came out with the intention all along of helping the faces. Anyway, this allowed Ryder to pick up another non-title win against Ziggler and put him in line for another US Title shot. Hopefully it will lead instead to a #1 contender’s match instead, but whatever happens, I think Ryder is almost anointed as the next US Champion (which he could rebrand as the Internet Champion). As for Ziggler, he could make a great tag team with Swagger going forward before the final push to the main event. Finally, I don’t know how well Ryan will get over as a face. I don’t know if he has the natural charisma to do so, but that’s not to bury him; turning him face right now makes sense as he couldn’t possibly match up to Mark Henry as a monster heel right now.

The David Otunga pre-tape has gone down very well with the fans it seems to me. As for me, I was a little knocked for six by it. For ages, Otunga has been a stalwart of the tag team division and of Michael McGilicutty. But this week he abruptly shed that character for a much more reality-based character – namely a knowledgeable lawyer come wrestler. Indeed, it is this nod to reality which I think is behind the success of this small tid-bit. He was holding court with the other conspiracy theorists of Christian, Cody Rhodes, and Dolph Ziggler (though i’m sure Miz and Truth will align with them whenever they return too), and apparently conspiring to bring down HHH through technical legal means. This being the case, what can we expect going forward? A factional fight for the company? Maybe, but it would either necessitate some awkward bedfellows (Punk, Cena, HHH (though the tension inherent there can be good for engaging drama)), or a third faction, setting the sides as the Conspirators vs the Management vs the Truth-Tellers (engaging with stark reality). This could, of course, be a huge over-reaction to what was a short backstage seg, but it was definitely an intriguing piece of intrigue to witness. Incidentally, if Otunga is to receive a push of sorts, and it means he is to be separated from McGillicutty, could the latter start making himself known by his real, prestigious name, Joe Hennig?

Finally, we hand CM Punk take on Alberto Del Rio in the main event of the evening, with the Hell in a Cell eerily hanging above the ring; and like his competitors did earlier, John Cena attended the match at ringside. Del Rio and Punk are two of the best workers in the world today, and so obviously this match was wonderful to watch. To carry on the echoes of Cena’s earlier match, Punk tossed Del Rio over the announce table and in to Cena before wryly mocking Cena’s salute to The Champ. This match had a wonderful, technical flow to it, flavoured with some stiff, strong style wrestling. This was no accident. Although both guys (Punk especially) already work quite a lot in the strong style, it was even more highlighted here, and it was to underline the sheer toughness and resilience of the two going in to the match which requires more toughness and resiliency than any other. As the match ‘rolled on’, there were some great, believeable near-falls for either man, without either hitting their finishing move. Usually, the finish would come when one man managed to hit his finisher, but these two aren’t ‘usual’ and after all these near-falls, Punk hit his roundhouse kick which he’s recently been using as one of his signature moves, and out of the blue, won the pinfall. Immediately following this, Ricardo Rodriguez attacked Punk, but to no avail as he was dispatched by a GTS followed by an AA, but as this was hapenning, the Hell in a Cell began to lower around everyone. As Punk and Cena tried to get metaphorical victories over each other by hitting their respective finishers, but to no avail. All the while, Del Rio had recovered and had picked up a chair before preceding to beat the hell out of either man with multiple chair shots! It was at this point where Del Rio looked as he does in the header picture to this post; full of furious intensity in a way that his usual demenour has not allowed (him being a more sly, self-confident aristocrat). It was great to see this side of him, and it completely overshadowed the unfortunate fact that he lost the match, and garnered attention for the Hell in a Cell min event. Meanwhile, the other guys weren’t made to look weak – this was the reasoning for having Punk win the match, and it must also be remembered that Del Rio’s attack was a blindside and so something the faces could never defend against. So going in to Hell in a Cell we have the WWE Champion, a man who just won another RAW main event in CM Punk, and Del Rio who had just absolutely destroyed the other two surrounded by the Hell in a Cell. This PPV’s only had two weeks of build, but this RAW did a good job of making up some for that.