By Andy Muirhead
Saturday’s game against Berwick Rangers should have been about the football on the pitch, but it was overshadowed by Rangers supporters in attendance who decided that singing sectarian, bigoted and sickening songs was more important than singing about the club they claim to love so much.
The songs and chants forced broadcaster ESPN to apologise to their viewers and to report the Rangers support to Northumbria Police, who arrested two supporters during the game.
The numbers arrested though do not equate to those who were singing sectarian songs and offensive chants, but we have been reassured by Northumbria Police that they have video footage which could result in more Rangers fans receiving a knock on the door in the early hours.
With the very public outing on ESPN, there was no ignoring the latest bout of sectarianism and Rangers immediately issued a statement.
A club spokesperson said: “The Club is disappointed by certain outbursts of inappropriate singing by a section of the support at Berwick. Our fans have been excellent this season both home and away and we do not want to see this tarnished.”
Is racism and anti-semitism disappointing and inappropriate? Or is it sickening and disgusting? Not to mention illegal. So why is sectarianism referred to as disappointing and inappropriate?
Rangers chief executive Charles Green, was asked after the Berwick match to comment, but he refused to do so. The first time the Yorkshireman has kept quiet on an issue involving the Ibrox side.
It was only in July that Green claimed the reason why SPL clubs blocked Rangers entry into the top tier was ‘driven by bigotry’. Strange that he wouldn’t be so vocal about bigotry when it was his own club’s supporters peddling hatred. Is his silence more to do with protecting his investment and his own new found fame and standing with a support that had previously threatened and abused him?
Limp rhetoric from Ibrox
While they may be ‘pro-active’ as a club in trying to rid their support of sectarianism, statements claiming sectarian and bigoted songs as ‘inappropriate and disappointing’ is not going far enough. Why not call a spade a spade and call such songs sectarian?
With the silence from Green deafening, manager Ally McCoist was left to face the media.
He commented: “Our fans have been nothing short of sensational all year at home and away. We weren’t aware of the singing because you get so involved in the game itself you don’t notice other things that are going on.
“But I was told when I came off the park at the end that the club had issued a statement on it and if some fans have let themselves and us down today, I would hope it is a one-off. They have been brilliant and we need their support. I can’t tell you just how much we value it but they have to give us it in the correct manner.
“I have to say that if what I’m being told is true that’s disappointing as we all have to head in the one direction together. That’s the one thing which has been happening. It has been really evident since the takeover and with the fans buying so many season tickets.
“There has been a real desire to move forward as one and that will have to be the case. We want to get back to the top but it’s going to be a difficult journey. We’ve a much better chance of succeeding if we do it as a unit rather than if we have separate factions. We have to stay together.”
Was it just a one-off?
The simple and straightforward answer is no. It was not the first time that Rangers fans sang sectarian, bigoted and offensive songs and chants this season.
At the end of December 2012, Rangers fans celebrated a goal scored by Fraser Aird by singing the sectarian Billy Boys song. It was far from a minority that sang it that day, as thousands sang it with much gusto.
Unlike Saturday’s game which saw widespread condemnation and coverage within the media, December’s game against Queens Park saw only one mainstream media journalist come out and state there had been sectarian singing. Where were the rest? They were certainly in attendance.
The two incidents prompt fans of other clubs to ask did the mainstream media have no option to do their usual and ignore the sickening chants and songs, as ESPN forced their hand.
Are Rangers fans united over the singing issue?
Going on previous statements from fans groups and current comments from fans on forums and social network sites – the fans are split over the topic.
Jordan MacMillan, general secretary of the Rangers Supporters’ Association, rightly called for those fans responsible to be banned from Rangers games.
MacMillan said: “I am 100% confident that if individuals can be identified – and I hope they can be – they will be banned from the club. I know that this season one or two already have been banned for similar offences.
“Of course, identifying individuals is easier said than done. But the club has got to take that course of action in this instance if they can be.
“I thought we were starting to get over this nonsense. What happened in Berwick was very, very disappointing. That behaviour can’t be condoned in any way whatsoever.”
MacMillan’s comments were echoed by Rangers bloggers, fans and some club officials. But when a fans group, in the guise of the Rangers Supporters Trust, previously supported the singing of The Billy Boys and failed to issue a statement on the sectarian singing on Saturday, you have to wonder if every Rangers fan and fan group are really behind the notion of moving away from years of bigotry and sectarianism, which has blighted Scottish football for decades.
Impotent Governing Bodies?
There is no denying that Rangers have been trying to rid their support of such unsavoury elements, but does that absolve them of any punishment? It seems that the governing bodies seem to think that is enough. UEFA see it in a different light, as they not only fined the Ibrox side for numerous instances of sectarianism and violent clashes over the years, but banned their fans from a Champions League qualifier last season.
If UEFA can take action against the Ibrox side, why not the Scottish FA and the Scottish Football League? Or are our governing bodies impotent in punishing Rangers because of the situation they find themselves in – another issue of their own making.
It seems that a decision has already been made in the corridors of power at Hampden, as newspaper reports this morning state that SFA compliance officer Vincent Lunny will ask both clubs for their comments, after listening to the evidence presented. But will be powerless to hand down any punishment to the Third Division league leaders as the Scottish FA can only sanction clubs who do not clamp down on bad behaviour or who fail to try to educate their fans.
The Scottish Football League have already ignored December’s sectarian singing, will it be business as usual over Saturday’s ‘festivities’ or will they take action?
The greater good of Scottish Football
It is somewhat ironic that I use a phrase utilised by Charles Green, but in terms of sectarianism, we must look towards the greater good of Scottish football, no matter whose nose is knocked out of joint.
The SFL and Scottish FA must ditch their limp-handedness when it comes to sectarianism and bigotry. The Offensive Behaviour Bill was put in place to target such instances of offensive behaviour and sectarianism, despite claims from Celtic fans that it was merely aimed towards punishing Celtic fans.
Why then do the SFL and Scottish FA, who were part of creating the bill, then blatantly ignore and fail to punish those fans who continue to flout the laws?
Why can’t the Scottish FA stop pussy-footing around and grab the sectarian bull by the horns and punish those perpetrators once and for all?
The mainstream media, football governing bodies, the police and football fans all have a part to play in riding our game of Sectarianism and bigotry once and for all. But, if they shirk their responsibilities then they are part of the problem, if they keep ignoring and turning a blind eye to it then again they are part of the problem and if they make excuses and fail to act decisively then again they are part of the problem.
After decades of tip toeing around the issue, the only solution now is a hardline approach. Heftier fines, stands closed and even a full stadium closure should be on the table. Otherwise our game will continue to be plagued and cursed with sectarianism and bigotry. Then and only then can we look towards the future development of our game.