There’s a basic rule of thumb that wherever competition exists then you have to put effort in to just stand still, to keep your place. To stay ahead you have to adapt, react and put the work in, put more and better work in than those you’re competing against. As soon as you ease off then others will step up and take your place - especially when that place is at the top of the pile.
We need to recognise that there are external forces actively acting against our club. It took a lot of hard work and no lack of talent to build Rangers FC into the great institution that we find today but with our position come many that are jealous and want to damage and weaken it. We as a support cannot take our position and football club for granted. Take the analogy of a boiling kettle - you need to put energy in to keep the water hot. If you don’t do anything then over time it will naturally cool. Likewise, it will cool quicker if people pour cold water on it.
The following points are based on general observations and my conclusions drawn from them. It’s all very broad brush and there is also an element of it that may seem a bit unnecessary, remembering we are meant to be talking about football here. But to be honest it is a ridiculous situation to find ourselves in. Unfortunately I have to use Celtic and its fans as a reference point here. One, they are our immediate rivals and exist in the same space as us, and two, most of the hostility derives from their fans, or at least some of the prominent ones. This may be an unfair to many of the support but those are the ones currently directing the bus just now - and it's driven by Peter Lawwell.
In my opinion there’s some fundamental differences between the fan bases. Historically the Celtic support have been fed and have thrived on grievance. Most of it either greatly exaggerated or fabrications to suit a purpose – the referees conspire against them, other teams have cheated, Thatcher stopped me passing my exams, the Israeli army stole food from my table etc. This circles the wagons and feeds their controlling identities - ethnicity, faith and politics. Ultimately these authorities are happy to have a bloc to control and that sense of grievance keeps the group pliable.
Of course, particularly in recent years, Rangers FC has been set as the target for most of this grievance. Politically, in particular, they’ve been keen to paint us as the bête noir – somehow getting one over Rangers now settles scores for things never quite achieved in life. And further, when power is acquired and grievance (real or imagined) requires satiating, then vengeance emerges. This is why I believe we have seen some unprofessional behaviour from people of in positions of responsibility - even they can't hide it. The want for revenge in the name of Celtic (the vessel that often carries their wider cultural identities) overrides professional pride.
Rangers fans on the other hand: we may not like Celtic, it may be stated clearly or bluntly or often, but it usually ends there. It’s contained and not all-consuming. We don't have various websites running from donations that concentrate on what they're doing on a daily basis and we don't ask people to pay for films and plays discussing how hard done by we've been. A point that’s been missed in recent years is that Rangers and its support has been condemned even whilst simply defending itself from attacks, at the same time the aggressor has been overlooked. To wit…
Even the unemployable Stan Collymore was lashing out again this week. We all know that he is a bit of a joke figure, but his denigrating lies regarding Rangers (and his pro-Celtic myths) have the potential to reach his 800k followers on twitter, which is not insignificant. Pinch of salt or not, that’s a lot of cold water to be thrown at Rangers and some will lap it up. Whilst I agree that the guy isn’t worth the hassle of the club engaging, we could see this as an opportunity. There’s plenty out there who have never heard the story of Rangers humble origins, it’s a proper football story, so we should put it out there and people like Stan can be used as a springboard when they parrot their lies. The club and the support has a duty to retell the story - as it’s one of the many unique selling points our great club has, so we shouldn’t be afraid to use it. Repetition for emphasis as my old English teacher used to say!
Now let’s be honest with what’s been happening. There has been a collated effort and a concerted message from some against our club. Years of tribal, cultural and professional grievances have been sowed and these have grown into fully formed agendas. Tribes at war, PR arms races, clashing of cultures, competitors vying for the top spot - it is all relevant. It also helps to acknowledge that this is now the status quo (and has been for a longer time than we probably want to admit). Now whether Rangers FC is your world or is a pastime you enjoy occasionally it still merits and requires defending to maintain its status and we can all help. We may not be able to stop all of the derision and cold water but we can at least counter some of it and we all have energy to add back into the system.
Last week we witnessed the overdue and most welcome sight of Rangers go on the front foot. Firstly against the “independent” SFA Celtic fan non-executive director Gary Hughes who likes to label our fans as the great unwashed. Other than the predictable gnashing of teeth from Celtic's media attack dogs (which they would do regardless) I could see few negatives in this move. It highlighted a problem (part of a larger ongoing issue with Scottish football's governance) and at very least has increased awareness of this. Personally I don’t want Celtic season book holders being involved in decisions involving Rangers - especially when they're supposed to be independent. I’ve seen enough in six years to know that some with an allegiance and the will to get involved at that level are not to be trusted. So it puts the pressure on the SFA. And whilst the SFA and the media are busy dealing with this issue it means they have less time plotting their next charge against Rangers and will perhaps consider their options in future. Additionally, it follows that if less comes our way then the good people at Rangers have more time to deal with other matters.
Rangers also released a statement on next season’s ticket allocations which was largely a popular move amongst the home support. The announcement was welcome but equally surprising as this was the type of thing that had been discussed amongst the support for years but never actioned. Our rivals didn’t need to react but Celtic did and their response looked amateur and petty. They have had it their own way for a long time and they are used to throwing mud so perhaps this is a sign that they don’t cope too well when it goes the other way. They have some very driven and capable people who have caused us great damage but perhaps behind that front-line they still suffer self-doubt. There has been a consistent and effective smear campaign against us for a long time and I think we’d started to believe their hype - probably partially comatosed by dignified silence but also some disbelieving and not wanting to admit that the game has changed so much and Celtic had taken the fight against our club to the floor.
This week and another statement. Another conflict of interest. An oversight on the fit and proper test. The Chairman of the SPFL is a long-time Celtic fan, publicly no fan of Rangers and a key employee of Dermot Desmond, Celtics largest shareholder. You get the picture. The statement was justified. The questioning of his placement is justified and a review of his remit and performance is merited. Unless you're the Chief Sports-writer at BBC Scotland who apparently only seems to want the 'files thrown open' if it's Celtic doing the complaining.
The narrative is fairly straightforward and very easy to glean. Celtic FC and their support and their place-men in the media want Celtic-minded and/or controllable people in all positions to help their club when they can. A fair part of this strategy also involves hampering Rangers FC. Now most clubs would probably act in the same selfish way (Rangers included of course!) but balance, integrity, the good of the game are not a requirement. Ergo, those kidding themselves on in that regard really need to look in the mirror. And a point for fans of all other Scottish clubs: you would be dealt with if you were to get in Celtic's way or call them out. It’s your football league too - surely sporting integrity doesn’t just apply to Rangers?
My own personal gripe is the compliance officer position – the text book example of what needs fixed and should never have been allowed. Effectively created by the then Celtic lawyer Paul McBride almost seven years ago. A position that has since been filled by two Celtic fans whereby the performance and balance of both has been questionable. Just me seeing a pattern here?
In any case, it appears our board and Dave King have said enough is enough and have taken up the fight. The last week has seen a welcome change in direction in defence of the club and our interests after the SFA once again moved the goalposts in terms of historic charges against the club. Tomorrow's arrival of Steven Gerrard, be it through a sense of duty following some poor managerial choices, is a big club move. A real statement of intent. But we need all others to play their part. That includes our influential fans, be it ex-players, celebrities, media or politicians. They got a pass through the banter years because no-one knew what was going on. A few stuck their head above the parapet and we should show them our gratitude now. Unfortunately, we have some who seem happy to pick at the club (and essentially do our rivals' bidding) presumably to assist their careers in newspapers and television. Sort yourselves out guys, you know who you are. Can the club and supporters regain a bridgehead in the media? From a union of people across the media? Create a career-safe haven for anyone brave enough to upset the apple cart and spills the beans on unreasonable editors or policy?
Finally, onto the fan base. It is enough to support the club or even just talk fondly about it. People spend considerable time and money doing just that and it all deserves credit and respect. But opportunities exist and arise to contribute and do more when we wish. We need to learn to flex our collective muscle from time to time. We are notoriously compartmentalised but need to remember we share the same goals and when pointed in the same direction we should have unstoppable momentum.
This could be spending five minutes to lodge objections to parking restrictions at Ibrox. It could be talking to friends, colleagues and neighbours and matching the momentum of the Foundation of Hearts or even just building Rangers Lotto into the envy of the nation again. It could be buying strips in record numbers, enough to make commercial entities sit up and make them review which teams jersey they display in the front of their shops, which kit kids wear in the playground or tourists pick up at airports. We have the buying power and online footprint to force papers and other commercial outlets to review their strategy regarding their coverage of Rangers, and where they won’t change then we empower their competitors. We can use the tools available to us to voice concerns, to correct errors, shut-down venom on comments sections and supply truth and facts on our great club where required. We have the power to put pressure on MPs and MSPs and demand fair treatment and decent, responsible behaviour from the corridors of power. We should have the power to create some noise and finally sort out BBC Scotland - hopefully sooner than later on that one. We are the majority and we can be the Establishment again. When do we say enough is enough?
Tomorrow a new Rangers era begins - the time for change has never been better.
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