ONE of the factors that has allowed the shambles at Rangers to go on for so long has been the relative passivity of the club’s supporters.
A significant number were vocal opponents of Sir David Murray during his last years in charge, and there has been a groundswell of opposition to first Craig Whyte, then Charles Green, now old whatever-he’s-called who is ostensibly in charge at Ibrox today. But nothing decisive yet.
This may be initially surprising, given the size of the Rangers support. But it is normal within Scottish football. While a minority of fans at any club are interested in the internal goings-on, most want to leave that to others, and concentrate on the football. Only when the very existence of a club is threatened do supporters act in a mass, unified fashion.
That was the case at Dunfermline, for example. Pars United have taken over the club now, but only after it went to the brink under Gavin Masterton. Even then, the supporters’ organisation would probably not have won the day but for the astute work of Bryan Jackson, of administrators BDO. Similarly at Tynecastle, both a decade ago and today. Save our Hearts, the group that campaigned against Chris Robinson’s plan to sell the ground and move the club to Murrayfield, had at its core people who had for years been sceptical, to put it mildly, about the then owner.
But only when the club’s financial position deepened and Robinson actually tabled a motion at an annual general meeting to sell Tynecastle did the wider fan base become really aware of the danger. Before that point, external criticism of Robinson was seen by many as an attack on Hearts.
The same happened with Vladimir Romanov. Impending financial meltdown? What impending financial meltdown? It’s all right, we owe the money to ourselves. The fact that Romanov had bought out Robinson and kept the club at Tynecastle was enough for some people.
Again, as at Dunfermline and Rangers, and as at Tynecastle in 2004-05, a small group remained vigilant. The members of Save our Hearts were included, and so were the people who began the Foundation of Hearts. But, as the crisis deepened for Romanov’s group of companies, the bulk of the support continued to clutch on to any straws of support. Even at the club’s last agm in May, less than a month before it was put into administration, Romanov’s lieutenants were treated politely by almost everyone. All this is understandable and easily explained. Our main interest in supporting a football club is to see it play football. Few of us can read a balance sheet without getting dizzy, so we trust our clubs to those with an interest in – and, we hope, an aptitude for – economics. Sometimes they repay our trust for decades on end. Sometimes, with the best will in the world, they fall short. And in some cases they are untrustworthy from day one.
The specific problem with Rangers – and perhaps part of the reason why the support as a whole has yet to campaign really forcefully against the club’s custodians – is twofold. First, the financial state of the business is of such baffling complexity that many people have been unable to decide on a coherent attitude to what is going on. Second, no sooner has the position become really bad than a self-proclaimed saviour has appeared to assure everyone that he will sort it out. But at Ibrox, as at other clubs, a small group has kept a critical distance – from Murray, from Whyte, from Green. And that small group has grown until it now appears to be the official voice of the Rangers Supporters Assembly, Association and Trust – three fans’ groups who are now united, just as has happened at Hearts.
On Friday, that united group issued a statement critical of David Somers, the new club chairman who claimed that he had not heard of Whyte or Green until recently and who, despite his supposed impartiality, was severely critical of the so-called requisitioners, the group including Paul Murray who hope to be elected to the board at next week’s agm.
“In the current dire financial predicament the club finds itself in, the job of an impartial chairman should be to consider the views of the vast swathes of shareholders who have not been impressed by the performance of the company; and the concerns of the supporters who fund the club,” the statement read. “We are disappointed that Mr Somers has not yet seen fit to meet with representatives of the support and we feel it is imperative that such a meeting takes place before the agm.” By now, almost two years since Whyte took Rangers into administration, it is obvious that the club needs to get its supporters on-side. No matter how politely worded that statement was, there is clearly a simmering anger that will not dissipate any time soon. You can only hope that the club will still be in some sort of salvageable state by the time those supporters get proper representation on the board.
Well, this writer hopes that anyway, despite not being a Rangers fan. Others may take a hell-mend-them attitude, quietly – or not so quietly – revelling in the club’s financial collapse. Such an attitude, while understandable in the context of normal football rivalry, would be a mistake. Because what a bunch of businessmen get away with at Ibrox today may inspire another bunch of businessmen to attempt at your club tomorrow, and because even the most benevolent dictator lets you down in the end.
The only way to prevent that happening is for supporters to take back control of their clubs. Dunfermline have done it, Hearts are on the way, and Rangers could follow. Next time, let’s hope supporters get active en masse long before a crisis breaks.
Tribute to Mandela raises some questions
There can be few, if any, people in our time more admired than Nelson Mandela. In that sense, the decision of the Scottish football authorities to mark his passing at this weekend’s matches was understandable, and may well have commanded the support of an overwhelming majority of those who went to the games.
But to some of us who grew up in a less demonstrative age, that decision raises a couple of questions. First, even allowing for the fact that such acts of public remembrance are far more common now than they were a couple of decades ago, are there any criteria to decide who should be honoured in this way?
Yes, we live in a global village, and some of the youngest footballers in the game paid their respects to the late South African president via social media so, in that sense, the death of Mandela touched us all. But it did not have a direct connection to Scottish football. Second, why applause rather than silence? The death of a man at 95 through natural causes is not a tragedy but, once we have decided to mark it in public, surely a minute’s silence is a more dignified way of doing so than clapping?
People clap as a matter of course before the start of a football match.
Silence is a more deliberate act.
A week earlier, we stood in silence in remembrance of the victims of the Clutha helicopter tragedy. By doing so, we demonstrated our sympathy and support for those affected. In comparison to such an act, 60 seconds of desultory applause seem trite. And the more often we have those ceremonies, the triter they will become.
In an age when some people are desperate to be offended by perceived snubs, you can understand why the SFA and SPFL may feel it is best to err on the safe side when asking themselves whether they should mark the death of a public figure. But safety in numbers carries its own risk.