HAVING already had the public backing of some of his colleagues even before he was banned and fined, mostly for betting against his own team, Ian Black need have no worries about his reception in the Rangers dressing room.
So says Steven Smith, who told a press conference yesterday that as far as Black is concerned, the squad feels “the same” as ever it did.
In doing so he echoed manager Ally McCoist’s wish to draw a line under the issue and move on.
“We spoke about it, but I’m not going to come in here and actually say what we spoke about,” said Smith. “We like having Blackie here, we like him in the team, he gives 100 per cent.”
There having been no poll to examine the feelings of the Rangers fans, no one can be entirely sure what reception Black will get if he turns up at Ibrox later today – he won’t be playing, as his three-match ban has started – but his fellow players have clearly exonerated him for his misconduct.
Smith said: “I don’t really know too much about it, to be honest, but we are delighted to have him here. He gives his all every day in training and he gives his all in every match and that’s all we can ask of him.”
Though most pundits and fans and the judicial tribunal itself considered the fact that Black bet against his own club to be by far the biggest issue, Smith does not see it as an issue whatsoever.
“No, not at all,” said Smith, 28, who is now in his second spell at Ibrox. “I’ve trained with him every day for the last two or three months, and playing as well, and he has given everything he has got.
“I have known him for a long time, in fact I have played with him or known of him since he was 15-years-old. Every team he has played for he has always given everything he has got. That is all we can ask for as team-mates.”
The T word had to be raised – will his fellow Rangers trust him? The answer was a definite yes: “100 per cent, no question, we’ll trust him.”
Smith’s next point was worrying for the players union, PFA Scotland, the SFA, and Rangers FC. In effect, Smith said that none of these bodies had ever spelled out the rules on betting to him. It may be thought that players should need no explanation of the rules, but when you consider how many of them seem to have no grasp of such a simple concept as offside, Smith’s statement is very telling, because it indicates a massive and worrying gap in practice between English and Scottish football.
He said: “I didn’t know the rules (on betting) myself when I came back after being in England.
“Within the first week or two of being in England, the rules get explained to us (by the English PFA), what you could and couldn’t do. Since I came back, and even the first time I was here, I have never had a meeting with anyone telling us what is right and what is wrong.”
Smith wants clarification above all: “I just think it should be made clearer, because I don’t think anybody knew the rules. I’ve not spoken to one person that any club that knew the rules, so I think the rules should be made a lot clearer for the players to understand.”