SO MUCH for the season of goodwill. The sight of a father and his young son laughing and enjoying the Christmas carnival is usually the kind of family snapshot that leaves onlookers feeling warm and fuzzy. A moment of festive cheer to savour. But apparently it is also enough to trigger some very harsh words, as Richard Foster discovered.
Having enjoyed a day of fun under the Christmas lights, the smiles of three-year-old Oliver had succeeded in offering his down-in-the-mouth dad some perspective. A day earlier, the Rangers full-back had been part of a side humbled 4-0 by a Hibs team growing in confidence and composure, both of which seem to have been drained from the Ibrox outfit.
But while he was trying to move on, others were still raging, and, protected by the anonymity of the internet, they were not slow to vent their frustrations.
“Hibs was as low a point as we’ve reached this season,” admitted Foster. “In the dressing room after the game and in subsequent days we were all pretty low. The fans voiced their frustrations through social media sites and in the papers and fair enough, they want to see Rangers winning games.”
Once again, Rangers hadn’t won and as a consequence the already sizeable gap between them and league leaders Hearts had been extended further. “It was a hard one to take and it was tough to get your head round, but it’s in the past now and we need to move on.”
If that seemed like the low point, worse was to come when Foster checked into Twitter.
“The game was on 27 December and I took my little boy to the carnival on the 28th, but I got home to a lovely few tweets basically saying I shouldn’t be going to the carnival.
“That, for me, goes a little bit too far. I can take criticism of my performance, but when I’m having a bit of family time, that’s my own time. I didn’t see my son over Christmas due to my own personal situation, so that was the first chance I got to see him and I was vilified for it, which I don’t like. But if that’s the way the fans want to vent their frustration, that’s just something I’m going to have to deal with.”
If the gripes dismayed him, the cowardly approach riled him. “It was done through social media, not through somebody actually speaking to me. If they came up and said it to my face, I would have been able to explain that this is the only time I’ve got with my son over Christmas and I’m sure if I said to them that they weren’t allowed to see their sons or take their child to the carnival, they wouldn’t have liked that.
“That’s the hardest aspect and it makes you not want to do anything. But I had my little boy down for a few days and I wanted to maximise my time with him, and take him to where he would have fun. It’s just sad really. Criticise me or criticise my performance – everyone does because that’s the nature of playing football, especially with a club like Rangers – but don’t have a go at me for spending time with my family.
“When I get abuse for taking my son to a carnival, that isn’t acceptable. What do they want me to do? Just sit inside the house or live in a shed until the next game?” The response that day would support that supposition, although perhaps if he was swathed in sack cloth and ashes, it may have been more acceptable to those who took to their keyboards.
“It’s horrible to take,” says Foster. “Sometimes the fans think that we don’t care, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re hurting as much as anyone. But if you just wallow in self-pity you’re going to get nowhere. You need to pick yourself up and get out there and move on.
“There’s not one Rangers player who wasn’t depressed after the Hibs game. But our bad performances and bad results this season have never been through lack of caring. It’s been lack of ability on the day and stupid mistakes.”
That evening, he blocked the abusers and was subjected to more vitriol for that. So he changed his social media settings. “I’m just going to not listen to them.”
But given the way things are going at the Govan club, there is no way of completely shutting out the noise, which grumbles and groans with every new bout of uncertainty, every piece of news or match result which distances Rangers further still from the force they once were.
The board have top billing as villains in the farcical spectacle but with automatic promotion looking less and less likely, the players and the management have played a supporting role.
They have felt the wrath and Ally McCoist has been replaced as the men in charge try to stimulate some wins to serve as a distraction or temporary shield while they battle the football authorities, horse-trade shares and wheel and deal, beg and borrow. But for all the shuffling of the personnel, disappointment still engulfs the club.
“A lot of the things that have gone on over the past couple of years have been outwith anyone’s control within Murray Park,” says Foster. “You try to ignore most of it, but a managerial change is not something you can ignore.”
The players also can’t ignore the fact that virtually every one of them has fallen short of the standards they have set in the past and the level expected by the Rangers fans.
“I think we need to get back to basics and trying to stop teams playing. I think we’ve been easy to play against. We need to cut out the errors all across the pitch. We do work hard, but sometimes it’s in the wrong areas and we don’t always do it together. We have to be more of a collective unit.
“Last weekend it was nowhere near good enough. I made mistakes at the wrong times and I was nowhere near the standards I expect of myself, never mind what others expect of me. And you could go through the whole team and we would all say exactly the same. But I’m my own harshest critic – well I thought I was! I go through the game in my head and we also watch the games back on DVD and I also hold my hands up and admit to my mistakes.
“If someone came up to me in the street to talk about it then I’d chat to them, hold my hands up and say it isn’t good enough.
“But if someone is ranting and raving at me then the chances are I’m going to rant and rave back.”
He has previous for that, of course. In the heat of the battle, he has snapped back at fans he felt were being unreasonable. It is just another thing that has prevented him being adopted wholeheartedly by a Rangers support unforgiving of his previous incarnation as an Aberdeen player.
The fact he was outed by Seb Faure as a vocal Yes voter in a Rangers dressing room which largely toed the Unionist line expected by many who wave the union flag at games and sing songs celebrating Britannia’s rule, will, no doubt, ostracise him further in the minds of some.
But he says he is happy for people to have their opinion, willing even to discuss it with them, if the time is right and the tone is courteous. “Walking down the street I don’t find it difficult [not to bite back] – I’m in a relatively good mood a lot of the time.
“On the pitch it is more difficult because you are caught up in the game and if you’ve maybe just made a mistake then you are frustrated at yourself and if someone is shouting at the wrong time it is difficult not to react – although I know I shouldn’t.
“But most of the fans are great and you have a lot of good banter. On the street if someone comes up to rant and rave then I’d either ignore them or just say now isn’t the time but I’m more than happy to speak to anyone in the street if it is done properly.”
And certainly more than happy to justify family time with a son that brings him the joy that seems to be lacking from virtually every aspect of life at Rangers these days.