Rangers: Campaign to turn club and its fans into social pariahs ignores plight of young working-class white males – John McLellan

My cousin Iain and his family left Scotland 24 years ago for a new life in New Zealand and never a week went by without him phoning home to catch up and check his mum was fine.

Rangers fans celebrate winning the title at George Square in Glasgow. (Picture: Euan Cherry/SNS)

A quiet, hard-working, family man he never came back; tragically, he died this month from complications following heart surgery, aged just 60.

We watched his funeral on Monday night, a full Scottish send-off, with bagpipes and his coffin draped with a Saltire as befits a proud Scot. It also carried a familiar-looking red, white and blue scarf because, as a former Ibrox season ticket holder, he remained a proud Rangers supporter.

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Like thousands of the club’s followers, he would have been thrilled by the unbeaten league season he didn’t quite live to see, he’d have chuckled at the “Bouncy Bouncy” celebration on the Squinty Bridge over the Clyde, and he’d have been utterly aghast at the violence and vandalism ─ and appalling reports of intimidation of church-goers the following day ─ which besmirched the celebrations and the club’s reputation.

But as the anti-Rangers rhetoric ramped up ─ one prominent Edinburgh commentator claimed no intelligent person could support Rangers ─ he’d have been infuriated by what became a widespread demonisation of an institution he held dear.

Nothing excuses causing fear and alarm amongst shoppers and church-goers, the assaults on police or the wanton destruction, and Rangers do not help themselves by having possibly the worst media relations in Scotland but, in the rush to pile the blame for last Saturday’s dreadful scenes on the club and to isolate it and its supporters as social pariahs, there was little reflection on the underlying causes.

It is as if the liberal-left commentariat decided that if years of anti-bigotry campaigns still results in hundreds singing the Billy Boys, then the only recourse is to shame supporters into abandoning their club and either force it into a corner or out of existence.

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I don’t follow football closely, but Rangers has been my team ever since my dad took me to see them most Saturdays when I was small, and on the admittedly few occasions I’ve seen them recently, the aggression of some supporters is undoubted. But having stood in the Celtic end at an Old Firm cup final (I lost a bet) and heard fans talking about stabbing Protestants, don’t tell me sectarianism is a one-way street.

While intimidation is far from rare at big football clubs, whitabootery can’t excuse sectarianism and violence, but it won’t be tackled by reinforcing a siege mentality amongst all supporters which gives extremists under the influence of alcohol and drugs – or as a friend put it, “a bunch of bigoted neds out their skulls on electric soup” – the excuse to plumb the depths of anti-social behaviour.

There is a broader context, most obviously the association with unionism, and although there are SNP-supporting Rangers fans, the Queen’s portrait in the home dressing room spells out the club’s traditions.

Rightly or wrongly, Rangers is about more than football and for 14 years the Scottish government has been run by a party which traduces the symbols and denigrates the country in which most supporters have been brought up to believe. The First Minister, remember, decreed the Union flag must not fly from Scottish government buildings other than on Remembrance Day.

This season represented the full return from a collapse many supporters believe was driven by an establishment hostile to everything they represent. They recall a crippling and inflated tax demand which sent the club into liquidation in 2012, the malicious 2014 prosecution of its administrators David Whitehouse and Paul Clark, which could yet cost the Scottish government £100m, and the trial and acquittal of the ex-owner Craig Whyte of fraud charges in 2017. Now the police blame manager Steven Gerrard for waving at fans through a window.

Nor is the alienation of a whole class of people a figment of anyone’s imagination, and it is being felt in communities across Britain and beyond. It would be wrong to paint young working-class white males, such as those who make up a large chunk of the Rangers support and the majority of those on the streets last weekend, as being entirely homogenous, but the fact they are less likely to go on to higher education than any other demographic group except travellers and Roma is now the subject of a parliamentary inquiry.

Lower education standards, limited job opportunities and Third World life expectancy in Glasgow are as much an influence as anything football clubs do or don’t say.

Former Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said strict liability for supporter behaviour for all clubs should be considered, but it’s Rangers he had in his sights.

But where is the liability for the failure of an education system to ensure values of tolerance are understood and adhered to by all? Where is the liability for condemning thousands to live in grim estates with few amenities and scant attention to proper maintenance which destroys community pride?

Where is the liability for allowing a drugs epidemic and demoralising, low-level crime to flourish? After last Thursday’s mass protest in Pollokshields, where is the liability for condoning some gatherings while condemning others? Where is the liability for rejecting the club’s sensible suggestion to permit a limited gathering?

Sure, the SNP can be voted out, but accept liability for failure? Not in a month of Saturdays and no wonder thousands of supporters stuck up two fingers.

The condemnation of Rangers as a club was in full flow after the vandalism which followed the league clincher in March. I thought it would make matters worse and it didn’t take long to prove that right. The club’s song is Follow, Follow and my dad and cousin did so to their graves, and no mindless hooligans, partial politicians or sanctimonious commentators will stop its supporters doing the same.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor in Edinburgh

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