There was bitterly divided reaction yesterday as Rangers pulled off one of the most stunning coups in Scottish football and, at the same time, ended their controversial anti-Catholic policy, when they signed former Celtic player Maurice Johnston.
Rangers clinched the deal only ten days after a move which would have taken Johnston back to their arch-rivals Celtic, collapsed.
News of the £1.5 million signing, which makes Johnston the most prominent Catholic Rangers player in their 116-year history, was greeted with extreme reactions.
Some Rangers supporters burned and threw away their scarves in protest at the deal which they saw as a betrayal of the club’s strong Protestant tradition, and others stated they would not be returning to Ibrox in protest at the signing of a Catholic player.
Police had to be called to Ibrox to disperse an angry crowd of around 70 people who were protesting at the signing.
Last night David Miller, secretary of the Rangers Supporters Club Association, said he was shocked at the signing as Johnston was the last player he thought would want to play for Rangers.
“The majority of the fans at Ibrox will not take to him, of that I am sure, because of his history,” he said. “Mr Souness may be the manager but we are the supporters. There is no doubt Johnston will get stick from the Celtic fans as well as the Rangers supporters.”
Asked about the possible reaction of Rangers fans to the news, Souness said: “The fans have supported us since day one, and we’ve brought them the best centre-forward in British football.”
A measure of the strength of feeling was given by one angry supporter. “What about that carry-on when he blessed himself after being sent off in the League Cup Final a few years ago?” he asked.
In a city centre pub another fan said: “They have signed a great player. I don’t care that he is a Catholic. He is there to help Rangers win the European Cup, and that is exactly what he is going to do.”
Fr Tom Connolly, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, added: “If this is instrumental in breaking down the senseless, ignorant bigotry, then I would welcome it. Definitely.”
But he cautioned: “The signing is obviously, as far as I can see, a purely financial deal.”