Tom English: Andy Goram’s media prominence troubling

IN A sense, you’ve got to hand it to Andy Goram. No matter how much nonsense he comes out with, he always seems to have an outlet all too willing to take his words seriously.

As if he is some kind of neutral observer on the affairs of Rangers and Celtic, a voice of reason passing down pearls of wisdom. It’s a credit to his brilliance as a goalkeeper that he is still deemed relevant, that he can still command columns and spreads in newspapers and air-time on radio with his Old Firm schtick, while the ugly side of his story is quietly forgotten for the sake of a revelation that – shock, horror – he’s tipping Rangers to beat Celtic the next time they meet.

He spoke during the week of his longing for Rangers and Celtic to come out of the hat together in the League Cup quarter-final draw, a wish he wasn’t granted. Had it happened, Goram said he would have gone to his bookies and backed Rangers. “I really want to play Celtic, I really would,” he said. “I wouldn’t fear for Rangers. That game would take care of itself.”

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Indeed it would, but not in the way Goram says. This season, Rangers haven’t been able to beat Peterhead, Berwick, Annan or Queen of the South and their players have just been lacerated by their management for a feeble performance against Forres Mechanics. Yet Goram pronounces that he’d lump his money on them getting a victory against a team that has just won a Champions League match in Moscow, their sixth consecutive game unbeaten in Europe. In fairness, what else did we expect Goram to say? You don’t buy a horse and expect it to moo, do you?

We live in a democracy and everybody’s entitled to their opinion, but Goram’s prominence in the media is still troubling, not for his understandable, but sometimes utterly daft, pro-Rangers assertions, but because of his back story.

John Terry is currently getting hauled over the coals for his racist moment in an incident with the QPR defender, Anton Ferdinand. Terry has been found guilty of deliberately causing offence with his sick remarks to Ferdinand and he’s paying a price for that now – albeit a lenient one in terms of the games he is banned for – and will continue to do so in the future. The stigma of this episode is never going to leave Terry. It’ll be a stain on his character for the rest of his days.

In his own background, Goram has a similar tale and it’s always been something of a puzzle why he’s been able to move on from it so effortlessly. About four years ago he told a story from his playing days in the heat of battle against Celtic. He recounted facing a penalty against Pierre van Hooijdonk in 1996, a penalty the goalkeeper saved, as was his wont when he was in prime. Taking this trip down memory lane, Goram said that once he’d beaten away the Dutchman’s effort he went to Van Hooijdonk and, paraphrasing in the telling of the story, called him a “non-white, unclean, non-Protestant with no father”.

In terms of bigotry and racism it was a tour de force but the admission came and went and still Goram is wheeled out to offer his verdict on the Old Firm as if his opinion is worth listening to. His autobiography, published three years ago, offered more glimpses of his other side. He recounts a yarn about a visit to a pub in west Belfast, a hang-out for supporters of the Ulster Volunteer Force. At the time, Goram was reading about the Shankill Butchers, the 1970s loyalist throat-slashing murder gang.

“I was told someone wanted to meet me,” writes Goram. “When I got up there, the man in question was a huge lad and he said: ‘Pleased to meet you, Goalie. I’m Big Sam [McAllister], the Shankill Butcher’.” Goram claims that he initially thought Big Sam was an actual butcher not one of the Butchers, despite being immersed in a book about their history. “So, yes,” he writes, “I’ve met men deeply involved with the UVF and been in their company on fleeting occasions. But terrorist sympathiser? No… Rumours and innuendo started to paint a picture of me: Andy Goram, hard-drinking, hell-raising bigot, friend of the UVF. I’d unwittingly add to that perception by wearing a black armband in a match against Celtic soon after (King Rat) Billy Wright was shot three times and killed by an Irish National Liberation Army assassination squad inside the Maze prison.”

Unwittingly? Goram wore a black armband in a game at Ibrox five days after Wright was killed, claiming later it wasn’t in memory of Wright but his aunt Lily who had passed away four months earlier. Now, there will be those who say that this was all in Goram’s past and that it has no relevance to what he is doing now, but it’s hard to look at him and not think about the Van Hooijdonk moment and wonder what the hell are we doing as a media giving him a platform.

Goram induces a sense of nausea in this space. Forget the barmy “let’s be having you” remarks directed at Celtic last week on the day they beat Spartak Moscow – he came across like the Black Knight in Monty Python: “Your arm’s off – ’Tis but a flesh wound”.

But there is one column I would like to read, an explanation of the Van Hooijdonk incident and what he thinks about it now.

It might not be spoken about these days, but it’s always there in his background and it’s a wretched thing.