Why Rangers shouldn't be blamed for controversial title-winning celebrations of some of their supporters

Deflection tactics have always been a stock-in-trade of politicians. It appears they are now also a go-to strategy for Police Scotland’s senior management team.

Rangers fans celebrating at George Square in Glasgow on Sunday after the Ibrox club's Premiership title win was confirmed. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)
Rangers fans celebrating at George Square in Glasgow on Sunday after the Ibrox club's Premiership title win was confirmed. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

Amid the blizzard of criticism and histrionic outrage directed towards Rangers in the aftermath of their fans’ weekend title-winning celebrations, from Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham, you would have been forgiven for thinking Douglas Park and Steven Gerrard themselves had been scaling statues and letting off fireworks in George Square.

It was only during her own verbal broadside towards the Ibrox club at Holyrood on Tuesday afternoon that Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged the simple truth of the matter when she said ‘Those at fault are those who breached the rules’.

But that didn’t prevent the First Minister from also doubling down on her government colleagues’ irrational insistence that Rangers’ senior management are also culpable for the scenes which breached her current coronavirus decrees.

Rangers chairman Park has understandably taken issue with this narrative and has written in strident terms to Sturgeon, who also happens to be his club’s constituency MSP, to outline the wide-ranging dialogue and series of meetings held with Police Scotland and the Scottish government in the two weeks leading up to the weekend when the title was won.

At both his pre-match media conference last Friday and his post-match media conference after the 3-0 win over St Mirren at Ibrox on Saturday, Rangers manager Gerrard addressed the issue of supporters’ gatherings in measured language which clearly recognised the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.

But if anyone believes Gerrard or anyone else at Rangers could have come up with a form of words or tone of warning which would have persuaded that minority of fans to stay at home, rather than celebrate outside Ibrox or at George Square, they are simply deluded.

Just as Celtic and St Johnstone are not to blame for the fan gatherings prompted by their Scottish Cup and League Cup successes earlier this season, Rangers cannot be held responsible for the manner in which some of their support chose to mark the momentous occasion of their club’s 55th league title triumph.

Similar scenes have been witnessed throughout the football world amid the coronavirus crisis, including large gatherings of Liverpool and Leeds United supporters to celebrate their respective Premier League and Championship title wins in England last summer.

Regardless of the restrictions in place at any given time, a significant number of fans will continue to defy social-distancing and mark trophy successes by their clubs in similar fashion over the coming months as seasons reach their conclusion.

When they do, it is a public order issue and not one which falls under the remit of any individual football club.

The government can make the rules and the police chiefs can decide upon the most effective way to enforce them. Every sympathy should be extended to those rank and file officers who coped admirably with a challenging set of circumstances on Saturday and Sunday.

But other than reminding supporters of the regulations and advising them to observe them, those in charge of football clubs have no control over events beyond the boundaries of their currently closed stadiums.

No amount of deflection tactics should be allowed to obscure that reality.

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