The Liverpudlian can’t be expected to grasp fully the background to the anti-Catholic sentiment expressed all too-regularly, and all-too-vocally, by a section of the Rangers support, both at Ibrox and in away games. But the 39-year-old has been forced to become versed in this besmirching of the Ibrox club, which Uefa yesterday decreed will result in a 3,000-seat section of Ibrox being closed for a Europa League play-off decider in five days’ time against a Legia Warsaw side with whom they secured a scoreless draw in Poland on Thursday.
In his 14 months at the Rangers helm, Gerrard can hardly have failed to hear The Billy Boys – with its line about being “up to our knees in Fenian blood”, the term Fenian shorthand for Catholic of Irish origins; We Are Rangers – that includes the couplet “we hate Celtic, Fenian bastards”; or a version of Follow Follow that has the exhortation “f**k the Pope and the Vatican”. They are once more staples in the Rangers support’s songbook, and the fact is that they are sung by many Rangers fans, not a “tiny minority” as is often promoted.
Steve Clarke didn’t miss the home faithful at Ibrox when he had choruses of “sad Fenian bastard” directed at him during his then Kilmarnock side’s Scottish Cup defeat at the Govan ground in February. Then, Gerrard made plain the unacceptable nature of the conduct. He was entitled to think that the reputational damage that caused to Rangers might have made an impression on the bigots dragging the club through the mud. He was entitled to think that the club’s recently launched laudable and serious inclusive initiative might have made an impression. Now, he may have arrived at the conclusion that a faction of Rangers’ support will never give up on Catholic-baiting.
“We’ve been here before, when I’ve been asked questions about fan behaviour,” said Gerrard. “You know, I sat in a press conference two weeks ago, all about what the club were doing to address behaviour on the terraces. Everyone is working as hard as they can to promote that. Unfortunately, a minority is letting that down.
“The Anyone, Everyone campaign was a fantastic thing for the club to do. That’s not just an idea that someone has come up with overnight. A lot of hard work has gone into that campaign. All the players back it and I certainly back it as the manager. So to have something like this so close to the launch of that campaign is disappointing.”
The fact is that in the very week of the campaign launch last month, when Gerrard’s men took on Progres Niederkorn in the Europa League qualifiers, the “f**k the Pope and the Vatican” refrain was to be heard emanating from the Broomloan Stand where fan groups the Union Bears and the Blue Order are housed. The Uefa charge relates to the previous European home encounter against St Joseph’s a fortnight earlier. It can be assumed the repertoire did not deviate from the Progres hosting.
The punishment meted out by Uefa yesterday, of which Gerrard said he had no prior inkling, is a distraction in a nascent campaign during which those representing Rangers on the pitch have hardly put a foot wrong. Over the next week – courtesy of the trip to St Mirren tomorrow, the Legia return on Thursday, and the derby in nine days – the 39-year-old could have led his team to the Europa League group stage and the top of the Scottish Premiership. Yet, football was pushed to the background in advance of such a crucial triple.
“There has been numerous situations and questions I’ve had to face, in different press conferences, about different types of fan behaviour. I don’t know what to say,” he confessed. “I should be answering questions about how strong and brave my team were in one of the most hostile environments you can be involved in. I should be talking about our positive start to the season.
“Unfortunately, I’m talking about statements we’re having to make every few months about fan behaviour. [The fans guilty of these chants] are spoiling it for innocent people who pay good money to go and follow the team. I don’t know how many people are involved in this – but I guarantee it won’t be 3,000.
“But, unfortunately, 3000 people have to miss out on what it looks like is going to be a hell of a football match to go and support your team. I can’t wait for next Thursday, can’t wait to be involved in it, and I’m sure the players are the same.
“I’m sure a lot of supporters will be desperate to get tickets for that match – but, unfortunately, some of them can’t go now. We need Ibrox to be as noisy and hostile as it can. You saw the advantage Legia had last night with their atmosphere. To have a chunk of our support missing next week is hugely disappointing.” More like depressing.