Tom English: Painting Rangers as innocent defies reality

Charles Green.  Picture: PA
Charles Green. Picture: PA
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YOU don’t have to agree with the Rangers fans’ boycott of their Scottish Cup tie with Dundee United at Tannadice to understand it. It really is quite an easy concept to grasp.

The supporters feel that United, among others, treated Rangers badly last summer and now this is their chance to let them know about it. What is wrong with that? It’s their money and it’s their right to do whatever they want with it. If they want to keep it in their pocket rather than use it to buy tickets for a game that will add to the coffers of Dundee United then nobody should criticise them for that.

Sure, some of the language of the last week has come across as vengeful and arrogant. When the Rangers Supporters’ Assembly issued a statement about the boycott and their desire to “starve” United of “much-needed cash” it was by turns spiteful and a little bit feeble. As if United are going to live or die on the back of Rangers turning up or not turning up at Tannadice for this Cup tie. In the grand scheme of things it won’t make a substantial difference to them either way.

In his role as bandwagon-jumper-in-chief, Charles Green rode this thing for all it was worth. Green is not in the business of ignoring opportunities to ingratiate himself with the Rangers support, so he spoke out and maybe sold a few extra shares because of it. That is Green’s modus operandi. Some thought his words injudicious but, in the gamut of Green’s comments, it hardly rated all that highly on the cringe-o-meter. The basic point he was making was sound in any event.

United took umbrage at the decision, the language in which the decision was articulated and the fact that Rangers were still intending to enforce their right to 40 per cent of the gate revenue despite not having any fans in the stadium. Green’s response to that was to announce that he was going to donate their share to charity, a clever move that fairly neutralised the situation.

There is no doubt but that the wounds of the summer remain raw and that Rangers’ fans are perfectly entitled to give vent to their feelings by staying away from the grounds of the clubs they feel did them wrong. Surely the club at the very top of that list would be Celtic and it’s legitimate to ask whether Rangers would have taken the same stand had that Cup draw seen them pitted against their great rivals rather than Dundee United. Would a Celtic versus Rangers Cup tie have provoked the same response? Would Green have spoken about the unhealed rifts with their enemies if there was a substantial amount of cash to be made from it?

If the answer is yes, then you’d have to say fair enough, that their stance was one of heartfelt principle. If the answer is no then you’d be minded to look on the whole affair a little bit differently. Rangers people castigated their former SPL chums for their fast and loose interpretation of the word “integrity” during the summer of discontent and they had a point. The integrity test should be applied to Green’s decision to impose an official boycott of the United tie as well, though. If it was Celtic would he be so keen to stay away? Is this about integrity or “integrity”?

Whatever you think about Green and some of the things he has been saying to drum up interest in the upcoming share issue, he remains an operator, a man who has done some remarkable things in his short few months at Ibrox. Turning the fans around – from baying for his blood and issuing him with death threats to his current status as the Great Redeemer of Ibrox – was a hell of a feat. As was his successful wooing of Walter Smith, who is now back at the club in a role of non-executive director.

Smith was part of a consortium that tried to scupper Green’s plans to buy the club. Not that long ago he reckoned Green was bad news for Rangers. However, Green has done it, he has won Smith over.

The club has won two major victories this season and neither of them has had anything to do with the football on the park.

The first one was success at the First Tier Tribunal. The second being the icon’s return. The former manager did an interview during the week and, as nice as it was to see him back in the mainstream, it was also instructive to see the kind of stuff he was coming out with.

“To my way of thinking there is no difference between the Rangers Football Club of two years ago and the club as it is today,” he said. “If you can see a distinction which separates the club from its history, you’re smarter than me.”

Fair enough, but this thing cuts two ways.

If you believe Rangers are the same Rangers with the same history and the same trophies then, equally, they are the same Rangers who torched debt on an enormous scale in the Craig Whyte era, a name that was singularly absent in Smith’s comments. Whyte and his tax-dodging, invoice-burning ways cannot be erased from the club’s history as Smith seems to want to.

“I ask myself what Rangers have done to deserve the reaction to the club’s financial difficulties,” he said. That’s either a lack of awareness or a wilful blindness to the Whyte era.

“It’ll take the Rangers supporters a long time to forget the way the club has been treated, if they ever manage to get over what’s happened,” added Smith. Again, no mention of Whyte or even Sir David Murray, who sold the club to Whyte and thereby set the thing on the road to ruin.

Smith’s jaundiced take on history has it that it was their rival clubs – full of “envy”, “dislike” and “even hatred” – that did for Rangers. Across two pages there was barely a single reference to Rangers having any part in its own downfall, no criticism of Whyte, no criticism of Murray, no reference to all the debt that Whyte left behind in the oldco.

Every fibre of Smith’s being tells him to speak up for his club and it was that devotion to Rangers that made him a great football man.

Given his emotional connection, maybe it’s too much to expect him to have a balanced view of what went down during the summer, but to portray Rangers as the entirely innocent party, a club done in solely by rivals driven by jealousy, is a version of events that flies in the face of reality.

The Rangers fans are perfectly entitled to stay away from Dundee United, but the problems that brought them to their knees didn’t begin and end in places like Tannadice, no matter what Smith happens to believe.