The Karma Café
There was a lot of what our German friends call ‘Schadenfreude’ (Pleasure at others misfortune) online at the latest debacle by the Rangers football club at Palmerston Park this evening. The common consensus was that most were enjoying the trials and tribulations of the latest manifestation of Rangers FC. The most common chain of thought was that they are reaping what they sowed and that all their greed, arrogance, bigotry and hubris had rebounded on them in a fitting manner over the past few years. If it’s in the nature of sporting rivalry to want to see your most bitter opponents struggle then events at Ibrox over the past 3 years have been the stuff of dreams for some. Older Celtic fans know full well the weight of that arrogance and one commented with brutal honesty…
‘All my life I've had their arrogance, triumphalism and bigoted filth rammed down my throat. Their fall gives me enormous satisfaction.’
He isn’t alone in holding such sentiments and there are many who openly state that the considerable damage done to Scottish football by the whole Rangers mess has been a price worth paying to see them laid low. Such strong and passionately held feelings have their roots in the deep and complicated history of Scotland.
On two occasions my job took me on a tour of Ibrox stadium and it was to say the least an interesting experience. The first was a few years ago and part of an anti-sectarian initiative and I took the time to ensure the kids who went along were clued up about the nature of Scottish football and the history of sectarianism within it. I gave a balanced account to the children and can honestly say there was no bias in my teaching’ I just gave them the facts. We rolled up to the stadium on a bright Wednesday afternoon and were met at the door by a kindly old chap of the kind you see leading tours at most big football grounds. He showed us into both dressing rooms with their portraits of the Queen and very high coat hooks. He explained that Rangers liked players who were ‘big men’ in days gone past. Upstairs, a narrow corridor brought us to the ‘Blue Room’ with its stencilled painting of former managers on the walls. Then it was onto the trophy room where a wide selection of silverware glinted in the bright lights. There were odd items too such as a bicycle given to them by a St Etienne. The kindly old chap smiled as he waffled on about glory days and what a great institution Rangers were. At the end he asked if the children had any questions. One of the boys asked him why Rangers didn’t play Catholic players for most of the 20th Century. The tour guide’s rather smug demeanour changed and he snapped in a tetchy voice, ‘I’m not here to discuss things like that so let’s go down to the track.’ We followed him downstairs and out the tunnel.
There can be a tendency among some to try to forget or at least dump in the back streets of our minds bad memories or information we’d rather not revisit. Not facing up to the past is one of the issues which can hold up closure and moving on. This is true of individuals and of institutions like football clubs. That Rangers football Club had a policy of excluding Catholics from their team from around about 1920 when John Ure Primrose, a staunch Mason and Unionist, led them on the road to perdition, is beyond dispute. Harland and Wolff arriving on the Clyde in 1912 and bringing with them shipyard workers steeped in Orangeism had its effect too. However, Ure Primrose is a vital figure in undestanding the descent into open sectarianism and exclusivity by Rangers FC at that time. That the SFA and SFL stood by and said nothing about this policy for over 70 years remains a stain on their record. One Rangers fans site is honest enough to say of Ure Primrose…
‘It's also worth pointing out that prior to 1912, there wasn't any trouble between Rangers and Celtic fans even though there was a religious divide in the fans. 1912 was obviously the year the UVF started up and Primrose became Chairman. He was eager to build links between Rangers and the Masonic lodge, which prior to 1912 had no direct link. Primrose was an outspoken anti catholic, and publicly pledged Rangers to the masonic cause and publicly voicing Anti Catholic sentiments.’
With such a man at the helm, Rangers were clearly heading in a direction which would in the long term damage the club and Scottish society greatly. A club has a clear duty to try to guide and educate its supporters in what constitutes decent behaviour. Rangers, by singling out a minority in Scottish society to discriminate against sent out a powerful signal to their supporters that the prejudice held by some was valid. This contributed to a century of poisonous and insidious bigotry which stunted the lives of many. Anti-Catholic feeling has been present in Scotland for centuries and still lingers in some dark corners. Rangers didn’t invent it but rather gave one of the more distinctive manifestations of it in our recent history.
Scotland imported more than just the people of Ireland in the 19th and early 20th century. It imported attitudes and long held enmities. It also imported Orangeism and it found in Scotland fertile soil in which to grow. If Ure Primrose was morally wrong to lead Rangers onto the path of exclusivity and bigotry, he was not alone in those days after World War One in holding views most today would find repugnant. The spirit of the times was very different then and in a sense the changing attitudes in Scottish society over the past 50 years has left those still holding such views being regarded as embarrassing remnants of a past age.
Of course the generation who endured bigotry in all its petty glory are perfectly entitled to have a wry smile at the condition Rangers are in today. The club and elements of their support are long overdue a meal at the Karma Café. Older Celtic supporters and indeed many non-Celtic supporters experienced much in their lives which has them far from upset at Rangers demise. As a teenager I got on a bus in Glasgow which after a stop or two became filled with blue clad supporters going to Ibrox. The ordinary Glaswegians on the bus were subjected a vile songbook which included the following ditty…
‘We’re the wild young Bridgeton Derry
Fuck the Pope and the Virgin Mary’
I don’t write this to demonize or throw mud at Rangers fans, many of whom are decent folk who hate such bigoted nonsense, but rather I state it as a historical truth. Some in our society had descended into a cultural gutter and seemed unable or unwilling to leave it.
Of course all clubs have rogue elements among their supports but it’s hard to think of another example of a club giving tacit support to bigotry by fostering a policy of discrimination in the manner Rangers did up until 1989. A few foolishly try to deny they ever had such a policy but most know the truth. If that club, however you perceive them, are to have a future in the game then they must never take the dark path again.
For those of you enjoying their current struggles, it’s hard to blame you. Karma can be a bitch.