The unwritten rule
It is a matter of record that a largely compliant media went along with the dreams and schemes of the David Murray years at Ibrox with barely an alarm raised about the huge bubble of unsustainable debt which was funding the whole charade. Of course as we can all see clearly now the financial crash of 2008 led to banks refusing to lend to high risk companies and the cracks began to appear in the edifice. Journalist Graham Spiers warned at the time that…
‘Murray’s stewardship the club racked up domestic trophies while, even better, Celtic were on the ropes. At one point in 2003, Rangers’ net debt reached £82m, but the figure appeared in small print in the club’s accounts and few lost any sleep over it. Rangers in this period made successive annual losses of £19m, £32m and £29m – staggering in the context of Scottish football.’
Despite this, Tore Andre Flo was bought for £12m in 2000 and the balloon of debt was inflated to bursting point. On top of this many of the highly paid players and staff were enlisted onto the morally repugnant tax avoidance scheme known to one as all as ‘EBTs,’ as if they didn’t earn enough. We mere mortals paid our dues to support public services and those with the broadest shoulders shirked responsibility and dodged their taxes. Spiers warnings about the debt bubble at Ibrox were dismissed as the ravings of a man who had some sort of agenda against Rangers.
If the debt issue was an area where Spiers was a stone in the shoe of the complacent and arrogant men running Rangers in the pre liquidation years, his bravery in calling out sections of the Ibrox support for repeated singing of sectarian songs irked many among the Ibrox support to a far greater degree. He said in 2004 after sustained abuse of Neil Lennon and Martin O’Neil at Ibrox…
‘From too many mouths to count, people like O'Neill and Neil Lennon, the Celtic midfielder, both Catholics from Northern Ireland, were subjected to sustained sectarian abuse throughout the match. It is worth actually citing these slogans. They ranged from ''Fenian c***'' to ''Fenian scumbag'' to - in the case of Lennon - ''away and f*** yersel, Lennon, ya Fenian bawbag''.
A Rangers supporter sitting close to me, and representing that great strand of decent Ibrox supporters who must be routinely embarrassed by all this, said to me jocularly at half-time: ''You'll note that we are among the discerning Rangers supporters up here.'' He was joking, but his sarcasm made the point. It was a rotten, ignorant, venom-filled atmosphere, which Martin O'Neill, three days later would quite rightly describe as bigoted.’
Instead of looking carefully at what occurred that day at Ibrox many Rangers supporters accused Speirs of bias. A fairly hard claim to sustain given the fact he was a Rangers supporter as a boy. Too few in the Scottish media backed Martin O’Neil or Graham Spiers at the time. Any objective Journalist worthy of the name would merely have to look around Ibrox and listen on such occasions to confirm the poisonous atmosphere. For the most part they just looked the other way.
Graham Spiers was vocal again about the ‘White underclass’ who brought more disgrace to Rangers at the 2008 UEFA Cup Final in Manchester. I actually read on one Rangers site his opinion on this being rubbished on the grounds that there were only a handful of arrests at the stadium. The writer was clearly being disingenuous as serious rioting and the worst of the bigoted singing happened away from the ground. This denial is a constant theme. It’s always, ‘a small minority’ or ‘Groups not normally associated with Rangers.’ There seems to be no will to say, ‘yeh, we do have a serious problem here, let’s see how we can improve things.’
30 years earlier, Ian Archer had said of Rangers, ‘They are a permanent embarrassment and an occasional disgrace. This country would be a better place if Rangers did not exist." Few of his colleagues in the Scottish Sporting media had the guts to speak up about the issue and it was left to a Church of Scotland Minister writing the Church paper ‘The Bush’ to ask what Rangers were going to do about the sectarianism rife at the club. A generation later Spiers was the lone voice in the wilderness asking why a modern nation allows this poison to fester. Some who follow the Ibrox club attack the messenger anytime the subject is raised and those who write about it are lampooned as ‘Rangers haters’ or in some way plotting against the club. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hating bigotry and hating Rangers are not always synonymous and many Rangers supporters themselves detest the damage these songs do to the club and its reputation. This is about driving out bigotry and hatred and the decent fans of all football clubs would support that. The less intelligent groups like to portray the debate on bigotry in Celtic v Rangers terms, it should instead be portrayed as the decent fans of all clubs standing up against the morons who refuse to join the modern world.
In 2011 Spiers again raised his head above the parapet after the League Cup Final of that year was the setting for yet another bigoted song fest. He said following that game…
"The incessant bigoted chanting by Rangers fans at Hampden was shocking. Unarguably they are the most socially-backward fans in British football. The really damaging thing for RFC is, it’s not the mythical ‘small minority’. There appear to be 1000s upon 1000s singing these songs."
This stinging rebuke had some frothing at the mouth and all manner of criticism came Spiers’ way but anyone who attended the game couldn’t fail to hear among other odious ditties, the ‘Billy Boys,’ ‘No Pope of Rome’ and the ‘Famine song’ being sung by thousands of people. The truth it seems was too much for some to swallow.
This last week Mr Spiers again raised the singing of bigoted songs at the recent Rangers v Hibs game. It is undeniable that it took place but what changed was his newspaper, the Herald, printing an apology after Speirs wrote that one Director of the club said the ‘Billy Boys’ was a great song and questioned the mettle of the Rangers Board to tackle offensive chanting. It has been suggested on social media that one Rangers Director threatened to remove lucrative advertising from the newspaper if no apology was forthcoming. Whatever the truth of that, Spiers was clear that his original column had been accurate. He released a statement which stood by his version of events and basically destroyed any hope he had of staying with the Herald, it said…
‘I feel I need to explain the context of The Herald clarification/apology published today regarding my column about Rangers FC and the fight against bigoted chanting. Rangers took exception to a column I wrote in which I questioned “the mettle” of the current club board in tackling offensive chanting. This opinion was based on the fact that, at a meeting I attended at Ibrox Stadium on August 31st 2015, a Rangers director told me that he thought The Billy Boys was “a great song”.
I subsequently expressed my dismay at the director’s comment in an email exchange with Rangers. There was, and is, no question of me calling any Rangers director a bigot. Rangers duly complained to The Herald about my column. As the weeks passed a dispute arose, and the pressure brought upon the newspaper became severe. The Herald told me repeatedly that they now had to find a way to a public resolution with Rangers. Having searched many avenues to reach an agreement with the club, the newspaper ultimately denied my request to withhold any clarification/apology until my own position was clearer. The Herald has never told me that they disbelieved my version of events. I also retain the highest regard for Magnus Llewellin, the paper’s editor who has tried to resolve this problem. My opinion – as expressed in my column – was based on a truthful account of my meeting with a Rangers director.’
Such a statement made his tenure at the Herald untenable and he left their employment as did Angela Haggarty who supported him. The fact that Rangers IFC threatened to sue over Spiers’ comments about a Director saying the Billy Boys was ‘a great song’ no doubt influenced the Herald’s decision. Their denial that major advertising revenue coming from another Rangers Director was not an issue sounds a little hollow. It remains astonishing that Angela Haggarty was told her services were no longer required given the fuss is about an article she didn’t even write. One can only conclude that the Herald caved in to pressure from Rangers despite statements to the contrary. It takes guts to back your Reporters and it seems the Herald had no stomach for the fight and all that entails when you tangle with that club and ‘the people’ who follow it.
Of course the deniers among the Rangers support were portraying Spiers as a liar who had been ‘caught out’ printing untruths about Rangers supporters. They simply cannot or will not grasp that the bigoted chanting at Ibrox is the problem they should be discussing rather than ‘shooting the messenger.’ They should take a look in the mirror and actually ask themselves if the issues Graham Spiers has been raising all these years are real or not. Their inability to react to criticism with anything other than anger and counter accusation speak of an immature and insecure mindset.
Graham Spiers is not perfect and admits to enjoying ‘noising people up’ from time to time but his motivation with regards to outing the bigots in Scottish football is based on his belief that it might, in the end, get through to some of the thickos who pollute the air with their poison. He gave a clue as to why he meets so much hostility from sections of the Rangers support when, in a revealing interview with Cardiff University in 2010 he said…
‘I’ve probably gone further in my accusations with regards Rangers rather than Celtic and that is because I decided to break an age old rule in Scottish football which said, if you’re writing about football and you’re writing about bigotry always make one side as bad as the other. That always struck me as odd. It was obvious to me that Rangers had a far greater problem, the result of which I was accused of being biased. That was the unwritten rule. I must have heard it from the age of ten and being football crazy, in actual fact being a Rangers supporter rather ironically, this always struck me as odd.’
Despite the way this article will undoubtedly be perceived by some, it is not an anti- Rangers rant. It is rather a plea that those who engage in sophistry to try and score petty points against those they perceive as enemies of Rangers look with honesty at the club’s historical and current problem with bigotry. Those who ran the club in the past bear great responsibility for what it became but that was then and this is now. The late and I would say great Sandy Jardine said at the time of Maurice Johnston’s signing for Rangers…
"When I came here in 1964, we had no Catholics. Not just the playing staff, anywhere. There was no bit of paper, it was an unwritten rule. David Murray changed that and it moved on significantly in 1989 when Maurice Johnston signed. You cannot clear up 80 years of sectarianism in eight months, but we are a huge way down the road."
Jardine was right to say that there have been great strides made by Rangers in terms of ending the dumb apartheid of the past. The journey the Rangers support must go on has a way to go yet and I hope the majority of them have the honesty and integrity to accept that there are still issues to address. If they want a club that is modern and outward looking it’s time to leave the bigoted songs and attitudes in the dustbin of history. Forget about the ‘whataboutery’ and ‘list of enemies’ the people doing most damage to this club sport it colours and attend its games. It will take more guts than the Herald displayed for the decent fans at Ibrox to stand up and grab the bull of bigotry by the horns.
I wonder if any of them are ready to do that?