17 August 2012

Ian Black, the Tartan Army boo birds, and Team GB

by Andy McGowan | Contributor 

The reaction of Rangers fans to the signing of Ian Black can be summed up with a simple phrase : “He’s a cunt, but he’s our cunt.”

Black had become a villain around Ibrox after a poor challenge on Nikica Jelavic left Rangers without the services of their star signing for 4 months, just as the club were starting to see the best of him. Black was booed accordingly every single time he touched the ball against Rangers from that day, at least until the day he became ‘Our cunt.’

It’s a fickle thing of course, football supporterdom: A superstar can become a donkey overnight, and the donkey becomes a hero with one nod of the head. But however fickle fans may seem it is mind boggling to think that any set of fans would boo their own player before he’s even stepped on the pitch.

Sadly, this is what happened last night when Ian Black came on at Easter Road to make his Scotland debut. It’s been a turbulent few months for Ian Black, from wage deferrals to painting and decorating, from pantomime villain to cult status among Rangers fans.

Despite this roller coaster period in his career the last thing Ian Black could have expected was to be booed on his Scotland bow, one already met with disdain in the media, with the professional punters and desk jockeys around the country ridiculing the selection of a SFL3 player. 

However unthinkable though it did happen - and as the media clamour to tell us, it was simply Hibernian fans booing a former Hearts player. But the truth is plain for all to see. The endless need from fans of other Scottish clubs to see Rangers slandered continues, long having dropped the mask of seeking redemption on a club who made mistakes, and long past the need to preserve sporting integrity. 

When the idea of a ‘Team GB’ football team was floated a few years ago it was something many Scots were against. We are Scotland, our national team means something to us, and anything that could possibly threaten the existence of said national team was to be met with hostility. 

As the Olympics got under way however there was a real sense of pride about being British in a sporting sense, so much so that by the third group game I found myself cheering on Team GB because much like every other athlete at the games, be they English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish, they were representing Britain as a whole.

Did we boo English swimmers and cheer Scottish cyclists?

Did we boo Andy Murray for being a Hibernian supporter?

Did we, as Rangers fans, begrudge Michael Jamieson a fantastic silver medal that could and perhaps should have been gold simply because he is a Celtic supporter?

No, we did not, because we were competing as one, as one team and one country, all pulling in the same direction to achieve a common goal.

This has always been the view taken in a footballing sense as well. Curse opposition players one week, support them the following week in national colours. One of my greatest memories from football is a Gary Caldwell goal which gave us a 1-0 win over France. I was fortunate enough to be at that game and when the ball hit the back of the net I cheered loudly. I was delighted. I didn’t smile and think to myself, “Wow, this would be fantastic if it hadn’t been a Celtic player who scored.” 

It now seems the feeding frenzy that is the Rangers saga has pushed aside any sense of national pride, and that sense of togetherness felt during the Olympics is certainly no longer present in Scottish football. Bashing Rangers takes precedent over goodwill toward all players competing for their country.

It’s a sad state of affairs which leaves me wondering why I was ever hostile toward the idea of a Team GB footballing side in the first place. While Britain seeks to galvanise, Scotland looks to draw battle lines in the sand in a war already fought and consigned to the history books.

As I browsed Facebook last night I stumbled upon this: “Can’t wait to hear the reaction Black gets when he comes on”. 

This one status update during the match sums up the night perfectly. The man wasn’t even on the park and thoughts had turned to him. No mention of Scotland being up 3-1, or enjoying the game of football. Simply a 'supporter' of some sort looking forward to hearing Ian Black booed on his debut for his country, an event most players look back on as one of the greatest moments of their career.

With support like that, who needs enemies?

Give me a team of English and Welshmen under the banner of Great Britain any day.