07 September 2012

The Broken Backbone of the Tartan Army

by Scott Ferguson | CRO guest contributor | @st2oh |

First off, it may be worthwhile to mention that this article may not be of interest for every Rangers fan. However, the usually heated debate on Rangers fans supporting (or not) Scotland’s national team is one that generally - at least in my experience - has included Rangers fans from all over the world, and therefore in my humblest of opinions I believe it is relevant to all.

The Rangers family of course is not limited by the borders of Scotland, and as a result a large portion of you out there simply because of your own nationality have not and will not ever support Scotland’s national side.
However, in saying that I’m sure that there are some of you out there that are indeed Scotland born and yet regardless have not nor will ever support (for whatever reason) the Scottish National side.

Whatever percentage of the Rangers support this leaves us this percentage was enough to traditionally hold the majority voice within the Tartan Army.

So strong was the Rangers supporters backing of Scotland’s national side that traditionally for decades this section of the Rangers fans were known as ‘The Backbone of the Tartan Army.’

As a proud Scotsmen I have always supported the National side – through the good times and the bad…and of course the really, really bad times (Hello, Mr Vogts).

I have always been aware that within the Rangers family there are those that completely detest the entire notion of ‘The Tartan Army’. In my own experiences, this opinion has generally come from those that are not of Scottish heritage.

I have personally been involved in many a debate on the subject, and in all honesty I have never heard any fantastic mind altering arguments against the Tartan Army - although the wearing of a kilt and ginger wigs tends to come under scrutiny more often than not.

This has never bothered me though as everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and it has certainly never prevented other Rangers fans from supporting the national side in massive numbers, as research conducted back in the 1990’s by Dr Joseph Bradley from the University of Stirling confirmed.

Dr Bradley research showed that even though the amount of Rangers fans within the tartan army had actually ‘wained since the 80s’ that Rangers fans still held the majority share at 21% of the overall support.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that more recently that number has decreased dramatically.

Throughout the recent traumas at Ibrox the ill feeling towards Scotland’s governing bodies has intensified to levels never before seen.

This has led to many a Rangers fan declaring that they will never follow or support the Scottish national side ever again. I personally conducted some very unscientific research on the wonderful platform of twitter on the subject just recently. Over 200 Scotland born Rangers fans took part and it showed that 2/3rds of this number would no longer support the national side – some feel so strongly that some even suggest that they want the club to ban Scottish players from playing for their national side.

Personally I find this suggestion ridiculous, and thankfully this is a suggestion that I believe will never be taken up by the club. There is a fine line between having your own opinion and trying to enforce it upon others. It would be easy for us as fans especially those of us that have chosen not to support the national team to demand that the Barry McKay’s and Lewis McLeod’s of the world turn their back on their god given right and well-earned opportunity to represent their country.  Both these players have been and are currently involved in the Scottish under-19 squad and I would guess that both would jump at the chance of playing for the senior squad if called upon.

We have no right to demand that this choice be taken away from them.

After speaking with numerous Rangers fans who have taken the decision to no longer support the national side it is clear to me that the predominant reason given is that there is a view that by supporting Scotland national side that somehow you would also be supporting the games governing bodies.

In truth, the SPL is almost a complete irrelevance with regards to the Scottish national side. The upcoming Scotland matches versus Serbia and Macedonia will indeed only involve three SPL players. To put this into perspective the English sides Cardiff City and Blackpool will supply the national team with more players than the entire of the SPL.
This would also mean that only three players for the upcoming matches actually ply their trade under the SFA banner.

Rangers fans (more than any other football fans) due to the recent tribulations at Ibrox have a great understanding of the differences and indeed the separation of the club and the company.

This separation I believe is something we should apply to the national squad.

Simply put the SFA is a company – it just so happens to also be the governing body of the national side (the club so to speak).

Ally McCoist recently hinted at this very distinction. Ally (aware of the Rangers fans unrest against the national side) publicly pleaded with the Rangers fans to support the national team:

‘I’ve got the national team and the SFA down as two separate entities and I hope the fans can manage that too.”

The idea of even considering turning my back on Scotland because of the likes of Stewart Regan (someone who isn’t even Scottish) seems ridiculous to me.

If the Rangers support lose their voice within the national set up then as a result we lose the opportunity to force change – in club football cries of sack the board or dissent shown towards a manager have shown over the years that fans in their numbers do hold power to enforce change.

Of course the governing bodies are not the only reason why Rangers fans may not want to take their rightful place in the stands of Hampden and watch Scotland play football. With the seemingly united hatred that has been directed at us as a group (more so recently) it certainly makes the prospect of standing shoulder to shoulder with Aberdeen, Dundee United and Hibernian fans a far from attractive one.

However, how do you think a mass boycott of the national side by Rangers fans would be greeted by these fans?

Of course the majority would simply rejoice, and we would in turn be giving many people exactly what they want – this unavoidable result is again something that does not appeal to me.

The booing of Ian Black on his debut is an example of what happens when Rangers fans lose their voice within the Scottish support. Had our traditional majority been present – the ‘boos’ would have been drowned out and Ian Black would have been able to remember his debut for all the right reasons.

To be honest my own biggest dilemma  whilst watching the recent Scotland game versus Australia wasn’t the nagging thought that by doing so I was somehow condoning the SFA and Regan. It was trying to deal with the sick feeling in my stomach watching the likes of McGregor and Naismith.

I like many a Rangers fan was extremely disappointed in the manner they left our club – whether this ill feeling is something that will ease with time remains to be seen. However, I guess at least for the moment I will just have to try and deal with it in the same way as I do when in the past I find myself (through gritted teeth) having to support the likes of Scott Brown when he pulls on the Scottish colours.

When the international jersey is pulled on for 90 minutes all other allegiances should be forgotten. If the commitment to the cause is the same as mine then I will support whoever is put on the park.

There are other factors to include such as a lack of success, seemingly endless games against minnows such as Estonia and Lithuania etc…but these are issues for all fans – not just those from the terraces of Ibrox.

The word tradition is such an important word within football – and I feel a sense of pride with the knowledge that the great Rangers support have featured so predominantly throughout history with the national side. For whatever reason it certainly saddens me that this tradition is one, at least in the meantime, we stand to lose.

They say time heals all wounds – and I certainly hope that on this occasion that old saying is true. As it is clear for the time being at least that ‘The Backbone of the Tartan Army’ is broken.