14 September 2012

To: David Martin - Supporting Rangers is NOT a Crime

by Andy McKellar | CRO contributor | @AMCKEL | amckel@coplandroad.org |

Each weekend I would stay with my grandfather, who had been a Rangers fan all his days, and every other Saturday my uncle would visit and watch Football Italia, with its famous Golaccio introduction, while joining me in having a bowl of porridge. Once lunch was over and a few chocolate biscuits had been polished off, he would then swish his red, white and blue scarf around his neck and head for Ibrox to watch his beloved team earn another three points – more often than not anyway.

I had never been forced or prompted into supporting Rangers but fortunately it came naturally to me and I was not bought my first strip until I had actually asked for one. I cannot remember exactly what age this was when I received my first famous light blue jersey but pictures and vague recollections tell me that I wasn’t often seen without it thereafter.

The natural progression of events then rather strangely took me not to Ibrox but to Hampden Stadium. This is where I witnessed my first match, a 7-0 demolition of Ayr United in the Semi-Final of the Scottish Cup, but my main focus of attention was the magic of being part of such a huge and passionate crowd. Google informs me that our victory came courtesy of goals from Rozental (2), Kanchelskis, Wallace and Dodds (3) and I certainly cannot complain about my initiation into the Rangers support. There was something quite special about going to matches with my uncle and witnessing players who I had only previously been able to watch on television performing live in front of me.

I began to go to matches on a more regular basis and eventually received my season-ticket for the Broomloan Rear, a seat I occupied for a number of years. It was from there that I witnessed Rangers clinch their World Record 50th League Championship with probably the best team I have been fortunate enough to witness in my time as a Rangers fan. We had some real quality players back then in the form of Klos, Amoruso, De Boer, Mols & Caniggia - to name but a few – and it was a truly fantastic time to be going to Ibrox.

Unfortunately the world of Scottish football could not maintain its levels of spending and the power and financial might of the English Premiership began to attract the top talents from around the continent. Our top stars eventually moved to pastures new and we were unable to bring in the same quality of players from thereon in, with a few exceptions. The product on the park was declining and we witnessed more than one disastrous campaign as the downsizing began under the rein of David Murray. It also seemed to have a knock-on effect on the Ibrox atmosphere.

I don’t think there will be too many fans who will deny the apathy-ridden state that our great support was reduced to in the past few years. We watched on as our Club lurched closer to the abyss and allowed the likes of Murray & Whyte to drag Rangers down to its knees. Whether our involvement would have been enough to prevent the series of events that have since unfolded is of course hypothetical but the fact remains that in all honesty, we didn’t even try.

The whole ‘for every fiver you spend’ malarkey perhaps lulled our fans into a false sense of security that his since played a potentially detrimental role in our consequential downfall but it also affected our support of the players on the pitch. Perhaps I am overdramatising but Ibrox Stadium at times resembled more of a crowded public library than the noisy and boisterous arena that I remember from my childhood. In certain areas it was almost as if singing was completely unacceptable and for your run-of-the-mill matches, it can’t have provided much motivation or inspiration to our players.

The Blue Order attempted to rectify this with their music, chanting and singing and have since been joined by the Union Bears in an expansion which has taken them to section BF1. I have been a big fan of these groups for quite some time now in terms of their work at Ibrox and their efforts to introduce traditional songs about the Barcelona Bears and the four men who had a dream deserves some recognition. I am certainly not alone in reserving praise for both groups.

Ally McCoist, the inspirational man who effectively was Rangers Football Club last season, has also been vocal in his support for his affectionately named ‘mad squad’ and I rather suspect Charles Green views them in a similar light. While their boisterous support and energetic chanting isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, there are few who would doubt that The Blue Order & Union Bears have been a tremendous addition to our stadium. I hate to think what the atmosphere would be like without them.

Seemingly though, within the bowels of our grand old Ibrox Stadium, there are some people who would disagree with our manager and the vast majority of our fans. David Martin, Head of Security at Rangers, recently blocked a requested expansion of the groups’ allocation following consultation with Strathclyde Police. This was most unwelcome news and my disappointment seems to have been shared by many judging by the reaction on social networking sites and fans’ forums.

The Union Bears released a statement which claimed that Mr Martin did not believe that the expansion was in the ‘best interests of Rangers Football Club’, although quite whether he is in a position to judge that is certainly up for debate. The group pressed the Ibrox Head of Security and he cited ‘crowd surfing’ as an objection and I would tend to agree with his view that it is a definite safety concern for those involved. That is not to say however that he is right in his decision, far from it. I believe that David Martin should have in fact attached it as a condition to any proposed expansion and therefore ensured such behaviour does not occur in the future. That perhaps would have been too logical.

Strathclyde police also seemed to strongly hint that the Union Bears and their fellow BF1 members were responsible for ‘sectarian singing’ at Rangers’ away matches. This is robustly denied by the group and one might question why so few arrests have been made at away matches if the authorities are aware of who is causing the problem. I get the impression that their claim is more fiction than fact.

The UB statement continued: “Every week supporters in section BF1 are subjected to full body searches at turnstiles, every flag and banner being filmed before being allowed entry, intimidation inside and outside the stadium from stewards and Police as well as being filmed for 90 minutes by the anti-football unit whilst individuals inside the club give details of our members to Police to add to their intelligence database.” Quite an astonishing rigmarole to have to endure simply to support your team, I’m sure you’ll agree.

It seems that the Scottish National Party and Alex Salmond are determined to treat football fans like hardened criminals and have even made it a potentially illegal to be merely ‘offensive’. I am too young to remember but I have heard enough tales of football hooliganism and violence to know that we are now living in a society where such a thing has been eradicated, at least at the grounds themselves. The drinking culture and post-match incidents that do take place are often in the town centre, in pubs and clubs and bare no resemblance to the behaviour you witness at Ibrox or indeed any stadium around the country. The treatment of football fans, particularly those in section BF1, is completely unjustifiable and it is disappointing that such authoritarian policing has been allowed to continue inside our own stadium.

The latest own-goal by the staff at Rangers Football Club, who have so often neglected and ignored the fans or treated them with disdain, is made worse when you consider that these supporters simply want to follow their team and create a better atmosphere inside Ibrox. There is no hooliganism. There is no fighting. They simply want to support Rangers.

I understand a number of fans have been contacting Charles Green about this matter and I can only hope he continues the good work he has done thus far and allows common sense to prevail.