Friday, April 15, 2011

Glasgow Rangers - Guilty as Charged?

So UEFA have decided to charge Rangers with allegations of sectarian singing for both legs of their recent European tie against PSV Eindehoven and they now face the very real prospect of having to play games behind closed doors next season, a sanction that the club will find especially difficult to bear considering their reliance on their substantial gate receipts and their perilous financial state.

Martin Bain's defence seems to centre around the fact that UEFA is unfairly targetting Rangers and that 'everybody else does it too'. Whilst there can be some sympathy for Rangers in those respects, it does not excuse them for the actions of their fans.

I have been to neither Ibrox nor Parkhead (Celtic Park as you may wish to call it) for many years now and am also not from the West of Scotland originally so for that reason it is hard to comment specifically on what goes on in the grounds these days with any accuracy, that being said it is hard to believe that the reality is much different from what UEFA are reporting.

It is certainly true that there are distasteful chants and instances of sheer hatred at football grounds the world over, it is a sport that attracts a tribal following that encourages abuse of the opponent as much as it does support of one's own team. Having been a long term attendee at Stamford Bridge I have heard just about everything there is to hear one would think, the most bizarre (but certainly not the worst) being many years ago. Every time that Ruel Fox (of Norwich, Newcastle and Spurs fame) the opposition right winger received the ball, a nameless punter nearby shouted 'GREASY' over and over until play had moved on, we would also point out that Ruel Fox had a very close crop at the time.

Rangers and Celtic have forever been associated on religious grounds, Rangers have the Sash and No Pope of Rome, Celtic the Soldier Song and whilst not along sectarian grounds oft sing fondly of the Ibrox disaster being magic. Spurs fans receive endless chants about 'the Yids' and whilst not on religious or racial grounds either, Liverpool fans sing in fond memory of the tragedy that befell Sir Matt Busby's team in Munich many years ago. Whilst all highly distasteful it is also accepted to a large degree, part and parcel of the 'rivalry' between teams.

Many of the people who would find the above as par for the course will at the same time vociferously denounce (quite rightly) racist chanting at grounds. Everyone shakes their heads in disbelief at the behaviour of many of the fans in Eastern Europe towards almost anyone who isn't sheet white with blond hair. There are concentrated campaigns to eradicate racism from sport as a whole and everyone wishes those the utmost success. Where there is a discrepancy is that society in terms of sports crowds has accepted that is is unacceptable to abuse someone on the grounds of race yet is ok to do so on the grounds of religion or nationality. I'm quite sure at the World Cup, had the England fans abused say Jerome Boateng on the grounds of his colour there would have been International uproar yet I'm sure many fans sang 'Two World Wars and One World Cup' (the joviality of the tune is irrelevant) for the duration of the match and no one batted an eyelid.

The reality is that crowd hostility is what often makes football such a compelling spectacle. Rangers and Celtic games are broadcast the world over and I would suspect very few neutral observers watch the games for their flowing football, they are hoping for red cards, for spats like the recent one between the managers and for all the associated anarchy that comes with the fixture. Everyone remembers the pigs' head that was thrown at Luis Figo on his return to Camp Nou, it is required viewing. It is like watching Formula One in the secret hope of seeing horrific crashes, it is what the masses want.

On the basis of the above, the majority of clubs or countries could be sanctioned by UEFA almost at will and in that respect Rangers have a right to feel aggrieved. Stating however that you are not guilty on the basis that everyone else does it doesn't really hold up legally and the reality is that few clubs in the World can claim to have an identity so associated with a religious and political view point as do Rangers.

Whilst it has been a long time changed there was a day when Rangers (tacitly if not necessarily stated) would not even sign Catholic players. One can remember only too well the chaos that ensued when Graeme Souness - more for his own amusement at winding up Celtic than for any noble reason - signed Maurice Johnston all those years ago. Rangers as a club has done much to change (in tandem with Celtic) but the fans it seems are far less keen to move on. Having said all that, Real Sociedad's practise of signing only Basque players (rescinded in 1989) received far less attention or outcry, there are many double standards it would appear.

Michel Platini is waging many wars in football right now and in many of them he can be applauded. Whilst Rangers are certainly not alone in their situation, they are certainly as guilty, if not more so than most. If it requires an example to be made of them and for their fans to realise once and for all that their behaviour is directly affecting their club - in this case the financial livelihood of the club - then it will be a price worth paying - No Nonsense