Sectarian chanting in Glasgow is in decline, but new unpleasantries have emerged. Now, the target for some at Rangers is Jock Stein. Alex Anderson is ashamed of what some of his fellow fans sing
Initially, I thought the jaunty new chant I heard at Ibrox last winter was “Red, White, Blue! Red, White, Blue!”. It was only when it reached my section of the ground that I realised those three syllables were actually “Big Jock Knew”. The “Big Jock” is Jock Stein, arguably the greatest manager Britain has produced and the nemesis of Rangers’ post-war domination in Scotland. He is slanderously and ridiculously accused of “knowing” of and failing to report the instances of child abuse that occurred in the late Sixties and early Seventies at Celtic Boys Club – a feeder club established in 1966 which coaches boys from under-tens to late teens. A former coach, Jim Torbert, was eventually jailed in 1998 for having molested several boys over a seven-year period.
The less said about the whole horrible affair the better, one would think. However, the chance to link Celtic’s greatest manager – no matter how tenuously – with the crime du jour of the tabloid hysteric has proved too tempting for a mindset that has recently infected sections of my club’s support.
The clinical over-familiarity between Old Firm fans down the decades has produced some disgusting exchanges. But this latest spin on the topic is more of an organised campaign than one-off crassness. It doesn’t even need an Old Firm game to give it legs. There have been flyers, there have been banners. Some Rangers fans have “Big Jock Knew” printed on T-shirts, some have it on the back of their replica shirts and for a while there were scarves sold in Govan bearing the hateful three-word logo in Rangers colours. There’s even a website.
Some Stranraer locals turned up at the Newton Stewart v Linlithgow Rose Scottish Cup tie in September and took the attention off an historic occasion – the first competitive clash between non-League Senior and Junior sides – by unfurling a “Big Jock Knew” banner. They further proved their “loyalty” to my club that day by abusing the SFA chief executive Gordon Smith, a man who scored against Jock Stein’s Celtic as Rangers lifted the 1977-78 treble, who was present and did everything in his power to have the banner removed.
I have shouted and sung some pretty horrible things in my 30 years of watching Rangers. To say that I was young/drunk/caught up in the moment doesn’t let me off the hook. But at no point did I ever try to present my most hateful, knee-jerk outpourings as fact. “Big Jock Knew”, however, is being proclaimed as the gospel.
I’m bound to ask if it’s not a horrendously confused by-product of the recent disappearance of sectarian chanting at Ibrox. The two phenomena have certainly run parallel. When ground closure or Champions League points deductions were mooted last season, anti-Catholic lyrics sung at Ibrox for decades were dropped with alacrity. This clamp-down has since been adhered to and self-policed. It has exposed, once and for all, the bluster behind so much of our support’s previous sectarian posturing. Yet such a sudden culture change on the terraces almost demands a horrible side-effect.
Unlike Athletic Bilbao, the old Rangers cantera was not geographical but religious. It wasn’t that we signed players from a select group – rather we selected a group from which we wouldn’t sign. Such a rigidly sectarian stance makes you impervious to criticism – the jibes can never really be as awful as the truth. So we laughed at accusations that the red fold on top of our club socks represented the “Fenian Blood” the Billy Boys song claimed we were in up to our knees. We groaned when our traditional “We are the people” victory chant was denounced as a fascistic claim of ethnic superiority.
But we’ve been signing Catholic players for almost two decades now and at Ibrox in 2008 there’s a greater risk of a kicking if you do insult the Pope – so why haven’t these accusations stopped? Suddenly it seems that we’re sensitive – we want to know why we had to edit our song sheet but no one else did. It’s as if “Big Jock Knew” is a statement of how shockingly disturbing football chants can still be, even without the need for foul language or bigoted lyrics.
You need only see the pictures and hear the testimonies of him helping with the victims of the Ibrox disaster to know about Jock Stein as a man. This is partly why, three days after his death in 1986, the entire Rangers support at Kilbowie Park, Clydebank, stood in perfect silent tribute to the manager who’d given us some of the hardest times in our history. Now, by abusing his memory, we’re doing ourselves far more damage than even Stein could manage.
From WSC 253 March 2008