Does poor football cause poor behaviour?
26 February ~ At Stirling Albion's Forthbank stadium tonight Rangers return to the scene of their only league defeat this season. However, many will believe this season's biggest setback took place on Saturday at Berwick. A few hundred of the travelling support, which constituted over half Shielfield's 4,500 crowd, sang about "Fenian blood", paedophilia and co-commentator Craig Burley's wife. It was picked up loud, clear and live by ESPN's microphones. More than blackening an already grim 3-1 away win, these songs dented the "phoenix from the flames" romanticism around the Glasgow club's lower-league life.
The resurrection of sectarian ditties was brief and, in truth, confined to a section of younger supporters who had clearly enjoyed a liquid breakfast before the noon kick-off. In Fever Pitch Nick Hornby posits the theory that poor football attracts poor fan behaviour. And it's pertinent that the catalogue of paedophilia songs – aimed initially at the heavy police attention ("Why don't you go and catch a paedo?") then extended to Jock Stein, Celtic and the Catholic church – ended when Rangers produced the one pleasing move in the entire game, scoring on the stroke of half-time.
However, sectarian singing was often at its worst when Rangers were at their best. The extensive eroding of anti-Catholic songs at 21st-century Ibrox actually ran parallel with the club's increasing financial problems. From personal experience I can say that the disorientating transportation of our support to lower league venues has often felt like a quantum leap back to the early 1980s. Rangers fans in their teens and twenties won’t have experienced regularly standing on terraces, nor watching a poorer standard of football.
Boredom and identity crises are classic drivers of anti-social behaviour but the most valid mitigation for what went on at Berwick was sat in the directors’ box opposite Shielfield's cowshed covered enclosure. Chief executive Charles Green, the appointed representative of the new company running Rangers, has engaged in a sustained campaign of blaming everyone else for our current position. There's no structure to his public ranting; the only consistency has been to take the most embittered voices as representative of the entire fan base. He's threatened to take the club out of Scotland, blamed their exclusion from the SPL on bigotry and last week he claimed he would quit the club if chairman Malcolm Murray didn’t resign.
By half time on Saturday Rangers had expressed disappointment with the "inappropriate singing". Time was obviously of the essence but the two-line statement contrasted starkly with the novella-sized condemnations of journalists and administrators which have become the norm on the club website. You can’t criticise blind bitterness when it’s actually club policy. It was left to manager Ally McCoist, after the match, to actually apologise.
Rangers fans says that those mocking our financial implosion of last summer are "obsessed". However, six different songs about child abuse in five minutes demonstrate a far more sinister obsession. As the tabloids often demonstrate, there is a thin line between condemning paedophilia and celebrating it. Rangers fans who feel the need to attack the Vatican can safely stand down – there are enough people, better qualified and far more invested, currently on the case. And it's not just in Rome where an institution enduring a year of setbacks could do with a change of leader. Alex Anderson