Sunday 8 March ~

This weekend Glasgow Rangers play Hamilton Academical at home in the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup, a game they are expected to win. Next weekend they play Glasgow Celtic in the Scottish League Cup final, and once that’s over they will continue their challenge for the Scottish Premier League title. They are currently second, three points behind Celtic, with no other team in sight, as usual. When a club is contending for all three major domestic honours in March, you’d say they were having a pretty good season, right? Except that on Wednesday evening Rangers were booed off the field by their own supporters, seething at a 1-0 home defeat to bottom-placed Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

“The players deserved the crowd to get at them,” said Rangers manager Walter Smith, because no manager wants to criticise the fans and then have them on his back too. “Sometimes it is hard to play here, the crowd can be difficult to please at times,” he added understatedly. “But when you are going for a championship and play the way we did tonight, then the fans are right to voice their displeasure.” That displeasure came in the face of what was only Rangers’ second home defeat of the season (the other was to Celtic), and it not only allowed Caley to move off the bottom, it meant that Rangers dropped to second place, Celtic having narrowly beaten Kilmarnock. The fans’ mood was not helped by the timing of the away team’s goal, a penalty kick in the fourth minute of stoppage time. Stop grinning there at the back.

Unpredictable results are increasingly rare in a league where no one’s going to bother pretending any more that there’s the slightest hope of challenging the Glaswegian monoliths for the title, unrelinquished by either Rangers or Celtic now for almost a quarter of a century. In the case of the Rangers’ fans, winning has clearly become a fix they cannot do without. While supporters of Falkirk and Kilmarnock might see a record of 18 wins, six draws and four defeats as something to be proud of, a Gers follower can only compare it unfavourably with Celtic’s and start spitting feathers. It sounds odd, but they really should be pitied.

When expectations are set so high (except, presumably, in the Champions League), defeat by scrappy little clubs from the Highlands becomes impossible to take. Perhaps the club could employ loss therapists for embittered fans, with stands set up outside the exits to help the grieving faithful to cope with negative scorelines. “If you see a gloating man in a green and white hooped shirt,” soothing doctors could exhort, “be strong and turn the other cheek. Resist that urge to sink six pints of Heavy. Go home to meditate instead.”
An angry home crowd just means more fun for the rest of us as we enjoy a temporary respite in the crushingly dull routine of Scottish football, and the sight of bad losers turning crimson and shouting at a team we all hate anyway. On a wider scale, it symbolises the absolutely rotten state of the country’s domestic game, when spoilt fans cannot accept their side losing a single game and turn abusive like five-year-old kids denied a third ice cream. It could be argued that when a side as big as Rangers attracts 48,000 fans on a midweek night against the league’s bottom club, then anything besides a win is unacceptable. On the other hand, if you can’t accept that your team might lose, why follow the game at all? You might as well stay home and play Subbuteo on your own, with one pristine team in blue jerseys hammering the other, controlled by your left hand and down to seven men due to injuries and red cards, and only there for the sake of protocol.

Then again, bar the odd freak result like Caley’s, Scottish football’s pretty much at that point already. And in the absence of any initiative to reform (or better, revolutionise) the Scottish game, the Old Firm will continue to win the Scottish championship for another meaningless 25 years, deluding themselves that it’s worth something. Sore losers and greedy winners get the league they deserve. Ian Plenderleith

Comments (4)
Comment by AMMS 2009-03-09 08:37:49

Sorry, was the author forced to write this with a hangover or something? Exactly which other SPL clubs fans wouldn't have booed their players after a home defeat to the club bottom of the table? And this tired cliché that its the 'Old Firms' fault that Dundee Utd and Hearts are more than capable of taking points off Rangers and Celtic but not each other is starting to wear a bit thin. If this season has proved anything it's surely that both the Old Firm are beatable.
We've just enjoyed the Scottish Cup weekend which gave us one 'upset' and a replay which could provide another, we've the League Cup final next weekend, a new SFA 'taskforce', Hearts and Livingston failing to pay their players on time, insurrection at Hibs, a rather big world cup qualifier on the horizon with the team facing some big problems player wise, another club, Stranraer, very close to extinction and the further developments in the SPL 2 saga.
So no shortage of talking points in Scottish football you'd have thought, so why pen this biased nonsense and when exactly will someone have the guts to ask why Aberdenn, Hearts, Hibs and Dundee Utd are all owned by millionaires but seem unable to win 4 games in a row?

Comment by ian.64 2009-03-09 08:53:18

"On the other hand, if you can’t accept that your team might lose, why follow the game at all?"

A pertinent question. The comical side of this support was encapsulated in a text sent to that critical no-man's land ITV Teletext 'Footy Chat' where a Liverpool fan - in the brief space he'd been given - exhorted how he had, like the rest, had to go through vast periods of 'thick and thin' and had to bear the sling and arrows of outrageous fortune like the rest of us.

I had to smile. Sure, even fans of the top clubs undergo stresses from time to time, but some - if not all - fans of the Big Four place their support in them on the basis that they'll pledge allegiance to a side that'll never endure a sniff of a relegation battle for decades to come, take part in European competitions on a regular seasonal basis and if they have any patches of turmoil or trouble, they'll be worlds away from that undergone by fans of clubs that do not have such a high-profile.

The Rangers fans went into nervous breakdown because of that eternal fear that such big-club aficionados have - that they, for one afternoon, tasted that which only the ordinary plebs who follow their ordinary, tin-plate, never-get-into-Europe, tiny outfits are privy to. Which is probably why some Arsenal fans want Arsene Wenger out. A bad run where they don't win every week is the supposed precursor to those dreadful situations where they resemble those oiks who follow their own low-profile outfits.

A season without a top-four finish is a step in the other direction - to be like 'them'.

Comment by AMMS 2009-03-09 12:08:25

Hang on, there is a big difference between accepting your team might lose and being unhappy about it when they do. Are you suggesting St Johnstone fans would cheer their team off the park after losing at home to Airdrie?

Your insinuation is that Rangers fans see themselves as different from 'them' ie supporters of less successful clubs, I'd say it is entirely the other way round.

Comment by ian.64 2009-03-09 13:27:11

"Hang on, there is a big difference between accepting your team might lose and being unhappy about it when they do. Are you suggesting St Johnstone fans would cheer their team off the park after losing at home to Airdrie?"

No, because that's not what I'm talking about.

"Your insinuation is that Rangers fans see themselves as different from 'them' ie supporters of less successful clubs, I'd say it is entirely the other way round."

I'm not insinuating, I'm saying it - but I mean some fans, not all. This doesn't apply just to Rangers, but to Celtic, to Liverpool, to Manchester United, To Chelsea and to Arsenal, to any club of great profile. There certainly are fans who think that to support any huge club improves their personality when they're greatly mistaken - it's a mutant form of pride, an idiot belief that they rise above the norm of football supporting and attain a snobbishness beyond any form of sense. The kind that asserts haughty disdain at domestic cups they can easily win. The kind that squeals that they haven't won a cup in a handful of years - as if the club itself would collapse into a pile of rubble because so-and-so hasn't put a trophy in the cabinet. The kind that - at one point - wanted their manager out after giving them nearly two decades of continuous success because they thought his shelf-life of success (which hasn't faded by a long shot) had run out.

Unfortunately, examples run close to home. I work with a clutch of Manchester United fans, one of whom literally glides along on a cloud of his own smugly-supposed superiority so much that you really don't even have to be a football fan to be resistant to it. Another just uses it so that he can say 'your team's shit' on a constant basis to any fan no matter what division their club is in, his 'fan' perspective used mainly as a reason to crap on other fans and the team they support.

Of course, that's expected. You'll get these examples, but they rankle nontheless. They reside on a higher plane than we mere mortals, but you can listen to banal 606 phone-ins to get a better picture of the impatient, the unreasonable and the self-satisfied.

If that's what success does to them...

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