On the rare occasions when this site discusses football, and in particular if we mention the three-year-old Championship club known as “Rangers”, we get complaints on two grounds: one, that football has nothing to do with politics, and two, that we risk alienating supporters of the club who also back independence, of which there are unquestionably a significant number.
The second complaint is one we’ve dealt with in detail here. But the first one is more important. Because whether you’re talking about the original club which died in 2012 and was put into liquidation or the new one currently challenging for promotion to the top division for the first time, “Rangers” is a totem of the Unionist establishment in Scotland, and the way it’s treated by the media tells us at least as much about that establishment and that media as any amount of political journalism.
Haggerty, a Catholic of Irish descent who’s been targeted for years by hundreds if not thousands of abusive and bigoted “Rangers” fans – including one who was imprisoned for six months for threatening her – had tweeted support for a fellow Herald columnist, sports reporter Graham Spiers after the paper published an apology to the club over a column he wrote on 30 December.
The column had included the allegation that a current (unnamed) “Rangers” director was fond of the sectarian song “The Billy Boys”, which rejoices in the lyrics “We’re up to our knees in Fenian blood”, and is sometimes sung by a tiny unrepresentative minority of the club’s support, as seen here at the Scottish League Cup semi-final in February 2015. If you listen really closely you may be able to pick them out.
Haggerty had specifically been commenting on a post by the Rangers Supporters Trust, a belligerent fan group with significant financial resources which had expressed its glee at the Herald’s response to what the RST called “lies” in Spiers’ column – though to the best of anyone’s knowledge the RST was not present at the meeting between Spiers and the unnamed director.
Spiers subsequently published a statement disassociating himself from the apology, saying that “My opinion – as expressed in my column – was based on a truthful account of my meeting with a Rangers director”, and was backed up by former Herald colleague Robbie Dinwoodie, who noted a claim by another belligerent “Rangers” fan group that the apology had been secured via threats to withdraw advertising revenue.
According to Haggerty, “representatives of the Rangers board” threatened to reinstate legal action against the Herald over the Spiers column unless she was sacked for daring to express support for Spiers on her personal Twitter account. Showing the great journalistic integrity for which he’s fast becoming famed, the editor-in-chief of the Herald group, Magnus Llewellin, immediately caved to their demands.
The group alleging the advertising blackmail threat describes itself as “DEFENDING OUR TRADITIONS” and “our people, our culture, our way of life”, concluding on the sectarian exhortation “No Surrender!”
Its Twitter page leaves little doubt as to precisely which people, culture and traditions it’s talking about – the same ones referenced in “The Billy Boys”, and those upheld by the people who regularly abuse and threaten Angela Haggerty with violence, rape and murder, while also constantly demanding her sacking and threatening boycotts of newspapers employing her.
(Scottish journalists stoutly ignore such campaigns, despite thousands of signatures, focusing instead on two or three nationalist loonies boycotting Tunnock’s Teacakes.)
The bigotry, open politicisation and bullying of the “Vanguard Bears”, done in the guise of support for “Rangers” and tacitly tolerated by the club (which allows their banners to be displayed at Ibrox and has never to our knowledge condemned their activities), are the traditions of the Unionist, Protestant, militarist, Loyalist establishment. For the Herald to bow so cravenly to their threats tells us about a lot more than football.
“Rangers” – which stridently insists it’s a continuation of the old club, which carried out a strict “No Catholics” signing policy for over 80 years – is the last big institution of those traditions. In flexing its muscle against Angela Haggerty it demonstrates its continued determination to impose its values on wider Scottish society and to silence entirely legitimate criticism and comment with a sledgehammer.
While politics ought to have no place in sport, it’s the height of naivety to pretend that there aren’t those determined to use the latter to political ends. Freedom will always be under attack from thugs and bullies, and Wings Over Scotland supports Angela Haggerty (with whom we disagree on very many things) unreservedly. The Herald and its editor-in-chief are a cowardly disgrace to journalism and decency.
In the interests of news reporting, below is the deleted Graham Spiers column from the Herald in its entirety. (As retrieved from the source code of the cached page here.) “Rangers” are free to sue us over it if they wish.
Spiers on Sport: 30 December 2015
Rangers must uphold progress by resisting return of ‘the old songs’
Rangers FC, in whatever guise you recognise it in the post-2012 period, has made considerable strides to eradicate bigotry around the club.
Whereas as recently as 10 years ago – and it really was excruciating – Ibrox Stadium resounded to sectarian chants, in more recent times the atmosphere has been cleaned up, with erstwhile dodgy songs adored by many Rangers fans being put on the back burner.
It would be totally wrong to ignore this progress at Rangers. I remember the summer of 2006 when Paul Le Guen arrived at the club. Ibrox was mired in “fans issues” and bigotry, and Le Guen was utterly perplexed by it all.
One of the first things the Frenchman had to do was take part in initiatives set up by the club, begging Rangers fans to stop singing these songs.
To a large degree, many of these measures worked. Rangers made significant progress in quelling its bigoted sentiment, and the club made great strides in the years ahead. Ibrox, I believe, in time became a much healthier place in which to watch your football.
The Billy Boys, an anti-Catholic anthem beloved of Ibrox, was put on mute. Indeed, for a number of seasons it seemed to disappear completely, at least at Rangers home games. This, surely, was progress.
But few of us had any illusions about it. More than once I’ve been told that, if you venture onto a Glasgow subway train with travelling Rangers fans, their old anthems can be given quite an airing. The old songs appeared to have survived and thrived, being sung with gusto whenever a more guarded context will allow.
And then there were these occasional public eruptions of it, such as at the infamous 2011 League Cup final at Hampden, when some of the choral stuff exhumed by the Rangers support that day took us back to a pre-Enlightenment period.
It is staggering, in this day and age, to hear stuff about Catholics, Fenians, Taigs, the Pope and the rest emanating from thousands of people. It is as baffling as it is sad.
Now this Rangers FC board – and I am not convinced by their mettle on this issue – faces a fresh test.
At Ibrox this week we heard a further eruption of what might euphemistically be called the “old songs”. It was another example, amid all the progress that Rangers have made, of the cap being blown off, and of some Rangers fans getting back into the party mood in the way they like best.
Social media was very interesting following that Rangers-Hibs game on Monday afternoon. Setting aside some preposterous stuff from the Rangers Supporters Trust, who were in full denial mode, there were a number of Rangers fans openly lamenting the re-emergence of these songs, and condemning them.
I have said this often enough: there is a new generation of Rangers supporter that the club should nurture and cultivate. They want nothing to do with this old obsession with “fenians”. They are modern, decent, football-loving fans who love the game and love their club.
Rangers need to embrace these supporters, and leave to one side those others – including some official fan groups – who said after the Hibs match (I paraphrase): “Well done, lads, terrific stuff, great atmosphere, great to hear the old songs…”
Will this Rangers FC board, as has been required in previous years, step up to the plate? I hope so, though I doubt it.
I write as a journalist who has been banned by Rangers. None of that aspect bothers me. Football clubs sometimes do these daft things. I want nothing but the best for Rangers as they ascend towards the Ladbrokes Premiership. Indeed, I want Rangers challenging for the Premiership title as quickly as their football will allow.
But when Stewart Robertson, the new Rangers managing-director, informed me of my press ban, I would say his demeanour was that of someone somewhat embarrassed by the action being taken.
I do not believe Mr Robertson is anything other than a decent man – but his pitiful reasons for my ban, which included my past criticisms of Rangers over bigotry issues, sounded distinctly unconvincing.
It also doesn’t help right now that at least one member of the current Rangers board thinks that The Billy Boys is a tremendous song. This being the case, the club may well go backwards, not forwards.
On their dreaded songs issue, I hope this Rangers board go forward, not backward. I hope they are pro-active, not passive. I hope they acknowledge a potential threat, and don’t lapse into denial.
But, frankly, I’ll believe it when I see it. Banning writers who write about the issue is an ominous start.
It is now 39 years since Willie Waddell, then the Rangers general-manager, made an on-field public declaration which signalled an end to Rangers FC’s old anti-Catholic policy. I was there that day at Ibrox as a 12-year-old kid, though the fuss then was beyond me.
It remains my belief that, taking that day as a starting point, it will take 50 years for Rangers to fully flush out its bigoted baggage. There are pitfalls along that long road, as we witnessed again this week, but at least the journey is being taken.
There has been real progress made at Rangers in recent years. Mr Robertson and your ilk, please don’t slow it down.