At Leeds United, we’re no strangers to the unwelcome feeling and experience of your club in crisis. We’ve seen our beloved Whites pushed to the brink of actual expiry and ejection from the league; we’ve seen administration and League sanctions. Spectacular collapse and the plummet from the heights of the game to the depths of despair was a process raised almost to a perverse art form by United – to the point that it became known as “doing a Leeds”. So we know what crisis, despair and poverty are all about – the only thing that can really surprise a Whites fan these days is to see a club in straits even more dire.
Which brings me on to Glasgow Rangers FC. There is no need for me to re-hash here exactly what has happened to them over the past few years. In short, it was a precipitous fall, and an unprecedented reduction in status. From being permanent members of a top two cartel, Rangers were sent spinning into the gloom and obscurity of Scotland’s lowest major league. The journey back is well under way, but problems beset them still. On Sunday, for the first time since their fall from grace, Rangers face Celtic in the Scottish League Cup semi-final at Hampden Park. The Old Firm rivalry is back, right? Well, not according to the hardly unbiased fans of Celtic FC. Take a moment to look at the rationale espoused by a group of their fans in an advert placed recently.
Now, surely – these Celtic fans cannot be serious? It’s a wind-up, right? Are they quite barking mad, these loose-lipped Bhoys? What are they worried or insecure about, that they should resort to this? The whole “argument” stated above smacks of trying too hard, a mean-spirited attempt to cast back down a club trying to recover from an almost terminal decline. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Rangers’ fall – and without declaring any particular affiliation on either side of the Old Firm divide – this blog has to state in the strongest possible terms that what we have here is a bunch of partisan yet clueless fans talking fluent rubbish.
Whatever arguments you might summon, whatever contortions you might go through, leaning over backwards to show that black is white – surely the one thing any set of football fans must agree on is the major factor in any football club’s identity. It is the fans, it has to be. The fans embody the tradition and continuity of any club. Football shirts might change colour, as with Cardiff. Ground moves are commonplace these days and have never been unknown. Players, directors, managers and staff come and go, without necessarily having any real connection to the clubs they serve for a time.
So what is the one thread that runs right through a club’s very soul and being? It is the fans, the loyal supporters who follow, follow, through thick and thin, passing on the supporting tradition down the generations, wedded to their club in good times and bad. And it is those Rangers fans, the ones who have stuck by the Rangers FC as they sank to the depths and rose again – they embody Glasgow Rangers and in so doing, they give unquestionable continuity to the institution that is Glasgow Rangers FC. They also make a total mockery of this laughable stance from a set of fans who feel just as passionately about their club – and who have thus allowed themselves to go out on a limb, in trying to kick a club when it’s down, succeeding only in making arrant fools of themselves.
I wouldn’t particularly care, normally, who wins on Sunday at Hampden. I miss the Old Firm games for their passion and spectacle, it’s for those reasons that I always tune in to watch and would one day like to attend one of these occasions. The tradition of atmospheric support from both sets of fans, with tempers frequently running high on the park and referees praying for the final whistle to come with as little as possible actual violence – that’s so much of what football should be about. These are factors which are gradually being marginalised in the modern game as a whole, with increasing gentrification everywhere and a diminution of the raucous passion we of a certain age remember. But all of that is still present at certain fixtures – Leeds against Man U is one, Newcastle versus Sunderland bears a mention – there is el Clásico, of course. But the grand-daddy of them all is the Old Firm game – even if a lot of the cause and reason behind this fact isn’t of a particularly savoury or relevant nature.
So where do these Celtic fans get off, trying to defuse, deflate, diminish all of this? Don’t they realise how much the game north of the border needs its return, and in full rude health at that? For goodness’ sake, Celtic need it. Surely, these pompous, paragraph-quoting fools are kidding. If they’re not, then they deserve the ridicule that should be coming their way. And, for the record, against my normal neutral Old Firm stance – I would say to them “If you really do mean this – then you’re idiots; and I hope you get stuffed out of sight on Sunday”.