Fans must choose -- Rangers first or Rangers last?

Rangers First! I’ve always liked that short slogan because it sums up so much in only two words and is almost a challenge. The key is that it’s not really moralising. There are no wagging fingers telling you how bad you are - it merely asks you not to be selfish. If you’re a supporter at the match then whatever you believe outside of it with regard to religion, politics or nationality is your business, just don’t do anything that will harm the club.

And it largely worked, or at least the concept it was trying to put forward worked. Most Rangers fans do put the club first and realise that whatever they may believe, they represent Rangers in a stadium and therefore need to put ‘Rangers first’. There is also the obvious fact that few really believe in the most offensive slogans anyway. Even most of those who continue to shout ‘fuck the Pope’ couldn’t care less about Catholics either way.

This is not just anecdotal since recent figures from the 'Religiously Aggravated Offending in Scotland 2011-12' report back that up. It points out that ‘for the majority of charges it is unlikely the accused knew the religious affiliation/belief of the victim at the time of incident and that the religious abuse was more arbitrary in nature'. Abusing police officers, workers and singing in the street are the majority of charges, and in all of the cases combined, just 4% of the 876 charges were assault. 58% of it was against Catholicism and 40% against Protestantism. (Note the -isms since the vast majority of those charged hadn’t a clue what religion of the person they were abusing. They were just morons.) In that same period there were 5,389 racist incidents with 1,295 against white British, presumably most of them English, yet you won’t hear many discussing a racist or anti-English 'Scottish shame', secret or otherwise.

As the excellent ‘Sectarianism in Scotland’ book points out: “[Sectarianism statistics are] not the visible tip of a huge iceberg of sectarianism, the bulk of which is concealed beneath the water. It is all the iceberg there is.” In truth we don’t live in a sectarian society. Outside football songs and the occasional idiot, it is nowhere to be found in politics, the media, justice system, welfare, housing or any other major part of society. This does not mean sectarianism does not exist, nor is it an excuse for those who are bigots, but it helps to get a bit of perspective before we move onto the appalling Rangers songbook at Berwick on Saturday the 23rd, which was probably the worst that has been heard for years.

‘No Pope of Rome’, ‘The Billy Boys’, ‘Fuck the Pope’ chants and numerous references to the UVF were heard. So why do it? It can only be that the guys doing this believe that this is what a ‘real’ Rangers supporter is supposed to do to help the club. The only other alternative is that they know it damages Rangers and just don’t care.

This is where Rangers FC have a major problem. Either way it means plea's to morality or civility won’t work because whatever their motives, they live in an impenetrable bubble of dodgy history, religion and slogans or are just out for their own amusement. They either love the thrill of sticking it to authority - even Rangers FC - in a selfish game of immature rebellion or believe they are fighting some cultural battle.

The more you ask for Rangers first, the more you come across as weak. You are a handwringer or apologist or appeaser. For what you might ask? Well who knows, even they don’t know or at least they will say they know: it’s all about tradition. Tradition to obsess about a man in Rome, not sing in praise of Alan Morton. Tradition to obsess over RC’s, not remember RC Hamilton. ‘The tradition of our forefathers must be upheld’ they say. Fine, which one? Playing our homes games in the east end of Glasgow or in a hooped strip? Playing people of any religion or having friendly matches in Dublin as part of the contract to sign a Dubliner? These are all traditions of Rangers so which is it?

Such is the confusion that even the one you think they want - not playing Catholics - is the last thing on their mind. They love Nacho Novo and Jorg Albertz. They genuinely don’t care about the religion of Lorenzo Amoruso or Neil McCann. (Even those who despise the club admit that!) When Maurice Johnston signed for Rangers he needed bodyguards, but they were to protect from Celtic fans, not Rangers.

This is the real tragedy of the situation. Most of those that shame the club aren’t out to hurt anyone or discriminate. Like the Celtic fans who sing IRA songs or call people ‘Orange Bastards’ they don’t really want to fight with Protestants or represent terrorists. It’s all the pathetic remnants of a culture war that is mostly finished. They are holding on tighter because the sure-footed foundations of ‘them’ and ‘us’ have crumbled and they know it.

But the greatest irony is that those who hate Rangers and want to see the club destroyed love to hear these songs. They desire it more than anything because it gives them the ammunition to bring the club down and make it small, defensive and hated. It helps them exaggerate and push the notion that all these people - including you and me - can be demonised. ‘They are all like that’, they will say. The headlines will boom and the politicians will grasp their opportunity to gain publicity for taking on Scotland’s holy war against sectarianism.

It pushes the day closer for more sanctions against Rangers. Sooner rather than later the SFA will follow UEFA in handing out fines and banning away fans or closing Ibrox - and the others will still love it. Celtic will tell the world they are inclusive and for what Rangers lose, they will gain, since it’s a zero-sum game already. And out of all this the same group of Rangers fans will be outraged. They will become more insular and defiant, and the songs and chants will continue. No surrender.

This is why Rangers and the majority of fans need to stop this once and for all. They all need to condemn sectarian singing and point out that those who participate in it are not doing what is best for Rangers. They are not the pinnacle of what it means to be 'a Rangers man’ and if anything it is the very opposite. If they don’t then sooner or later the club will be forced, or finally waken up depending on your point of view, into draconian measures. Eventually away fans will be told that if they keep up certain songs then there will be no tickets for the next game, either in total, or for particular groups or supporters clubs. Whole sections at Ibrox will be refused entry and as usual the majority will pay.

And remember, this is not the same as stopping valid forms of identity. If you want to wrap yourself in the Union Flag while singing God Save the Queen then fine. Tradition isn’t a moment in the past, it's alive. It’s a remembrance of what was best and what should be cherished now because it is life-affirming. Only those who understand that can keep growing, while those who don’t always fall away into irrelevance.

It also doesn’t mean the club can’t defend itself or point out the numerous double-standards in the media or at other clubs with their own issues. If anything it will do the opposite since it gives the Light Blues the strength to be pro-active and grow, rather than always being reactive and on the back-foot. Every Rangers fan has to be asked: will you put Rangers first while in a football stadium or will you give those who want to kill the club the very thing they crave? No moralising, no ivory tower, just a simple choice. Rangers first or Rangers last?