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TOPIC: Rangers, Protestantism and Scottish Society

Rangers, Protestantism and Scottish Society 9 years 10 months ago #532

Earlier this year, when I realised how serious the Rangers crisis was, I suggested to a couple Church of Scotland ministers I know – both ardent Rangers fans – that they might set up an organisation called “Revs for Rangers”. My approach might have been officious, but it was well intended: I thought there was a need for some moral leadership. Or if not leadership, guidance from people representing the best of what might be called the Protestant tradition. I wasn’t suggesting a search for divine intervention: just a considered input from men of standing in the community who had a genuine love for the club and an understanding of its history.

Perhaps inevitably, the idea never got off the ground. But I still cannot find, in all that has happened since, anything that represents what I still think of as the robust strength and decency of Scottish Protestantism.

I am a Glaswegian and a member of the Church of Scotland. I come from what might be called solid Protestant stock. My mother’s father and grandfather were both doctors in Dennistoun. My father’s family were small businessmen on the south side of the city. But my family moved to Aberdeen when I was four and I became an Aberdeen supporter when I was in my early teens, round about 1961 or 1962. Much later, when I returned to Glasgow to work, I got to know many people – most of them either colleagues, or professional people I came into contact with – who were committed Rangers supporters. Some of them became good friends. I also became aware of the vast pool of business, commercial, financial, legal and media expertise that exists among the Rangers- supporting community in Glasgow and its environs.

What has surprised me most in the current sad saga is that this large and decent constituency does not seem to have been mobilised. Indeed it has vanished, almost as if it never existed.

Even before Mr Whyte appeared on the scene I wrote a piece for the Herald saying that the one –man, one owner model was surely outdated. I don’t want to boast , but with some prescience I suggested that after the David Murray era Rangers would be much better seeking a wider ownership model, instead of investing all hope in one supposedly wealthy and visionary owner who would somehow emerge as the saviour of the club. I was not suggesting fans’ ownership on the exact lines of what has worked well in Spain and Germany, but something similar.

My reasoning was that there are so many credible and able Rangers supporters who are successful in their working lives. They have considerable clout in professions such as accountancy and the law. Others are successful and respected businessmen. A few of them are seriously wealthy. All of them know how the world works; by far the majority of them are people of probity and experience.

There was certainly a big enough pool of expertise for some of them to form a committee or working party to draw up a proposal for a fans’takeover, with a tiered ownership,

I followed this up, some months later, with a similar piece for the Sunday Herald. It was almost a plea for Rangers supporters with business financial and legal expertise to pull together and chart a way forward. Well, this never happened, as we all know. Some folk told me I was being naïve. I don’t think so. It is a real mystery to me why so many sincere Rangers people, with a lot to offer the club in its time of terminal crisis, did not step up to the plate. Instead we had plenty of demonstrations, a lot of raucous name calling and finger pointing, attacks on the media and goodness knows what else. A huge amount of hot air, but little concerted effort actually to do something, to get together to organise a constructive, credible plan. Whatever happened to the work ethic?

And that takes me on to Protestantism. Here we step onto very delicate ground, very sensitive territory. But I was always aware in my youth that there was an understanding that Protestants, at their best, were supposed to be strong, resourceful, steadfast, enterprising people – just the kind who would be good in a crisis, The implication, although it was never spelt out, was that there was in the Protestant community something that might have been lacking in the Catholic community.

This feeling might well have been erroneous, and I certainly don’t think it was in itself powerful enough to lead to sectarian attitudes or bigotry, but it was there all right; a lurking sense of slight superiority, a vague understanding that Protestants had the stuff of leaders, they were hardworking, honest folk who would be able to provide support when it was most needed. They would not disappear in a crisis. They were certainly not chancers, not weak or feckless or likely to be mired in spivvery, slackness or incompetence.

But unfortunately Rangers Football Club, more than any other Scottish institution I can think of in recent times, seems to become something of a magnet for the wrong kind of people.

I know a man who was a fine Scottish footballer in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He was brought up in a fervently Rangers family in West Lothian. He is one of the most pleasant, most decent people I have had the privilege of knowing.

The first senior club that came for this precocious young schoolboy forward was Patrick Thistle. He signed provisionally for the Firhill club when he was 14. Two years later, none other than the great Bill Struth contacted his father. Rangers wanted to sign his son!

For the father, Bill Struth was a legend. Yet this honourable man, a Rangers fanatic if ever there was one, told his son that Rangers had been second in the queue. Thistle had come first; they had signed him and looked after him. He couldn’t turn away from them now.

I think that anecdote, which is true, sums up all that is best in the honourable Rangers tradition. Rangers had standards and dignity, a sense of pride and self-belief: they were a decent club representing something resolute - aye ready – in the Scottish character and their supporters were honourable people. They had a strength and self respect that was undoubtedly linked to the better aspects of the Scottish Protestant tradition.

All that has withered away now. It is not just because of the demise of Rangers; there has been a parallel decline in the Church of Scotland. Not so long ago it could legitimately claim to be Scotland’s national church; it could speak to Scotland, and speak for Scotland. Now it can barely raise a whimper on any matter of public significance. It may not have collapsed as dramatically as Rangers, but it is no longer the proud, respected national institution that it was as recently as the 1960s.

I’m pretty certain that had Rangers been in crisis during the 1960s, the matter would have been raised, eloquently, at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. It would have been seen as a matter of legitimate concern for the Kirk. But much later, as Rangers slipped ever deeper into crisis, the Church of Scotland stood aside and did – absolutely nothing. It is almost as if was embarrassed.

The Kirk is of course embarrassed, correctly, by sectarianism, particularly when it is a distortion of Protestantism. Rangers did once represent, as I have suggested, much that was good in the Protestant tradition. But there was sometimes a downside. Sir Alex Ferguson could – and maybe should - have been by far the greatest manager in the club’s history, for he was born and raised near Ibrox, he played for the club, and Rangers made a very serious, prolonged bid for his managerial services in the autumn of 1983,when he was the most successful young manager not just in Scotland but in the whole of Europe. As he explains in his autobiography, Ferguson had encountered a nasty bigoted man at Ibrox, who held a senior position in the club, when he was a player. This man took against Ferguson simply because he had married a Catholic. So the man who was surely made to be manager of Rangers spurned the club he had been brought up to support. Of course Rangers eventually did much to eradicate this kind of bigotry, particularly in the Souness era when several high profile Catholics were signed– a policy that reverted to the club’s practice in the early part of the twentieth century, when it did employ Catholics.

The overall context in all this is that Scottish Protestantism is in crisis. The demise of Rangers is not directly connected with the decline of Protestantism, but that decline, that lack of self confidence, does not help. The fact that so many well qualified and able Rangers supporters have been standing on the sidelines, simply waiting for the latest dubious saviour to turn up, perhaps indicates that the great Protestant virtues of industry, initiative and self-help are rapidly withering away.

Harry Reid is a former editor of The Herald. He is the author of ‘Outside Verdict: an Old Kirk in a New Scotland’ and ‘The Final Whistle? Scottish Football: The Best and Worst of Times’

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Re: Rangers, Protestantism and Scottish Society 9 years 10 months ago #533

  • adamski
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What a magnificent article.

The setting up of The Rangers Standard has been a very successful vehicle to some excellent writing so far gents.
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Re: Rangers, Protestantism and Scottish Society 9 years 10 months ago #534

  • robroy72
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Excellent article; I think it is missing the aspect of vociferous enemies of the institutions mentioned making it at best undesirable for any prominent protestant people raising their head above the parapet.
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Re: Rangers, Protestantism and Scottish Society 9 years 10 months ago #536

  • anguswalker
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That's an interesting article Harry. I'm not sure how much Rangers fans relate to the Church of Scotland in this day and age. I certainly can't speak for all Rangers fans, but from my own point of view, I feel that the Church of Scotland has retreated into its ivory tower. Rangers fans feel that we have been battered from pillar to post by the media and political establishment in Scotland. We are commonly branded as "bigots", "Scotland's shame" etc and feel that the Scottish anti-sectarian campaign was until very recently aimed at Rangers fans almost exclusively. Especially under Scottish Labour.

During the anti- sectarian campaign, or witch hunt as many Rangers fans see it, the roman catholic church has not been slow to pick up the cudgels on behalf of it's own "side". I seem to recall them reacting with shock and outrage at the so called "famine song" for instance.

Rangers fans are constantly the victims of "offensive" songs and chants particularly from Celtic and Aberdeen fans - who regularly mock the dead of the Ibrox disaster on visits to Ibrox. Yet no CofS official, or politician, to my knowledge has entered the fray publicly to defend Rangers fans from such offensiveness. I believe many Rangers fans, if they cared at all, would see the CofS as just another group of middle class handwringers who blame Rangers and their fans for all the ills of Scottish society.

I am actually quite surprised that there are thought to be many, many Rangers fans in positions of influence in the Scottish business world as I think the days of Rangers being some kind of establishment club are long gone. However I do agree with you that increasing fan ownership of the club is the best way forward in the long run.
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Re: Rangers, Protestantism and Scottish Society 9 years 10 months ago #538

  • Redneck
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Mr Reid

Thank you, I thoroughly enjoyed your thought-provoking article.

1. I agree with your basic premise: Protestantism, as a dominant force in Scottish life, is completely spent. As a society we have become vast-majority secular; non-denominational schools no longer are run with a traditional Scottish-Protestant ethos and as multicultural immigration has increased it has engendered a marked reticence amongst the majority to express their thoughts for fear of causing offence.

2. The Church of Scotland seems to have forgotten its solidly working class roots and now serves a shrinking, middle class congregation. A huge range of opinions have been expressed to explain this: for most of my acquaintances major factors have been its unwillingness to stick to the Gospel and a drift to ecumenism and soft-left politics.

3. I was also brought up inculcated with similar, traditional Protestant values and like you enjoyed the tenets: loyalty, restraint, hardworking, stoicism and a willingness to step up to the plate. It is sad to see these values disappear. As an example, I always felt deep embarrassment with many of our support's behaviour on the Underground when many children, ladies, non-football fans and tourists were present.

4. However, as suggested by anguswalker and robroy72, the other side of the coin is that there has been a very effective mechanism developed to silence debate. I refer to the usage of pejorative terms to label and silence certain types of valid opinion e.g. the ultimate being "racist". No one in their right mind can condone true racism but usage of this term to silence constructive debate on appropriate levels of immigration is an egregious example of silencing opposition. Especially in Scotland and Ulster the term "sectarian bigot" comes a close second to racism, sadly bigotry in these parts of the UK has come to be regarded as an evil perpetrated by the Rangers' fan or Protestant: a very clever manipulation in my opinion. Therefore if one indicates a support for Rangers then you are subtly perceived as a bigot and this can have negative connotations in civic life: a very serious impediment to putting one's head above the parapet.
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Re: Rangers, Protestantism and Scottish Society 9 years 10 months ago #540

I think there are two distinct but mutually reinforcing process at work here and they can be traced back a number of decades.

First, we have the general retreat of Protestantism as evidenced by the decline in those actually attending church on a regular basis. This can be traced back to the early 1960s and is surely related to the timorous Kirk we have today. The Kirk's previous presumption to speak for the nation stemmed, in part, from its regular contact with significant numbers of the Scottish people. Furthermore, its prestige was probably damaged by the opening of the Scottish Parliament, despite the fact that it met in the General Assembly for the first few years of its existence.

The second process is the decline in the public perception of the Rangers and the support, something that I firmly believe we have contributed to. It is also fair to say that others have actively sought to damage our reputation and we haven't responded effectively to counter the more ridiculous assertions. But we have not made it easy for a Church-which has long perceived itself to be on the back foot-to defend us. Indeed the Church has more often been critical, particularly over our signing policy prior to 1989 (something many manage to overlook when they mention the supposed lack of criticism the club received because of this).

It is easy to be pessimistic, to paint a picture of two formerly powerful institutions in mutual embrace as they plunge head-first into the abyss. Reversing the advance of secularism is a daunting task and not one directly relevant to the fortunes of Rangers Football Club. But we can start to improve our public image. I don't want people to love Rangers but I do want them to respect the club. If we want society figures to support us then let's make it easier for them to do so. In so doing, we might even help the Kirk rediscover its voice.
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