Rangers were founded in 1872 and ceased to exist as a club in 2012. A new club, called The Rangers, was formed in 2012 after the old club was liquidated. Article 12.2 of UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations edition 2010 prohibits new clubs from participating in any European competition for a period of three years. As a new club, this ban was automatically applied to The Rangers. Ally McCoist was the last manager of Rangers; sadly for their fans he is the only Rangers manager to lose every competition he entered. Charles Green, the Chief Executive of The Rangers and acting on behalf of the owner(s) of the new club, has retained McCoist’s services for The Rangers.
There is a constant attempt by The Rangers management, and fans of the old Rangers, to deny that The Rangers is a new club, with the obvious purpose of preserving the history and tradition of the old club as one unbroken continuum. The hub of this article is not a counterpoint to those that believe their historical line to be unbroken – the EUFA ban puts that to bed and to think differently is merely delusional – but rather an argument that the history of the old Rangers was based on aggressive anti-Catholicism and does not merit continuation in any shape or form.
From its inception in 1872 to 1989, a period of over 100 years, Rangers refused to sign a high-profile Catholic football player. Rangers’ Protestant Unionist and anti-Catholic background is well documented.
For example: “Historically Rangers have maintained a staunch Protestant and anti-Catholic tradition which includes a ban on signing Catholic players” (Giulanotti, R., 1999: Football: A Sociology of the Global Game).
In 1967, Vice Chairman Matt Taylor was questioned about Rangers’ no Catholics policy and he stated that he felt that the policy was “part of our tradition….we were formed in 1873 as a Protestant boys club. To change now would lose us considerable support.”
The Catholic player they signed in 1989 was Mo Johnston. His agent was Bill McMurdo and he recognised the anti-Catholic history of Rangers: “We were both aware of the history. I’m a Rangers supporter, and so was Maurice’s father, though I suppose his mother supported Celtic. We both understood the situation, the importance of it.”, (The Guardian, “10 July 1989: Rangers Sign a Catholic”, 11th July 2009). That signing caused furore with many Rangers fans: they protested, burnt their scarves and threatened not to renew their season books. Many Celtic fans were similarly upset: not only because Johnston reneged on a promise to sign for Celtic but also because he was a former Celtic hero signing for their greatest rivals, a club with an odious history of anti-Catholicism.
The anti-Catholic stance adopted by Rangers and their fans manifested itself in many ways throughout Rangers’ history. In an article in The Independent, Ian Herbert reports that Sir Alex Ferguson did not enjoy his time at Rangers: “One of the reasons, he has always believed, was the sectarian prejudice of a Rangers PR man… whom he accused of circulating whispers about his wife… being a Catholic.” (The Independent, 14th September 2010: “Why Rangers will Always mean Regret for Ferguson”).
In 1985, the comedian Andy Cameron was shouted down at a Shareholders meeting when he stood up and asked the Chairman to “come out and be honest” about the clubs anti-Catholic unwritten signing policy.
In 1999, Donald Findlay QC was forced to resign his position as Vice Chairman of Rangers after he was captured on camera singing anti-Catholic songs. A typical feature to emerge over the years when Rangers or their fans have been caught bang to rights, is to complain about the conduct of other parties seeking justice. True to form, Findlay, a prominent figure in the legal establishment, complained in his resignation letter about the fact that evidence of his sectarian singing was brought to light: “It is disappointing that someone attending [the function] should have felt it necessary to go to the press”. This is the same Donald Findlay QC who said that the Famine Song was merely an expression of free speech: “There is nothing at all that could in any way be said to be racist or racially motivated about those words.” The Famine Song has been deemed to be racist, resulting in arrest for “racial breach of the peace” for those caught singing it.
In 2009, the official Rangers fan club the Blue Order unfurled a racist banner at an Old Firm game. It was clearly directed at the Irish diaspora in Scotland. It depicted a bus with the words “OFFENDED BUS” printed on the side and a sign pointing to Stranraer. It reflected the sentiments of the Famine Song. The inaction by Rangers FC was loudly berated. Kieran Brady, a leading anti-racist educationist criticised Rangers’ lukewarm response: “The attitude of Rangers as a club and the accompanying rhetoric is in stark contrast to how clubs deal with racism by and large in England…Clubs on the whole condemn the racism almost instantaneously and take steps to ensure the racists are located and consequently prohibited from stadia… there is a futility if there is a lack of preparedness to banish those from the stadium who are incapable of attendance at fixtures without voicing their ingrained prejudices.”
This anti-Catholic stance popularly manifested itself in songs. The Sash My Father Wore was one such song, celebrating wars against Catholics. The Billy Boys is another. It is a song that was written in honour of Billy Fullerton’s fascist anti-Catholic gang of the 1920s and contains the threatening bigoted lines: “We’re up to our knees in Fenian blood…Surrender or you’ll die”. Donald Findlay liked to sing that song. The famine Song was simply following in the proud tradition of anti-Catholic songs sung down Ibrox way. Rule Britannia is a song that, while not overtly anti-Catholic, celebrates racial supremacy and has been adopted as an Ibrox anthem. Even the Rangers chant “we are the [chosen] peepul” is an expression of superiority over others.
Graham Spiers, in his book Paul le Guen’s Time at Rangers, quotes Walter Smith referring to this superiority complex as religious in origin: “There is a Protestant superiority around this club… you can feel it”.
Any outward sign of Catholicism would meet with disapproval. Artur Boruc, a Celtic goalkeeper, blessed himself before every game. On 25th August 2006 Boruc blessed himself at Ibrox and the Rangers fans reacted furiously. The police reported that it took 10minutes to “restore normality to the crowd”. Boruc was arrested for breach of the peace on the evidence of Police seeing Boruc bless himself and Rangers fans who added for good measure that Boruc also gave them “come on” signals and a “V” sign. The Roman Catholic Church observed that “Scotland seems to have made itself one of the few countries in the world where this simple religious gesture is considered an offence.” In the end, given the condemnation from the Catholic Church, it was generously concluded that blessing oneself was not deemed to be unlawful. I do not recall Gascoigne being arrested for his inflammatory imaginary flute playing, symbolic of sectarian, anti-Catholic, Protestant-supremacist Orange Order bands.
Orange – the colour – is associated in the eyes of Rangers fans with William of Orange, and the protestant war against Catholics, in particular their victory at The Battle of the Boyne. David Murray famously introduced Orange football tops, apparently in recognition of the national colours of their Dutch manager, Dick Advocaat and his Dutch players. There is another interpretation: irrespective of Murray’s rationale, it nevertheless appealed to those Rangers fans who held traditional protestant and historical anti-Catholic allegiances. Even today, Rangers fans in Northern Ireland have asked Charles Green to produce an Orange strip for the new club. I am not aware that McCoist is Dutch or that there is a preponderance of Dutch players currently on the books at Ibrox. It is odd that Rangers have not produced a St Andrew’s Cross top in recognition of Walter Smith’s successful tenancy as manager. Charles Green was happily photographed wearing an orange top, no doubt in honour of Dick Advocaat and his Dutch signings.
Anti-Catholic sectarian behaviour has led to more than sickness for some victims. In 1995, 16-year old Mark Scott was wearing a Celtic top and walking in Bridgeton Cross. He was on his way home from the Celtic-Partick Thistle game at Celtic Park. For wearing a Celtic top he had his throat slit by a Rangers fan. The anti-sectarian group Nil By Mouth was formed as a result of Mark’s death. In 1996 Celtic launched their Bhoys Against Bigotry campaign even though Celtic had always operated a non-sectarian employment policy and many felt that the bigotry experienced in the West of Scotland was predominately anti-Catholic in nature. Rangers declined to start a parallel project, believing that bigotry could be tackled in a less overt way. It took until 2003 before their initiative Pride Over Prejudice was launched.
Anti-Catholicism is part of Rangers’ history. There will be the predictable response that Rangers have moved on. We sign Catholics. I will repeat: anti-Catholicism is part of Rangers’ history. You cannot pick and choose what history to preserve. It is there in grainy black and white, and in orange technicolour as well. This article has not focused on other unsavoury aspects of Rangers’ past: the riot in Barcelona in 1972 after winning the European Cup Winners’ Cup, for which they received a one-year ban from European competition; the disgraceful UEFA Cup Final riots in Manchester 2008; the greedy immoral tax-reduction scheme implemented by Murray; the point blank refusal to pay debts owing to the taxman and other creditors in 2011-2012; the outing of panel members dared to impose a transfer ban on The Rangers in 2012; the potential stripping of titles, etc. There is every reason not to rescue the history of Rangers, but the stain of anti-Catholicism is the most damning.
It was the journalist Ian Archer who commented that “This has to be said about Rangers, as a Scottish Football club they are a permanent embarrassment and an occasional disgrace. This country would be a better place if Rangers did not exist.” He got his wish. Archer felt compelled to conclude his column with the following statement: “And, because some people are so sick, I have to put six words at the end of this column. I am not a Roman Catholic.” Their odious history should be allowed to perish with their old club. The new club, The Rangers, should make no effort to resuscitate and preserve that history. A modern, progressive Scotland requires nothing less.
Posted by JohnBhoy
Note by Paul
In fairness to Mr Findlay, I should point out that his robust statements regarding the Famine Song were made in the course of an Appeal to the High Court of Justiciary, where, amongst other arguments, he suggested that the appellant had been engaged in political speech by referring to Fenians, on the basis that he was expressing comment on the secret society of Irish Americans formed in New York in the 1860’s.
The court disagreed with Mr Findlay on that point, as it did with his Famine Song argument. However, it would not necessarily be fair to attribute the views stated by an advocate in court on his client’s behalf and instructions with those of the advocate himself. That, equally is not to say that that is NOT Mr Findlay’s view, but rather that what is said in court does not tell us what he himself thinks.
It would also be appreciated, although I can’t enforce it other than after the fact, if people could refrain from ranting in response to or in support of this piece. JohnBhoy has cited and sourced evidence for his contentions and arguments. It would be appreciated if those engaging with it could do the same.