I think it is fair to say that there will not be a repetition, at least in the same format, of the “Armed Forces Day” held at the Rangers game on Saturday. What is alleged to have happened at Ibrox on Saturday has resurrected concerns about “succulent lamb” press coverage; has brought back into fashion “whataboutery”; and has shown that in both the Army/Mod and Rangers nobody learned the lessons from last year and opened themselves up to criticism by ignoring them.
You would have thought that, after last year’s Remembrance Event there would have been some consideration given by Rangers and the Ministry of Defence to the format for Saturday’s festivities.
In case you have forgotten last November’s event resulted in the following, as reported by the Daily Record:-
Fans watched Royal Marines abseil from the stadium roof and a howitzer was fired from the trackside to signal a minute’s silence.
But following complaints, Major General Nick Eeles, General Officer Commanding Scotland, met Navy and RAF chiefs and they agreed to ban a repeat.
Instead, he has said just a minute’s silence would be a more appropriate way to mark the contribution of those who served in the two world wars and other conflicts.
In a letter to one person who complained, the Army secretariat wrote: “The General Officer Commanding Scotland has now had the opportunity to review the events that took place at Ibrox Park with the other service heads in Scotland.
“They share your view that the format of the half-time event and the conduct of those taking part in it was inappropriate for Remembrance weekend and will take steps to ensure that such events are conducted with appropriate solemnity in the future.
“They believe that the minute’s silence before the match was the correct way to mark the occasion and Army commanders will be directed to restrict future Remembrance events to this type of activity in the future.
“The focus of Remembrance activities must be on the fallen, not on those who are serving in the Armed Forces today.”
Saturday was not of course Remembrance Day, and the appearance of the military personnel was not part of Remembrance activities. But the fallout from the weekend’s celebration has been visible much faster than last year.
The Army confirmed today that it was aware of a number of complaints, and had launched a probe into the issue.
In a statement, it said: “We are aware of a number of complaints of against members of the Armed Forces at the Armed Forces Day match at Ibrox stadium at the weekend.
“The Army and Police Scotland, assisted by Rangers football club, are investigating these complaints. Sectarianism is a breach of the Army’s strict values and standards. If any personnel are found to have fallen short of these values and standards they will be dealt with by administrative or disciplinary action by the chain of command and, if necessary, by the police.”
Chief Superintendent Andy Bates of Police Scotland also confirmed the force had been made aware of the allegations, and was investigating.
He said: “We are aware of concerns raised regarding the conduct of a number of people attending the Rangers v Stenhousemuir game at Ibrox on Saturday. These concerns are being investigated.”
Rangers said it too was aware of complaints made about the half-time event, but could not comment further on the allegations given the police investigation.
However, the club pointed out that the day was designed to “honour” members of the Armed Forces.
In a statement, it said: “Rangers Football Club and the Rangers Charity Foundation were proud to welcome over 400 personnel from the Armed Forces to Ibrox stadium on Saturday.
“The club has always been fully committed to honouring those who sacrifice so much for their country and we were delighted to invite members of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and Royal Air Force to the match. The event was organised in conjunction with senior personnel from each branch of the Armed Forces who were also represented in the Directors Box.
“The club are aware of complaints regarding the conduct of Armed Forces personnel on the pitch at half time and understand that Police Scotland are investigating the circumstances therefore it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”
Just to get that clear, there is an investigation by Police Scotland and by the Army into the behaviour of service personnel, all assisted by Rangers.
I have not looked at or listened to the video footage of the event and I cannot comment on which particular version of the Rangers songbook was being used. I have seen some of the pictures, including one which appears to show some squaddies holding up a scarf bearing the legend “Keep Ulster Protestant”. But that is not why I am writing about it.
Instead there are some separate strands which are worthy of comment.
First of all, as a result of “social media” publicity, the matter was aired in the mainstream today. The game was on Saturday but, until Roy Greenslade, in his Guardian blog yesterday, reported on the absence of any media coverage, there was no mainstream media coverage!
Now, after Professor Greenslade’s piece, and a blog by Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News, the Scottish media have reported the story. However the reports are not so much on the event itself but rather that Police Scotland and the Army are investigating.
Already there have been comments that this is an example of the return of the “succulent lamb” style of press coverage of Rangers in Scotland. I rather suspect that, instead of it being some deliberate decision to ignore it, it is part of an ingrained mind-set. People who go to football matches (and I will not single out Rangers games alone for this) are used to hearing songs and chants which would be seen as disgraceful if shouted in your local Main Street. Spectators are also used to hearing fans shouting the vilest abuse at players, managers, referees and linesmen assistant referees. People, in my experience, screen it out. It is so common that it is ignored.
In recent years, especially where Celtic and Rangers are involved, keen-eared listeners have gone out of their way to catch the words to some of the more unsavoury “traditional” tunes sung at matches. Part of this of course is carrying out the Scottish Government’s plans to eliminate sectarianism, especially at football.
Far more however, I suspect, it is to use as examples of “whataboutery”. After all, the argument goes, why can’t one group sing about being up to one’s knees in blood if the other lot sing about terrorists?
But you do not escape a speeding charge by pointing out that ten other cars have just gone past going faster than you were!
The reactions on Rangers message boards and fan websites since the issue of Saturday was raised has been almost universally one of attacking those who have had the temerity to raise the issue, and to point out, amongst the usual grossly offensive names used by some Rangers fans for the ground where Celtic play, that “rebel” songs and songs in support of terrorists are sung there. Whether they are or not is not, in my opinion, the point.
But “whataboutery” and deflection are par for the course in Scottish football.
It seems only to be when an “outsider” raises these issues (as when ESPN apologised for the singing at a Rangers v Berwick match) that the Scottish media take note – as I said, not as a deliberate policy but because it does not seem to be a story!
In the same way that “Dog Bites Man” is not news, the singing of unpleasant and offensive songs at Ibrox is not news either. Maybe it should be. But it is not.
It seems to take the intervention of an outsider to make people realise that what is alleged to have happened is NOT what should take place.
And the reaction of the internet Rangers fans fits entirely into that mind-set – it must be the “useful idiots” who are making the fuss at the prompting of “Rangers haters” who are to blame. Fighting a charge by ignoring it and simply vilifying the accuser is not generally a good way to mount a defence!
The second thread is well-explained by Logic’s Rock whose blog post here deserves to be read in full. The title, “What on Earth Was the Brass Thinking?” sums things up well. As the blogger writes:-
“Quite apart from the bad PR in Scotland, this PR disaster for the Armed Forces is even worse in Northern Ireland. Let’s hope this is the last time we see British or Scottish troops participate in anything like this.”
Some, indeed many, of the service personnel present are likely to have been Rangers fans. Maybe lots of them are season ticket holders at Ibrox and as such would have been at the game in any event, singing their songs to their hearts’ content.
However they would not have been in uniform to do so. The fact that this was an event which must have been sanctioned by the Army/MoD must cast doubt on the thought processes which were followed.
Last year the Remembrance event at Ibrox was seen to be “inappropriate”. What consideration was given to the “appropriateness” of Saturday’s events? It was of a different nature but again was placing 400 military personnel in the spotlight.
In addition, and as was clear after last year, there were more eyes on the event than simply the Rangers supporters. The vocal Rangers fans whose views I have read are united in their opinion that this whole affair was created by the “obsessed” listening for the slightest thing by which to be offended.
Well, if that is suspected to be the situation, why give them a chance to cause trouble?
To return to the car analogy, if you have been pulled up for speeding on the same road by the same police officer, even when travelling within the speed limit, and you know that the Constable will be parked there again, perhaps you would either avoid the area, or drive past well below the speed limit.
In the same way, one would have thought that the Army might have insisted either that the matter be more low-key or, as Logic’s Rock says, more military!
Can Rangers be faulted? One might say that they have opened themselves up for criticism by allowing the event to unfold as it did. There would not appear to have been any risk assessment from the PR point of view, which seems a common theme at Ibrox in recent times.
The fault, if fault there be, lies with the service personnel who have mis-behaved whilst in uniform and the Army/Police investigation will identify wrongdoers, if any.
But the Army and Rangers have set the stage for the mis-behaviour to take place.
In football terms, it is a huge own goal.
Thirdly I have seen some of the motivation for the complaints being attributed by the Rangers fans to the hatred of the British Army by Celtic fans. I am sure that some Celtic fans do hate the British Army. I suspect that very many do not. I also think that it is highly unlikely that this issue has arisen as a device to “get at” the armed forces.
The Army did not order the participants to sing offensive songs. The fault lies with the individuals in question. But the Army and Rangers have been foolish enough to allow an opportunity for people to mis-behave and for people who might have no great love for either institution to notice this.
Finally the whole issue might be seen as a distraction from the fans who protested against the Rangers Board on Saturday and from the imminent arrival of the accounts, which were due to be published in mid-September. Cynics might have thought that this could be a cunning plan to unite the fans behind the club against the “haters”. I suspect that the moderate and restrained statement from Rangers quoted in the Scotsman piece above will not do so. Instead the fans on the web seemed to want Rangers to go “on the attack”. But, in the light of a Police Scotland and Army investigation, how could they possibly do so?
And it would be crediting Rangers with a Machiavellian level of intrigue to imagine that the whole mess was engineered as a distraction …
Posted by Paul McConville