When Rangers signed Maurice Johnston from Nantes in 1989 they missed a great opportunity. As the East End of Glasgow erupted in fury at a betrayal from one of their own, both Graeme Souness and David Murray knew they’d landed a knockout blow on Celtic. Punch drunk on getting one over their nearest rivals, they revelled in the moment and lost sight of the bigger picture.
As an element of their support turned on their club, burning scarves and season ticket books – furious at not only the thought of signing a Catholic, but also a Celtic supporting Catholic – an opportunity lay waiting. A chance to start the process of ridding themselves, of not only their sectarian signing policy that had attracted the attention on FIFA, but also an element of their support with views stuck in centuries past.
There was a moment where a little humility and understanding, of planning for the future, could have seen Rangers become a forward thinking club. Instead of waiting for the furore over the Johnston signing to pass, and being content – even comfortable – that the signing of Johnston was a landmark moment for a club with deep seated discriminatory signing and recruitment policies from youth level to the boardroom – they missed the chance to publicly recognise their murky past and begin to make amends. A moment lost to apologise and align themselves moving forward, as a club throwing off the shackles of over 100 years of bigotry.
There was a window of opportunity to make the Johnston signing a chance to sweep out an unpalatable backdrop to their organisation. As their revolting fans were revolting, there was the moment to go the whole hog and publicly apologise for that past. A chance to state, under Murray and Souness things would be different and to denounce what went before prior to their watch. It would have aligned the club to the future, made them look a modern, cosmopolitan football club and slowly but surely the bigots could have been marginalised and things may have changed.
In years to come football exploded. Wall to wall TV coverage, big money sponsorship and eventually a European competition in the Champions League. One which brought frightening amounts of money into the game. But with it came the sanitising of football. Sponsors wanted to join the party but they wanted a clean product. Investors in the game wanted a safe environment in which to peddle their wares. The money coming in was enough to make sure UEFA would ensure that would be the case.
Rangers however proceeded as if signing Catholic’s would be enough to cleanse the club, without addressing the elephant in the room – their fans. There they remained lumbered by old traditions.
Instead of taking the high ground and becoming a palatable modern day ‘brand’ they instead remained a parochial club in a social backwater, with even more backward and outdated venom from the stands and they did little about that.
UEFA themselves have taken it upon themselves to act where Rangers, nor the governing bodies in Scotland, dared to go. They called them out, fined them initially. Eventually UEFA publicly ridiculed them with banning orders, in recognition of their discriminatory song book and a boardroom willing to offer little more than lip service to the bigoted chants from the stands.
And now after all of that, the Ibrox club could be at another fork in the road.
🗣 Jermain Defoe: “I would like to think when the season starts we will take a knee and be part of this powerful movement.” pic.twitter.com/eRBObAWmyV
— Rangers Football Club (@RangersFC) June 24, 2020
Jermaine Defoe’s request that Rangers players take a knee in a show of solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement comes against a backdrop of an element of the Rangers support causing trouble on the streets of Glasgow.
As we’ve seen in recent weeks the anti Irish-Catholic views are further entrenched with racism. Once again the club has made no attempt to counter it, despite the police making it clear that football elements were heavily responsible for the George Square violence in recent weeks – and the colours, language songbook being ever so familiar.
Now that Defoe has broken ranks there is an opportunity for Rangers to step into the 21st Century and with one simple action, a team of first team footballers could take a knee and show as a club they are not beholden to an extremist element of their support. Show that they are not scared to go against that vocal minority, one that has embarrassed them and held them back for such a long time.
Will they do that, will the players come out in support of Jermaine Defoe and take a knee? Well some of the responses from fans forums and social media would indicate those entrenched views will take some standing up to. It will take a strong boardroom and dressing room to take a united stand.
From a financial standpoint ‘the’ Rangers are of course in a precarious position. To sideline that element of their support would be a financial hit. Yet the message it would send out would go a long way to improving the image of the club and Scottish football. It would probably also improve their public image to inward investment. At the same time it would curry much favour in the corridors of power at UEFA, who retain a watchful eye on ‘the’ Rangers as a club.
To call out their fringe element and to take a knee as Defoe has asked – a reasonable request surely – would take bravery and vision, something the old Rangers missed the boat with following the signing of Maurice Johnston.
To agree to Defoe’s request would show times are changing and Rangers wish to be a part of the future. To decide against backing their player will show that from the boardroom to the stands they remain living in the past and are happy to revel in it.
From a Celtic perspective our image worldwide is strong. We remain a name and trustworthy brand in European football and with each year we grow stronger. Outside of Scotland Celtic are not seen as two sides of the same coin as we are often branded with in Scotland. Companies do not fear being associated with Celtic as the recent Adidas kit deal proved. ‘Rangers’ on the other hand?
It will make little difference to Celtic should ‘the’ Rangers decide to remain planted firmly with 17th Century views to placate their vocal minority. Yet for a country where investment is thin on the ground, it could be a big deal for the rest of Scottish football if the world saw Rangers take a knee. Companies who do not wish to be connected to such outdated beliefs may well reconsider. Goodness knows Scottish football needs all the help it can get at the moment.
It will be interesting to see, when football restarts in five weeks’ time, if the new club intend to learn from missed opportunities or repeat the mistakes of 1989. It would be difficult to imagine any other club in Scotland refusing to take a knee. To stand alone would not be a good look would it?
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