Charlie and the klan

When Charles Green was trying to connect with supporters of Rangers (1872-2012) at the start of this season he used a magic word.

The word was “bigotry” and it worked.

He reached out to the Klan and felt their Herrenvolk outrage.

The people who chant that they don’t care that no one likes them were revealed to have a desperate need to be loved.

Charlie looked longingly into their eyes as they bought season tickets from him.

The charm offensive was just starting and during his safari to Norn Iron he wore an old orange Rangers away top and consorted with known Ulster Loyalists.

Now there is no evidence that Charles Green knew the identities or histories of these fine chaps, but the optics went down a treat with the klan.

Even some notoriously timid hacks in Scotland suggested that Charlie might be “playing to the gallery” with such comments.

If this gruff Yorkshire man knows anything it is how to connect with his customers.

However, there was the potential problem for him in the medium to long term and that was the very nature of his customer base.

An experienced SPL match delegate once remarked to me that if Martin Bain was to ban supporters for bigoted chanting then he would lose “half his season ticket holders”.

That conversation took place in late 2010.

Nothing much has changed.

The banned song ‘The Billy Boys’ was clearly heard  at Hampden in the SFL3 match this season between Queen’s Park and Charles Green’s team yet there was no response from Ibrox on the matter.

What made Berwick a potential game changer was the role of ESPN.

Such a half time announcement during a BBC Scotland broadcast, for example, is hard to imagine.

After Ray Stubbs did the state some service the club made a statement “regretting” the chanting and the blue blogosphere went into damage limitation mode.

We were told that what was heard at Berwick was aberrant and that the fans had been doing so well.

There was even the ludicrous theory that those indulging in bigoted chanting weren’t really genuine supporters.

The fantasy was floated that as the match was over the border in England some dastardly English chaps had acquired Rangers scarves and had turned up to see Charlie’s Sevco boys.

The implication was that if they were English then they weren’t really part of the fan base.

Quintessentially British anyone?

Those indulging in these chants were asked by influential fans to stop doing this because it would hurt the club.

I did not read anywhere any acknowledgment by anyone associated with Rangers of the history of anti-Irish racism among the Ibrox fans going back over generations.

Of course, what was heard at Berwick wasn’t aberrant it was par for the course.

Even after the Famine Song was ruled illegal in June 2009 in the appeal court in Edinburgh there was no public apology from the representatives of fans groups who had made a fist of defending this racist ditty.

In the immediate aftermath of Berwick Charlie was very quiet on the entire subject.

Now however Mr Green has raised the ante on the new club’s supporters and indeed on himself.

He has stated that “life bans” will be handed out to anyone indulging in bigoted chanting.

If this is true then, quite simply, the party is over for the klan.

The initial response on social media by the Billy Boys ensemble was not warm and loving towards the idea or indeed towards Mr Green himself.

The unique selling proposition of the Ibrox brand was that it was a safe space in modern Scotland to echo the sentiments of the 1923 Church and Nation committee Report to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

That learned document concerned itself with “the menace of the Irish race to our Scottish nationality”.

As late as 1952 the Kirk, in its written deliberations could state that the Irish in Scotland were an “alien race”.

That, incidentally, was the same year that the SFA tried to get Celtic to take down the Irish tricolour at Parkhead.

They failed although unlike the Church of Scotland I cannot find any record of an apology from the Scottish Football Association for that shameful incident.

In the decades since Ibrox stadium has been an echo chamber for those times.

The core of the Rangers subculture and the xenophobic hatred of Irish Catholics that defines them can be found in that document.

Scottish Catholics and Italians in Scotland were not the focus of this hatred as articulated in the Kirk’s deliberations in those years.

Time and again the distinction was made that this was about race.

It was about the Irish in Scotland.

The report, compiled under the leadership of committee convener John White, made it clear on page one that they had no problem with Scottish Catholics  from the Highlands as they were of the same race.

The words ‘race’ and ‘racial’ were used throughout.

In that context to call anti-Irish racism in modern Scotland ‘sectarian’ is nonsensical.

It was always about ethnicity and the cultural otherness of the Irish in Victorian and Edwardian Britain.

Only in Scotland has significant trace elements of this disease lingered and that is because it has had a gathering point throughout the 20th century.

Ibrox stadium.

I spoke yesterday to a leading academic within the Church of Scotland  and he kindly agreed to help me with my research for a book on anti-Irish racism in Scotland.

He is part of a new breed and he was all in favour of that shameful aspect of the Kirk’s history being revealed and atoned for.

If Charlie is serious about tackling the klan then lots and lots of racists will never ever set foot inside Ibrox stadium again.

Moreover he wants the decent Sevco chaps to be part of an intelligence gathering network against this, we are assured, tiny minority of Fenian blood waders.

The daunting challenge to the Sevco franchise customers who used to support Rangers is to put the racism they were reared with in the dustbin of history.

When the uber touchy Ibrox customers scream that they have ‘preserved’ their history despite Rangers being liquidated they are, in a cultural sense, correct.

In its first season in professional football Sevco’s customers have used the occasion of these football matches to indulge in the old song sheet about Catholics and Irish people.

That, rather than the players on the field, was always the main attraction of Ibrox for tens of thousands of racists.

Now that anti-Irish racism is socially unacceptable in modern Scotland that is why the klan are faced with an existential crisis.

If Charlie is serious then it is game over for the klan on matchdays.

He will have succeeded where the Scottish government and the criminal justice system failed.

Ironically in trying to preserve the brand he bought last summer he could actually kill the unique selling proposition that currently gets tens of thousands of people paying lots of money to watch bottom tier football matches.

The Church of Scotland these days is not the place you go to if you want to hear a tub thumping tirade against Irish Catholics, but in the days of John White it clearly was.

As much as Charlie has been the chuckled about by many on Planet Fitba if he IS serious about life bans for the Billy Boys then he will do the state some very worthwhile service.

If he turns Ibrox into a football stadium and not an incubator of intolerance then his legacy will be a good one.

Do it Charlie.

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