There was a time when teams used to go to Ibrox afraid. That was back in the days of financial doping, of EBT’s, of Murray being bankrolled by the bank that was later bankrolled by the tax payer. Those days are fast fading into memory, and not before time.
At the weekend just past, Neil Lennon did something extraordinary, something that no manager outside of Celtic Park has done when facing Sevco. He told his players to play the men in the jerseys, not the jerseys themselves. He told them to ignore the crowd and show the opposing team not one iota of respect. He did what every manager going to Ibrox or facing Sevco should do; he gave his players a wee reminder that things have changed.
“Those days are over,” his team talk may have gone. “Remember, this is not the same club. Do not treat them as if they were, play them on their own merits.”
And teams who do that always stand a chance of beating them.
Other clubs will learn this in time if they haven’t already. Wait until Derek McInnes fully comprehends it. You’ll see a real show next time Aberdeen roll into town and not a system where there are eleven men behind the ball. Wait until the Motherwell’s and St Johnstone’s go to Ibrox and try to attack them. Watch Sevco drop down the league table.
There’s one place where this is already sinking in, where the reality of it is taking hold already. That’s at Ibrox itself, in the stands, in the manager’s office, in the boardroom. There’s a growing sense that they aren’t what they think they are, that there’s no hope for them in clawing their way to the top whilst Celtic plays football here.
To say it’s not going down well is an understatement.
The Peepul have been conditioned, through years, to believe they are special. That they are important. Nothing that has happened in the last five years, since the liquidation of Rangers, has changed their minds, and why should it have? The SFA line is that they were “too big to fail.” The SPL tried to upend all of Scottish football to put them straight into the top flight. The media pushed the Survival Lie, some of them pushed the Victim Lie, all are unanimous in agreeing that Scottish football was weaker when Sevco was clawing its way through the divisions … and nearly all agreed that a challenge from Ibrox was more important than one from elsewhere.
Look at the way the media greeted Stewart Robertson’s “election” to the SPFL board; “back where they belong” was the common mantra, as if Sevco or Rangers before them had some divine right to be represented there. They didn’t. They don’t.
I understand where this attitude has come from.
I understand why they still believe they are vital, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.
But slowly it’s sinking in over there they are not special and the betting odds on online-betting.org reflect this. They are relevant only because of the noise 45,000 of them makes at a home game. Their size affords them a certain level of status, but on its own it will not make them challengers. It will not make them winners.
There are people who still don’t understand this, so let me try to put it in simple terms.
Don’t assume the size of Sevco makes them important.
They take in more money than any other club in the league except us; ergo, they should be our biggest challengers, right? Wrong. Hearts and Aberdeen are in the process of building new stands or stadiums. They will never have 45,000 all-seaters but nor will they have the enormous cost-base associated with the Glasgow side.
See, the season ticket base at Ibrox generates a lot of money, but their outgoings are incredible too, and the way their DoF is talking about scouting reforms and such like means that they will get even bigger. Sevco can afford to pay more in wages and transfer fees than other clubs in the league, but we’ve already seen that they are dependent on soft loans to survive. If they had to live within their means I’d suggest that their “advantage” over those other clubs would be marginal at best. And then it comes down to recruitment and management.
Even now they are failing, spectacularly, on both and it’s because they are trying so hard to be Rangers, to be the club they thought they used to be. But as I’ve demonstrated over and over again, as the numbers bear out, they never were that club in the first place. Shorn of the bank’s backing, and the EBT’s, we’d have rolled over them, consistently, for the better part of the last 20 years. Who knows what “in a row” we’d be on now?
As this sinks in, as the ramifications of it start to hit home, two things will happen to their support; the numbers will drop, possibly radically, and the crazy, die-hard, element will become more toxic and more volatile. And we’re seeing the signs of it already.
What makes this worse, and all the more combustible, is the presence in the boardroom of the “Real Rangers Men”, those who know the value of playing to the gallery or worse, who actually harbour the same sentiments and “cultural mind-set” of the worst elements of their support. They also employ the services of a PR company whose upper management is as paranoid, warped and deluded as the most rabid supporter’s representative.
I have talked about how that job does things to managers; this weekend, Caixinha demanded “respect” for himself and for the club. He is not the first. McCoist and Warburton made similar demands before him. The reason for this is simple; Rangers was always respected. In their eyes, Sevco should be too. Having to play second fiddle to Celtic and others has sucked up some of that which they thought was their due.
Demanding respect is something that comes naturally over there. They believe they are entitled to it, as if it comes by right whereas everyone else knows that respect is earned, and that you have to give it before you get it. These people respect no-one.
The general tone of the club has changed markedly since the Dave King takeover, but that offers no alibi to the likes of Charles Green and others before him, who knew bombastic talk and the pushing of conspiracy theories would keep the fans onside.
But King and his people have ramped up the hysterics to the max. James Blair, a club director, was inserted onto the Club 1872 board, and their own frenzied shrieking has gone up ten decibels to reflect the psychosis in the director’s box.
They are akin right now to an “I want it now” child standing in a shop, screaming his head off because mummy and daddy won’t buy him toys. And when that doesn’t work, next comes the temper tantrum, and we’ve seen that from Ibrox too.
Hibs’ fans pitch invasion to celebrate the cup final was met with a counter-invasion for a square go. The club’s response was to blame Hibs fans and concoct the quickly discredited lie about their players being assaulted. A lot of the blogs called upon the SFA to take action against them over the inflammatory nature of that statement. The SFA did nothing.
Over the last year and a half the club has issued several such statements, including one directed at Celtic. The timing of them is crucial to an understanding of what’s going on; they nearly always get released in the aftermath of a defeat.
This club knows exactly what it’s doing; stoking the level of hate to cover bad results.
And the more frequent those bad results are, the more unhinged the statements will become. This idea that all of Scottish football hates them is poisonous and feeds the paranoia of a section of their supporters that really needs no encouragement before things get ugly.
The board openly panders to this element. The Hibs fans pitch invasion “provoked” their fans into violence. They excused sectarian singing against Celtic as something that had been similarly “provoked.” Neil Lennon “provoked” them at the weekend, apparently, although non-stop bile was being directed at him long before he turned and gave the Sevco fans any response. His very presence in the dug-out is what “provoked” them but that’s alright too, because it’s Lennon, and everyone knows (aye right) that he “brings it upon himself.”
In the seconds after Sevco scored the match’s opening goal, Sevco fans got onto the pitch. They famously did the same at Firhill last year.
But Ibrox is a place that worries me, and it has for a while. I wrote an article in the aftermath of the 5-1 game where I queried the stewarding arrangements, and speculated that the lack of them that day could have been the result of cost-cutting and the “hiring” of unpaid volunteers.
I posted a picture from that day showing an entire ground where the only stewards who could be seen on the touchline were in front of the Celtic end.
That match, of course, was also marred by objects being thrown at our players, including one moment where what appears to be a golf ball almost strikes Stuart Armstrong. We all know, too, that in the same game Scott Sinclair was subjected to racist abuse.
The SFA disciplinary body, which is preparing the rack for Neil Lennon as I write this, has not uttered one word about the events of that day. No case was opened.
Sevco was never asked to account for it.
Events this weekend have elevated my concerns. The hate for Lennon has reached new heights, and these clubs have to play each at least twice before the season ends, with another tie at Ibrox already pencilled in. On Saturday we saw a flash of how dangerous that could be. If a group of fans was able to get on the pitch to celebrate a goal, then there was a danger to Neil Lennon’s safety all through that game. He has already been the victim of a deranged fan who charged him in his technical area … and the confrontation involving one of their fans and Scott Brown shows that it’s not only Lennon they have difficulty controlling themselves around.
But had a supporter wished to do Lennon harm at the weekend I have no doubt that said supporter would have stood a good chance of getting to him. Other clubs will go to Ibrox this season and win. Other clubs have players in their ranks who draw a furious reaction from their supporters. The rivalry with Aberdeen is already heavy and getting worse every year. This is to say nothing of what our own club can expect when it visits.
Be under no illusions about Sevco’s willingness to tackle this. There’s a section of their board which is wedded to the lunatic element, and would try to find a way to excuse the most horrendous action from their fans short of literal murder.
In recent years, people inside the club have been perfectly willing to utilise the Ibrox hate-mob to put pressure on individuals who afforded them scrutiny or who those in the boardroom think wish the club ill. McCoist’s famous demand for the names of three individuals who should have remained anonymous, after they had imposed a “transfer embargo” – which turned out to be laughably weak – led to intimidation and even threats of violence against those who’s details were later published. Clubs who were vocal in supporting the decision to make Sevco start from the bottom tier were similarly put on notice. When Phil published his book, Downfall, the backlash was severe. His book editor, Angela Haggerty, later went to court after sickening threats were made against her on a supporter podcast. And it goes on and on.
The banning of journalists is now routine. The club has publicly supported a fan campaign against a national newspaper. The BBC has been involved in a steady conflict with them for the past few years, and does not broadcast from inside Ibrox. We all remember Jim Traynor ending a press conference last year, in an effort to intimidate the hacks, and now, today, Keith Jackson of The Record has told their readers about how the club is now filming journalists … with a view to putting those who ask pressing questions up online, exposing them to potential danger.
There is no question that Ibrox is a dangerous place.
It is without dispute the most dangerous ground in Scottish football.
The people running the show over there are unspooling from reality. From daubing a supremacist slogan on the dressing room walls to excusing the worst excesses of their most debased element, there is a general attitude over there consistent with the abandonment of restraint.
As their club continues to spiral downward this will only become worse.
Something has to be done about all this before the psychopathic behaviour of those in positions of responsibility over there results in something dreadful.
It cannot be allowed to continue like this, and if the SFA continues to ignore it they, too, will carry the burden of guilt when the inevitable happens and Scottish football plunges into a darkness so complete that we might never see daylight again.