I’d say I was brought up a fairly typical west of Scotland Protestant.
I almost never went to church, abandoned Sunday school at the earliest opportunity (School? On a Sunday?) and joined that uber-Presbyterian symbol of God bothering rectitude, The Boys Brigade, solely for the purposes of playing in the Saturday morning football team.
The Church of Scotland meant hee-haw to me, but the part of my life that was definitely spiritual, certainly in terms of its blind faith and obedient devotion, was a categorical and apparently non-negotiable affiliation to Glasgow Rangers FC.
I had my Dad to thank for that. With a nose that was bluer than a Lex Mclean routine, he’d immersed me, from an early age, in the various rituals and sacraments of the Holy Church of Ibrox.
Archaic customs such as the ‘lift’ over the turnstile, standing at the exact same spot on the terracing every week, the smoky incense of Embassy Regal and McEwan’s Export fumes, and the weird incantations of the hawkers, which to the uninitiated, probably sounded like some sort of incomprehensible talking in tongues.
‘Getyerspearmintchewinggun’, ‘Honeyperrrrrs’, ‘Erza Souvenir Specialllll…’
And of course, the primordial invocation of the Bears, which took many forms, but can generally be summed up as: ‘C’monRangersslet’sgerrintaethemfenianba******……’ – regardless of who they were actually playing.
Up till the age of about 10, I couldn’t see the problem. Rangers didn’t sign Catholics. They just didn’t. They were The Proddie Team. Therefore, they were my team.
Because I was a Proddie. I must be, I supported Rangers.
As I got older, I started to become more uneasy about the chants of the crowd, the casual bigotry and the deep-seated intolerance of all things green.
Tims and Fenians. Taigs and Left Footers. Bead Rattlers. Caffliks. (Hmm, I used to think – if you hate something that much, don’t you think you should learn how to say it properly?)
I knew people who wouldn’t wear green jumpers, who wouldn’t drink Barr’s Limeade, who avoided cheese’n’onion crisps simply because of the colour of the packet.
You think I’m kidding? I’m not.
Luckily for me, it wasn’t like that in our house. My parents had lots of friends and neighbours who were Catholic, including Mr O’Donnell next door, a fabulous guy who was an important and positive factor in my childhood.
See, like the overwhelming majority of Bears, we were blue, but we weren’t orange.
Then, I wasn’t blue any more. I was a teenager, more interested in music and girls than I was in football.
John Greig or Johnny Rotten? No contest.
When I came back to football, I came back as a St Mirren supporter. Being a Buddy was easier and much more acceptable in general company. And if they never won anything – who cared? Actually, that made it better, since supporting a wee diddy team has always been accompanied by a certain righteousness.
Best of all, it got right up the old man’s nose – a behavioural requirement for any self-respecting teenager, I would have thought.
People say that you never switch your football team – that it’s with you for life - but the fact is, loads of people do change allegiances. The only thing is, they don’t like to talk about it and will generally deny it if challenged. People change. They always have and so do you.
When I started to get into comedy writing, I realised the potential in ripping into both sides of the Old Firm. Celtic’s penny pinching and Rangers ludicrous bigotry? Comedy gold.
And just to prove I could be even handed – ‘How would you advertise a game between Celtic and the profoundly parsimonious Paisley men of St Mirren? The Fenians versus the Mean Yins.’
The years rolled on and I moved away – only returning to Scotland once a year or so – but every time I did, I’d accompany the Old Man to Ibrox – or watch a game with him on TV.
He was still a Blue Nose and I wasn’t. But suddenly, after years of unresolved tension and mutual mistrust, it no longer mattered. We bonded, Dad and I. Good-natured ribbing about players being paid fortunes who couldn’t kick straight, St Mirren still being duff, Celtic still being Celtic, we bonded over – because of – our differences.
We didn’t support the same team but we respected each other. The game – football – brought us together. It’s what – at its best – the game does.
And so, here we are now, my Dad is dead and his team find themselves in what can only be described as a sorry state – for the Gers fans still around, a genuine tragedy.
For some, of course, Celtic supporters for instance, there’s nothing tragic about it. In fact, it’s party-time for some at Parkhead, but for me that schadenfreude thing – rejoicing in someone else’s misfortune – is strictly for the birds.
Sure, Rangers FC did the wrong thing. They overspent, paid huge salaries to people who did nothing to deserve it, they evaded paying taxes, got involved in some dodgy deals, swindled themselves into one hell of a holy mess.
They have to be punished. I get that. But none of it was the supporters' fault. All they did was pay for the whole thing. In cash and in heartache.
You never see fans kissing the badge, but everyone knows that the Terracing Tams (I know, there’s no such thing anymore) ARE the club, any club, every club.
So, there’s not a team like the Glasgow Rangers. Any longer. As a lover of Scottish football good or bad – mostly bad – I don’t think that’s a cause for celebration.
Mind you, every cloud and all that. Maybe it means St Mirren have a chance of winning something next year. Though I very much doubt it.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.