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Spiers on Saturday: protest group won't do walking away despite agm failure

It started with an ordinary Rangers fan, concerned at what he was seeing.

Craig Houston with one of the vans Sons of Struth used for their protests. Picture: Mark Gibson
Craig Houston with one of the vans Sons of Struth used for their protests. Picture: Mark Gibson

Craig Houston, like many, had spent much of the previous six months being appalled at what was happening at Ibrox, and one night, after listening to a football show on the radio, he roused himself to action.

The "Sons of Struth" campaign was born on a Facebook page last summer, founded by Houston and a pal. From humble origins it has grown to the point this week where few Rangers shareholders attending Thursday's annual general meeting would not have heard of the group, who have embarrassed the Rangers board and forced change at the club.

Houston, who wants the board gutted of any of its Charles Green connections, was dismayed to see Paul Murray's gang of four defeated at the agm, though he insists the fight will go on. "Our plan now is just to let the dust settle," he said yesterday. "For us it's all about how the board react to these events. Will they encourage fan involvement? Will they be willing to sit down and discuss things with us?

"It is obvious the fans want two things: the removal of Brian Stockbridge [the finance director] and Jack Irvine [the PR guru] from Rangers. If Graham Wallace, the new chief executive, is a man of his word, and he reviews the situation and is prepared to meet the fans and listen to them, then I'd hope he would make these two decisions. These guys are businessmen, first and foremost. Don't people like that listen to their customers? I thought that was the deal."

On BBC Radio Scotland this week, Houston, who runs his own cleaning business, impressed many with his solid, down-to-earth, knowledgeable grasp of the Rangers situation. Scarcely four months ago he would never have envisaged being in that situation.

"Back in the summer I was just a concerned Rangers fan like many others," he said. "I was worried about the board and one night I opened a Facebook page expressing my thoughts. There had been a meeting between some of the organised Rangers fan groups and some board members, and I thought, 'I'd like to have been at that meeting to ask a question . . . who speaks for me?'

"If you poll any group of Rangers fans you'll find that most of them have no affiliation to any supporters' group whatsoever. I just got fed up with it. I've been a season ticket-holder for 32 years but realised in this context I didn't have a voice. That's how it started."

That Facebook page grew in strength, as did a Twitter account which now has 4400 followers, and the SoS message began to spread. Houston, to meet and interview, is as decent and likeable as they come, though he learned quickly that in this multi-media age if someone doesn't agree with you, the abuse soon starts.

He said: "We've had plenty grief along the way. We tried some stunts, some PR stuff, to get our message across, such as hiring a van with LCD screens on the side, with slogans like 'Spivs Out' and 'Sack The Board' displayed. A few fans have said, 'ach, that's not the Rangers way', but it was one way we felt we could get our message across.

"Originally we wanted to have a projector emblazoning 'Spivs Out' on the front of Ibrox itself. In the end the projector wasn't strong enough. We then organised the stadium protests like those in the 18th and 78th minutes of the Stenhousemuir game, and more recently the red-card display. As I say, some fans complained, and maybe we were easy targets, with some of the stunts we pulled. A few people said, 'Rangers fans don't do protests like this'. But I think the majority have sided with us, I've no doubts about that."

Now the agm is over, and SoS's wish that the board be gutted was defeated, what next? There has been talk of a future season ticket boycott. Houston said: "I need to stress this: we're not advocating any boycott of games right now. What we've said is, depending on how this board react to recent events, it has been mooted as a possibility for sometime down the line.

"If there is a fresh groundswell of feeling against the board over the next few months, then who knows what is going to happen next? It really all depends on how Mr Wallace and the board react.

"I have to say I took some offence at Sandy Easdale saying recently that the club would be 'in mortal danger' or it could be 'a fatal blow' if a season-ticket boycott took place. The implication was, if you don't buy your season ticket, then you're putting your club in danger.

"I thought, 'how dare you . . . you're the guys who have squandered £50m recently, not us'. Norman Crighton is supposedly heading up an investment committee. Okay, so let's see this committee do their job . . . get the investment."

Houston insists the Sons of Struth campaign will continue, despite the cost to himself, financially and emotionally. "Oh, it has cost me alright," he says. "I've taken some abuse. I've had to get the police involved. Running this protest has cost me thousands of pounds in terms of my own business, purely in terms of time. It has cost me access time with my children, it has caused a strain in my current relationship and even a strain between me and my parents.

"I can tell you, none of it has been a bundle of laughs for me. But we - a pal and I - just felt that protesting against this Rangers board was important. We wanted to stand up for ourselves and for our fellow fans."

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