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Spiers on Sport: coming under threat for criticising Rangers

My heart sank as I watched last week’s Channel Four News item about critics of Rangers FC coming in for threats or menacing intimidation from either fans or rogue elements with links to the Ibrox club.

I’ve been there, had the treatment, received such threats myself. It was all highly familiar, even if I've never written publicly about it until now.

One of Channel 4’s interviewees was Gary Allan, the Scottish QC, who said that, after his involvement with an SFA panel which punished Rangers for bringing the game into disrepute, Strathclyde Police had summoned him to an urgent meeting due to threats being made against him.

Allan spoke of the subsequent threats to himself and his family. It was obvious he regretted ever getting embroiled with Rangers in the first place.

My own story of covering Rangers – and being critical of certain aspects of the club – has incurred similar menace. It all started around 10 years ago when, as chief sports writer on The Herald, I began focusing on the bigoted singing issue over which the club was then wearyingly engaged with its supporters.

After a number of pieces highlighting this blight upon Rangers, the threatening letters, the phone calls and the internet poison on Rangers fans’ sites all began to build in momentum against me.

Round about 2005, my then editor at The Herald phoned me and said: “How do you feel about this? We have a concern about it at the paper. We think we should speak to the police about your security.”

I was pretty nonplussed to hear this, not least because, in truth, I had never been that bothered by it. “I don’t think we need to go that far,” I told my editor. “I really don’t think it’s that bad, is it?” In the end, we agreed to let it lie in terms of police involvement.

Yet the threats towards me grew. It seemed to me they came from a kind of rogue, angry underclass which appeared to have attached itself to the club.

Any sweeping generalisations about Rangers fans, however, were both futile and inaccurate. The fact was, whenever I engaged in pub debate with Rangers fans – which was often - the conversation was normally civil, if combative.

But then came another incident, when the press bus stopped 200 yards short of the Villarreal stadium on a Champions League night with Rangers in 2006. I got fairly bumped around and was spat at as we made our way through the Rangers throngs to the arena.

That was the night when the Villarreal team bus got pelted and suffered a smashed window, and just months before Uefa censured Rangers for bigoted chanting. On the latter, a few Rangers fans on the fervid message-boards blamed me for somehow “shopping” the club to Uefa via my critical editorials on the subject.

Fast forward to 2011, by which time we’d had the disturbances in Manchester involving Rangers fans, and their offensive singing at the 2011 League Cup final, both of which caused the club further headaches.

Again, I’d written critically on these topics, which only kept the poison flowing in my direction.

Then, on the morning of April 21 last year, colleagues began texting me about a fresh alarm. The Daily Record had published a picture of me with an accompanying story, claiming I was one of a number of people being targeted by cranks, because of my criticisms of Rangers.

That particular day I had other family concerns on my mind, and I more or less ignored the Record story. But the next day I received a phone call.

“Graham, this is Detective Chief Superintendent [xxxxxxx] from the counter-terrorism unit at Strathclyde Police…”

I was incredulous. “You’re kidding me, right?” I said. “You are kidding me on, surely?”

“No, I’m not,” he said. “And we think we need to come and see you at home pretty soon.”

I duly spent two hours listening to police security specialists explaining to me that they had information about threats being made against me, and that these threats were linked to my writing and broadcasting about Rangers.

And so it has gone on, the threat of intimidation rising and falling in line with my writing about this football club.

The context, I believe, is this. Rangers FC have had supporter issues to deal with over the years. Many of these issues have seen great improvement in fans' behaviour.

But among the Rangers hard core there is resentment. Their faux Protestant culture around Rangers is something many Ibrox fans want to bin but the “traditionalists” want to preserve.

It often seems to me that a modern, liberal Scotland has abandoned this section of the Rangers support; left them behind, and even actually mocked them for their out-dated beliefs.

Whatever the context, in my own experience, Channel 4 got it right. You sometimes mix with Rangers at your peril.

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

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