THE widespread condemnation of the vile abuse that Rangers defender Connor Goldson was subjected to on social media after “taking the knee” has underlined the stark transformation the Ibrox fanbase has undergone in the modern era, it was last night claimed.

Goldson revealed at the weekend that he and his team mates had been “hurt” by the negative reaction online to their show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement before the pre-season friendlies against Lyon and Nice in France last week.

The centre half had been told to “get out of our club” by one anonymous poster after downloading a photograph of himself in the Groupama Stadium on Instagram.

However, Reverend Stuart MacQuarrie, the Rangers chaplain and a prominent backer of the Everyone Anyone diversity and inclusion campaign which marks its first anniversary today, admitted he had been buoyed by the overwhelming response of his fellow fans to the internet attack.

Reverend MacQuarrie branded the trolls “cowards” and insisted they aren’t representative of a support that is unconcerned with either the ethnicity or religion of their players and only wants to see Steven Gerrard’s side flourish.  

“What has been interesting for me is the huge condemnation this incident has provoked from Rangers supporters,” he said.

“Rangers fans, certainly since just before the Graeme Souness era, have changed. All they want to see is a good team, a team that is winning things, a team that is doing well.

“That is all to do with players. It isn’t important to fans the background that players have. As long as they are good enough to put that blue jersey on and play for that blue jersey that’s fine with the vast majority of Rangers supporters. 

“And players in turn love the association with Rangers and with Glasgow, which is a very cosmopolitan European city in parts. In other parts, of course, there are social issues. 

“Rangers have changed, too, with the work of their charity foundation. There is an emphasis now on welcoming people regardless of their background.”

Reverend MacQuarrie added: “The strides forward that Rangers have made have matched the changes that have been made in Scottish society.

“I think Scottish football is finally getting to grips with modern life. People won’t pay a lot of money now to sit next to some foul-mouthed hooligan, somebody whose values are stuck in an age that is long gone.

“One of the big problems with social media is you tend to attract people who reinforce your values rather than challenge them. 

“It provides a degree of anonymity for individuals to effectively act as cowards and be big brave people putting forward opinions that society by and large rejects.”  

Rangers managing director Stewart Robertson issued a strongly-worded statement in support of the players taking the knee on Monday and warned racists they aren’t welcome at Ibrox. Reverend MacQuarrie echoed those sentiments.

He said: “The Everyone Anyone campaign isn’t a point of arrival it is a point of continuation – this is the road that we’re going on and this is the road that we want. If you can’t be part of this and you won’t be part of this then we don’t want you at Ibrox.”

Reverend MacQuarrie has witnessed a huge change in the attitudes of the Rangers support in the 60 or so years that he has been attending matches  – but he accepts that work remains to be done.  

The Ibrox club were forced to partially close their stadium in a Europa League group game against Feyenoord by UEFA last season as a punishment for sectarian singing in the play-off match against Legia Warsaw.

But Reverend MacQuarrie believes that is a wider issue which the country as a whole, not just his football club, has to address. 

“It is a societal problem,” he said. “A lot of it comes back to social media and a reinforcement of people’s views instead of challenging them.

“In the last decade or so there has been a rise, not just in football but in society as a whole, of extremism. People who have extreme opinions tend to get these reinforced rather than challenged online. It isn’t just in sectarianism, we see it in political life.

“Sectarianism at one level has all but disappeared, but at another level it is still there lurking in Scottish society. But it is not a problem in football alone. It occasionally manifests itself through football, but it’s not a football problem.”

Reverend MacQuarrie was proud to play a part in the formation of Everyone Anyone, which promotes Rangers as a modern club through its key messages of tolerance and togetherness and was launched at Ibrox on this day last year. He is optimistic the ground-breaking campaign will continue to have an impact going forward.

“I was part of the Rangers Diversity and Inclusion Group through which Everyone Anyone originated,” he said. “We wanted to emphasise who we are as a club of players, supporters and staff.

“We were aware a narrative had been allowed to be established about what people thought Rangers was. Part of this narrative was quite negative and we wanted to challenge that, to let the voice of the real Rangers family be heard.

“We knew that the vast majority of Rangers fans only wanted a successful team, winning well by playing good football. So, we looked at the diversity of all Rangers supporters from different faiths and ethnic backgrounds.

“We had also established the outstanding Ibrox Pride community  for LGBT people who are Rangers supporters. Looking around the table it became obvious that Rangers are supported quite literally by everyone and anyone. Thus the programme was born.
“We need to descale the intensity and inject a bit of humour that isn’t about sneering at people. Let’s make football in Scotland fun and a good positive place to be.”