Received wisdom will have you believe that Rangers fans follow a fairly narrow kirk – we’re all Protestants, unionists, loyalists, and leaning slightly more towards right than left on the political spectrum. These stereotypes are held by both the population at large, and by denizens of many of our own online supporters’ sites. The trouble is, as with all received wisdom, it’s not entirely true. There are fans of Rangers to be found in all demographics of society, with a wide array of political viewpoints, contrary to any notional ‘ideal’ of what a ‘Bear’ should believe in. I should know – I’m one of them.
Many football supporters inherit their allegiances from their immediate family. However, most of my immediate relatives have, and had, no real interest in football, with my paternal grandfather being the exception – even in his 80s he could be found assiduously filling in the international tournament wall planner that had come with his copy of the Radio Times. But he never alluded to an affiliation with any particular club, other than expressing an admiration for the Hibernian and Dundee teams of the 1950s he watched while working and living on the East coast. Neither of my parents like football – nor are they particularly political (excepting my mother’s belief in Scottish independence.) They’re certainly not theists either. As such, growing up on the outskirts of Glasgow in the 80s, I hadn’t the exposure to the same socio-political pressures that many of my peers seem to have had. I was also a shy and awkward child with limited social skills, and it didn’t help that we lived in an area of town where there were very few other children of a similar age to me. That didn’t bother me much as I had developed a love of reading, but I still found it difficult to bond with my classmates.
And then two things happened. Despite my father having no interest in football, his job as a press photographer meant he would often spend Saturday afternoons photographing matches in the B&Q Scottish Premier Division. One weekend he brought home a programme from a match he’d been covering. It was from a Rangers game, and had a poster of Ray Wilkins in the centrefold. I took it to school for some reason, and found that the other boys’ indifference to me disappeared, and they seemed to want to engage with me. I think back then my brain noted the power this glossy A5 booklet had. (I asked my friend Tony, a collector of Rangers programmes, if he could confirm which programme it actually was, and it seems likely that it was from the match against Dundee United on the 2nd May 1989.)
Shortly afterwards I started playing football in the playground at school. My memory of why I made this volte-face after years of not being interested doesn’t really make a lot of sense now, but it was something to do with somebody kicking the class ball into an adjacent quarry, and the teacher holding us to collective responsibility.
And then on the 15th November 1989 Ally McCoist scored that goal for Scotland against Norway, and I fell in love a little bit, and the deal was sealed that Rangers would be the team I’d follow. You often hear supporters of smaller teams decrying supporters of larger teams for being ‘glory-hunters’, without appreciating that many are supporting the club their forefathers are, just like they do. This is no less true for fans of Rangers and Celtic, although I suppose if I’m being honest with myself, I suppose I was a bit of a glory hunter. I ended up supporting the light blues because of their stature in the late 80s, because people at my school supported them, because they supplied players to the Scottish international team. If my father had been working at a Celtic game that weekend in 1989, could I be celebrating a treble this weekend? It doesn’t really bear thinking about.
My father took me to my first game, a 5-0 Scottish Cup win against Cowdenbeath in February 1991, a surprise present for my 11th birthday. I’d wanted to go ten pin bowling, I seem to recall, before I opened the card with the ticket inside. My parents had divorced by then, and we didn’t have a lot of money, so I never got into the habit of attending a lot of games. I did make it to a handful per season though. My mother developed something of an interest in the game, and together we entered and won a Daily Express competition for executive box tickets for the Champions League match against Bruges. She also managed to get tickets for the crucial final group stage match against CSKA Moscow at Ibrox, so I experienced heartbreak at an early age.
While I was 18 before Rangers failed to win the league championship, as the song goes, the straits be broad and narrow. It hasn’t all been champagne and roses supporting the club these last three decades – much of the last five years has been as grim as it could possibly have been for a club of Rangers’ size. There were a couple of times where I almost drifted away from football in general, but I realised I liked the sport too much for that. I still think I have a different outlook to many other Rangers fans, because my love for the club comes from a slightly different place. I am a Rangers fan, but I’m an atheist and a republican and I’m quite open to the idea of Scottish independence, and I’m not alone in that regard. I know that makes me less of a fan in some people’s eyes, but I support Rangers because they’re my team.