I have to admit that in all my years of having an interest in football I can’t really recall a time when I felt as much apathy towards Scotland taking on England at Wembley as I did last month.
Such a fixture has traditionally set the heart racing a wee bit, and injected a sense of patriotism seldom seen when Scotland play against other sides. But this occasion felt oddly flat in terms of excitement for what is the oldest footballing rivalry in the world. The reason for such a lack of interest can be put down to one of many things.
Certainly there has been a deep malaise about all things Scotland since we somehow managed to not qualify for the Euro’s in the summer. It is still difficult to understand how we allowed a plodding Republic of Ireland side to pip us to the play-off spot.
To be the only nation from the UK not to be at the finals in France was embarrassing, and results thereafter seem to indicate that Gordon Strachan has taken the nation as far as he can. That he has re-adopted his sarcastic answer and tone policy when dealing with difficult questions from the media would add weight to that view.
Another reason I felt a level of apathy about the fixture was the nonsense decision to have Scotland playing in their pink away kit. That said, as much as a nonsense that decision was, it was no worse a decision than the one made by whoever in the SFA approved a Scotland home kit design with white sleeves! Such stuff might seem trivial, but I genuinely get miffed at kit designs these days. Maybe it’s an age thing, but the general feeling I have with kits these days is one of how difficult can it be to design a simple kit without resorting to gimmicks, fluorescent colours and designs that would make you question the eyesight of the person who designed it.
The above issues all played their part in my apathy, but there was also a deeper rooted reason for feeling far removed from any excitement over Scotland taking on the ‘Auld Enemy’. One that is related to the general view from supporters of other clubs and the Tartan Army towards Rangers.
Now traditionally, as the biggest club in Scotland, we have always had a certain level of distain and even hatred aimed towards us. I had always felt, however, there was a limit to how far that hatred would go. In recent years I would suggest that has changed.
Certainly in the last year or two there have been enough incidents to make you feel that not only is there a hatred towards Rangers, but it has manifested itself into a feeling that acts of violence against Rangers supporters are legitimate and acceptable.
Two primary school aged Rangers supporters getting bottled in separate Old Firm games certainly indicates a sense of “fair game” when it comes to those of us who have noses tinged with blue.
The disgraceful scenes at Motherwell in the Championship play-off last year were also a sign of the “it’s acceptable if it’s Rangers” mentality that is sweeping the nation.
The chaos at the Scottish Cup Final is probably the greatest example of this mentality. My own experience at the game was one that can only be described as fearful, due to me being there with my 11 year old son.
The minute the Hibs fans came on the park I knew what was about to unfold. I knew they would make their way down to the Rangers end and look for trouble – and they did. What I didn’t see at the time, though, was the several assaults on players and staff – this was due to me making a hasty exit with young boy who was bemused at why I was practically dragging out the stadium with great haste. The full scale of what had evolved only came to light when I saw the TV footage later that evening.
But the fact that the Hibs fans felt it was necessary to come on the park at all says everything you need to know about the mentality amongst the fans of other clubs when it comes to Rangers.
Would they have come on like that if they had just beat Inverness Caley Thistle? Of course they wouldn’t have. The reason they came on is because they felt validated in going on to create havoc and assault players purely because it was Rangers. I’m not even convinced they would have come on park in such a manner if they’d played Hearts that day.
Another reason for feeling peripheral when it comes to the Scotland set-up has been the treatment of Rangers players by the SFA and, specifically, the Tartan Army. Certainly with the latter there are blatant contradictions when it comes to dishing out abuse to players who have “abandoned their country”.
For instance, back in his Everton days Davie Weir walked out on Scotland when Berti Vogts was in charge. He returned a while later to not so much as a ripple of resentment from the Tartan Army.
Same goes for Scott Brown who came out of “international retirement” for the glamour game at Wembley. It appears nobody had any issue with the fact he’d walked out but now wanted back in. It seems even less of an issue that he put in a display weaker than Tesco Value tea!
Compare Weir and Brown’s experience to that of Kris Boyd’s, who walked out of the Scotland set-up under Craig Levein whilst a Rangers player. When he came back into the fold he was roundly booed by the Tartan Army for his “betrayal”.
If you want a more recent example compare Brown’s experience to that of Lee Wallace, who has never indicated that he doesn’t want to be considered for selection for his country – and yet is persona non grata amongst the Tartan Army and whose name was booed by a fair percentage of them at a recent game. They even have their own “Lee Wallace is a Grass” banner.
Go back further and you can compare the inconsistencies in Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor’s experiences after their booze and gesture shame a few years back. The former was told to go away and never return for his part in the shenanigans. When a possible reintroduction for Ferguson was mooted further down the line there was outright mutiny within the ranks of the Tartan Army. Ferguson, sensing this, decided against looking at the possibility of returning.
McGregor was also roundly despised by the Tartan Army until he left Rangers in the summer of 2012 when financial calamity hit the club. From this point onwards he seems to have been bestowed upon him a new found acceptance to the fold. A strange stance to take given McGregor’s and Ferguson’s crimes were identical.
All of the above show that the relationship between Rangers and Scotland is now a very fractured and complex one, and one heavily influenced by a shifting constitutional and political landscape. If I’m honest, I get that. I also get that we’re a unionist club and that in this current climate a lot of people don’t like the union or anything that is affiliated with it. What I don’t get is how far people are prepared to take things.
I don’t get that they’re prepared to boo players who are representing their country purely because of the football club they play for. I don’t get that some feel validated in invading pitches and assaulting players because of the club they play for. I really don’t get that at least two people thought it was acceptable to put a bottle in a two young boys faces because of the club they support.
Some will argue that some of the above are isolated incidents. I would question that and argue that there is a deep rooted and unhealthy hatred towards Rangers in this country that bordering on being out of control. And whilst it remains that way I would suggest the relationship between Rangers and Scotland – one that was once a very strong one – will remain fractured for some time.