Rangers ’Till I Die: Scottish Football, Sectarianism, and Our Life Expectancy

Unionism, a word many of us now relate to the politics of Northern Ireland, has very much of late entered into the Scottish lexicon. The virtual non-existence of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, taken with the all but obliteration of Scottish Labour in the last general election, has increased calls in certain circles for a unified Unionist political Party. Whether or not such a political alliance will ever be formed – and not succumb to the endemic splintering that has marked its Northern Irish counterpart’s history – remains to be seen. All the same it is clear that the ingredients of this political idea are coming together, and so those of us in favour of independence would do well to acclimatise ourselves to the changing political weather in Scotland.

Looking over various pages dedicated to the idea of a new Scottish Unionism a number of themes or commonalities begin to emerge. At the forefront of this affection for Britishness and the Union is an often stated loyalty to ‘the Crown’ or the monarchy in general, and related to this is an expression of pride in the achievements of the British Army. In tandem with the Crown and the Crown Forces most Unionist pages affirm some form of connection to religion; in particular the many and varied strands of the Protestant Reformation whose communities are spread over the British Isles, with particular attention paid to those in the Irish province of Ulster.

If we are to consider these elements as a Unionist cultural package then we can see that they are most often tied together by a single chord or a brand – Glasgow Rangers Football Club. It seems odd, on the face of it, that a football team, or rather the support of a football team, can tie together all of these ideas of monarchy, religion, tradition, and militarism, but it does, and it does this because being Rangers – for many people – is about so much more than a game. Rangers, like a good few other teams, is a culture in Scotland. This is not to say that all Rangers supporters are Unionists. We saw a great support for the Yes campaign from vocal Rangers supporters before the referendum, and we still hear from them now. Yet even these will acknowledge the culture of Unionism at the heart of the club’s support.

Identity and culture are powerful things, and we all need them to some extent, and it isn’t our job to judge the Unionist cultural package of Rangers’ supporters as good or bad. It is what it is, and one way or another we are always going to share our Scottishness with Scotland’s Unionist Rangers supporters. We can, however, without malice discuss some of the contradictions that come as part of this package. One glaring contradiction can be heard in one of the supporters’ chants where the Falls Road in Belfast is described as hell and the Shankill as heaven. Other than the fact that neither of these streets are in Scotland, anyone familiar with either of these neighbouring streets will know that they both have their problems. They are much of a muchness really – they are very much the same type of working class community, the residents on both watch the same television programmes, and shop in the same High Street UK shops. Both are a far cry from the grandeur of Buckingham Palace, and – oddly enough – the real poverty experienced by many on both of these streets is related to the lifestyle lived by the occupants of the Palace (in yet another country).

The majority of working class Rangers supporters are subject to the same criminally low life expectancy – as low as 53 years – as other working class Scots, and the reasons for it are the same across Scotland; poverty, social exclusion, poor nutrition and dietary education among other things. This gross inequality, for so long the most serious social problem in Scotland, is the common thread that binds Rangers’ culture with that of the rest of working class Scotland. We are victims together, and yet one group elects to remain loyal to the very structures of injustice that are quite actually killing them.

Reading the history of Rangers Football Club merely shows that this victimhood has always been the same, except for the fact that the club was not always linked to political and sectarian ideas of Loyalism and Unionism. The young lads who founded the club way back in 1872 did so because they wanted to play football. Sectarianism was the last thing on their (Moses and Peter McNeil, Peter Campbell, and William McBeath) minds, and from the beginning Catholics had been part of the team and its support. It was only with the rise of religious tensions in Glasgow in the early twentieth century that the club became an exclusively Protestant outfit. Noteworthy too is the fact that these remarkable young lads suffered the same sad and appalling fate of many poor Scots just like them – poverty and disease.

Rangers will always be a part of Scotland. It will be up to the Rangers supporters themselves and the culture they inhabit whether or not they chose to question the injustices which circumscribe many of their lives. Rangers hasn’t always been tied to a culture that has shied away from being critical of the society in which it lives, and it certainly doesn’t have to remain stuck to it. Either way, the club and its culture will always be a part of Scotland.

– Ùr-Fhàsaidh
Jason Michael, Ayrshire
Blog Contributor