The board of directors at Rangers football club. Despite being in charge, little has been shown by them in halting the anarchy breaking out amongst the team's supporters
It has been said that strong leadership at the top filters itself down to the rank and file with the result being a united front all pulling together in the same direction.
Rangers, however, are in a mess. People in the Ibrox corridors may be in charge but clearly do not give the impression that they could even run 100 metres let alone a football club. Without a stern hand at the rudder, the message is sent to those who go through the turnstiles that if those at the top don’t care, why should the support care about them?
Which is precisely what happened outside the ground on Friday night, prior to and after the fixture against Hearts which had to be abandoned due to the wintry weather. It was known in advance that a supporter protest was going to take place outside Ibrox. However, such is the anger that the current custodians of Rangers have ignited amongst the support with their blundering and also their incompetence, things quickly boiled over.
The suits inside were meanwhile treating themselves to expensive hospitality and were no doubt oblivious as to why the masses outside were so angry at their poor management of the club and the appalling failure in not learning any of the lessons of the Murray/Whyte days which led to the club being liquidated and having to start again back in 2012 in the first place.
You would have hoped that before the game started that one of the Rangers directors would have walked over to one of their Hearts counterparts and asked them the simple question of: “Can you give us a shot of your business plan?”
Such anger in the stands has been seen at Tynecastle in the past. Hearts are definitely no strangers to boardroom turmoil. Wallace Mercer had to quickly get a grip on things when he arrived to rescue the club from bankruptcy in 1981. Mercer himself late in 1992 would find hostility directed towards his reign when his ‘speculate to accumulate’ gamble backfired and put the club back into the red. His successor, Chris Robinson, would eventually have the wrath of the fans turned on him when, after becoming as out of his depth as a club owner as the current board at Rangers are, he put the club in a place where it would be on its knees and ripe for the vulture that was Vladimir Romanov to exploit (sound familiar Rangers?).
As Mike Ashley appears to be doing by offering Rangers loans in return for having Ibrox as security, Romanov held Hearts to ransom as he effectively pointed a gun at them to say “get rid of me and your club will die”. Only when the cash did run out and the Baltic buffoon fled to Russia on the run from the Lithuanian taxman, the club didn’t die – thanks to the same fans that Romanov poured the emotional blackmail on. It was a messy sweeping-up job that had to be done, but Hearts are in a much better place than they were a year ago.
Which is why Rangers fans feel that they have to make a stand. They know that the current board is not fit for purpose. They know that Mike Ashley’s emotional blackmail is one great bluff. If it means another closure and restart in the third tier again (assuming the Scottish Football Association allow them to jump the queue ahead of the non-league clubs again) then so be it. They are prepared to lose a finger to save a hand if it means getting the charlatans out. They will still be there long after Mr Ashley has cleared off.
However, anger is one thing. Lowering yourself into barbarity is another. People will have sympathy for a protest. The same folk will also be understanding of a stand you may have to make to highlight your gripe. Very few though have any truck with hooliganism.
Despite their main issue being with the board of directors, a section of the Rangers support decided to direct their anger towards the Hearts support. Most football grounds in Britain do two things when accommodating the fans of a visiting club. Give them an end to themselves or, if that’s not feasible, ensure that there is a clear space that divides the two sets of fans and thus limit any potential flashpoint to one avenue which can easily be covered by both police and stewards. At Ibrox, away fans are situated in one corner of the ground and are surrounded by home supporters to the left, to the right and in the stands above. Three potential flashpoints instead of one.
Reports from Hearts fans came flying in via social media and the fans’ online forum of Rangers supporters breaking the cordon on both sides while it is also alleged that the home fans in the upper Broomloan stand threw missiles at the visiting support below as well as showering them with spit. With the stewards and police acting like rabbits caught in the headlights, it was inevitable that some Hearts fans, instead of doing what they should have done by getting out of the ground as quickly as possible, retaliated. Actions that are equally contemptible but could so easily have been nipped in the bud had those in charge of security acted against the initial provocation.
Sadly, matters escalated outside the ground as the travelling Hearts fans would report later on of having to endure a ‘gauntlet of hate’ in making their way back to the supporter buses that were to take them back to Edinburgh.
Supporters took to social media saying that they had been attacked by Rangers counterparts with buses alleged to have also been attacked with missiles thrown at the windows causing damage. Fans also took to social media saying that their children had been left traumatised having been made to feel intimidated by rival fans.
The Edinburgh Evening News reported that a source close to Hearts said they received reports of fans being attacked by Rangers supporters as they left the stadium.
“Rangers fans came from both sides of the away ends and got laid into supporters,” they said.
“If you were wearing maroon you were fair game it seems.”
It was also reported that the Hearts team themselves were delayed from leaving Ibrox for their own safety.
Any goodwill towards the Rangers support and their plight at how the vultures in suits are yet again going about destroying their club erodes with news of such incidents. The sad thing is, you don’t have to cast your mind back too far to find that they have form for this. Various indiscretions on past European trips cast a black mark on the club’s reputation which of course turned into a major spillage when Rangers fans went on the rampage on the streets of Manchester on the night of the 2008 Uefa Cup final when that city foolishly allowed them carte blanche to go on an all-day booze-up only to reap what they had sown as a whirlwind of violence blew through the streets.
The Manchester incident also came about because those in the Rangers boardroom at the time had taken a somewhat laissez-faire attitude towards policing their own support, preferring deflection instead of looking as intently at their own along with those they believed had contributed to various violent flashpoints. What happened on Friday night can again be attributed to a Rangers board who not only have the same appalling attitude but have shown little inclination to even address it. Hearts under Romanov ignored their crowd behaviour issues and only attempted to do something about the problem after it was too late following a hooligan’s disgraceful assault on then-Celtic manager Neil Lennon during a match at Tynecastle in 2011.
Questions though must be asked of the police. Hearts supporters who came back battered, bruised and in a state of shock after the ordeal they went through are entitled to answers about why they received inadequate protection? After all, the constabulary in Glasgow have experience of handling large volatile crowds yet were left flat-footed in this instance.
The police were given advance warning that a protest outside Ibrox stadium was to take place before the game against Hearts.
Rangers fans had gone on social media sites to advertise this. Given how high feelings were running against the club’s board, anyone would have come to the conclusion that this was a situation that could escalate.
It appears that while they were successful in preventing the protesting Rangers fans from carrying out their own version of ‘storming the Bastille’, it would appear from the accounts made by a number of Hearts fans that they did so at the neglect of safety for others.
There may well be an argument put forward that the police may have had a difficult task in quelling the anger of a protesting crowd and that this would have stretched their resources.
However, the police in Glasgow have shown in the past that they have had experience of successfully planning and executing an operation in handling a protest involving a group of people which they believe could spill over into something more serious.
Back in March 2013, a section of Celtic supporters – a narcissistic bunch who label themselves ‘The Green Brigade’ – decided to stage a protest about supporters who had been banned from Parkhead – the home of Celtic football club. The police heard of this and swooped upon the Gallowgate area of Glasgow to ensure that this protest did not boil over and intrude upon the safety of football fans making their way to Parkhead that day.
Why was the same course of action not applied by the police at Ibrox on Friday night? Where was the tactical planning to ensure that everybody, be they Hearts fans, Rangers supporters and even loathed board members got home without feeling threatened and intimidated?
Then of course is the issue of the match itself which had to be abandoned due to the snow ensuring that playing a game of football was impossible.
Snow began to fall in both Edinburgh and Glasgow around mid-afternoon. It had been forecast and both Rangers and BT Sport – the TV station who would be screening the match live – knew it.
Rangers should have had the undersoil heating on at full blast well in advance and employed the groundstaff to get work to ensure the pitch. However, it seems minimum effort had been put in to get the pitch up to standard in order for it to combat whatever the wintry weather could throw at it.
BBC reporter, Tom English, stated on Twitter that his station had been told that the undersoil heating had been turned on. If it had then someone had better come around and take a look at it because it appears not to be working correctly.
Then again, funds are in short supply at Ibrox that this might not be possible. Even so, more could also have been done by physical labour to get the snow off the pitch. The two goalmouths were cleared but snow was allowed to bed down on the rest of the pitch. Finances at the stricken Glasgow club maybe tight and said labour might have been short in supply. Either way, the club should have known earlier on that getting this match on was beyond them and should have postponed the fixture. Dundee United were able to do this for their match on Saturday yet Rangers couldn’t. Hamilton Accies did get their game against Celtic on but at least had the decency not only to throw every effort at ensuring this was the case but also kept supporters of both clubs well informed via social media as to what the latest situation was. Rangers, a bigger club, were unable to match the Lanarkshire side’s high standards.
In slight mitigation towards Rangers, given their perilous financial situation, they may have come under pressure from TV channel, BT Sport, to get this game on. After all, this game was the broadcaster’s main showpiece of the night and they were no doubt expecting a big audience to tune in.
Since satellite and cable television broke the monopoly that BBC and ITV had on sport back in the early 1990s, football scheduling has been butchered left, right and centre as clubs bend down to the whims of the likes of Sky and BT Sport to re-arrange fixtures and kick-offs to times that may fit in with their schedule – with the aim of getting high viewer ratings – and with little regard to the ordinary supporter.
Said fan may buy a ticket for a big game like a local derby for example after it has been scheduled for a 3pm start on a Saturday. Then along comes a TV channel who flashes its wallet at this person’s team and demands they change it to Sunday lunchtime, Friday evening, Monday night, etc and ensure that this supporter can’t go because of work or family commitments. They could make Saturday as they had the day off but because some marketing idiot, whose knowledge of football you could write on the back of a stamp, threw a hissy fit, the fan misses out.
Watch it on telly instead? Sorry, nothing beats being at the ground itself. Unfortunately, the likes of BT Sport can’t get their head round that idea and instead put games on where supporters of the visiting team have to get to the opposition’s ground in the middle of Friday rush hour.
That’s bad enough in itself but throw a snow storm into proceedings and you have the farcical situation of Hearts fans still on the M8 motorway between Edinburgh and Glasgow with the 7.45pm kick-off time only minutes away. One fan wrote on twitter that the bus he was on was 13 miles away from Glasgow with the satnav machine predicting an arrival by half-time such was gridlock on the M8.
The logical thing, given that there was also an issue regarding the pitch and its excess snow that had still to be cleared, was for BT Sport to give the green light to the referee to delay the kick-off by 15 minutes or half an hour if needs be to allow Hearts fans extra time to get to Ibrox and not miss the start .
As is disturbingly frequent from big companies these days, it appears common sense was told it could go and hang itself. BT Sport had a programme schedule to maintain and damn the wishes of 2000 fans stuck on the motorway desperate to get to a game they had paid good money to see.
Of course BT Sport’s selfishness backfired when the referee had to abandon the game midway through the first half. Who knows how much of that snow could have been cleared had the TV station given the OK for the match to be delayed? We quite possibly could have got the full 90 minutes, a final result and the chance for both Rangers and the police to avoid a volatile situation at the end.
Instead, farce and neglect were allowed to prevail. But when you have gross incompetence at the top, it is hardly surprising that chaos breaks out from underneath.