A broadly enjoyable, vital book with much to recommend.
Just like the old adage about buses (and in recent times the trains first delayed by cows and then by the novel excuse of “too-much-heat”) one sometimes has to wait and wait and then, suddenly, along they come.
There’s been a famine of decent Rangers books in the past few years but late in 2012 we had a nice biography of Scot Symon from the pen of David Leggat, and just recently a very useful chronicle of the season 2012-13 by Lisa Gray (presently holding up the dining table in Chez Dingwall: how else to explain the delay in review?) and now we’re blessed with this book – Follow We Will: the Fall and Rise of Rangers - from the people who brought you The Rangers Standard.
Most of the writers will be familiar to those who have enjoyed this first year (and a bit) of The Rangers Standard website and although there’s no central consistent voice or style throughout (which can act as either a plus or minus for all collections like this) you can rest assured that everyone involved is:A Rangers fan who loves the Club. Capable of composing a sentence. Helping the wider community, with all author proceeds going to the Rangers Charity Foundation.
So, free from worrying about whether this is another book written by and for crackpots – and, indeed, whether the proceeds are going to the extension for Graham, sports car for McKillop or sun-tan for Gow - this brings us to a slightly different question: who will gain the most from reading this book? The target audience is, clearly, first and foremost curious Bears, then general football fans and, let’s be clear, those within the footballing family in Scotland who’ve had a lot to say, write and report on the saga surrounding the Club in the past couple of years.
The very first chapter is illuminating in a number of ways. A detailed, dry and in many ways difficult read it offers a thorough analysis and review of the administration process and beyond. It also hits us over the head with one of the simple truths from this whole debacle: the support’s grasp of matters financial and the way the Club was run was in many ways lacking and in some instances awfully close to a mass episode of sticking fingers in the ear(s).
One cannot blame fans, either individually or as part of a whole, for the ways in which successive regimes first tarnished and then desecrated the notion of custodianship of the institution but - and there is one- we’ve too often been slow, disorganised, unwilling and unable to bring enough pressure to bear. This isn’t a 2012/13 phenomenon. Those who for years offered warnings, published sensible criticism, or sought to change the culture surrounding the Club and within the huge support haven’t managed to make enough of an impact. There are many reasons for this, but it is clear that there are a good number of Rangers fans who see those running the Club as the ‘adults’ and any attempt to question this and them, or fundamentally change both the way the Club is owned far less run, is a generation or more away. There’s little in this book on the failings of the support, but there is more than enough in the way of ideas, suggestions and positivity to hopefully inspire.
Although Professor Kinnon’s opening chapter gets us off to a sound start the most rewarding and important chapters are arguably to be found around the middle. That’s not to say that should your Kindle have the equivalent of a skip button it’s time for those fingers to get to work (never again should any adult with a portable music player have to listen to a Ringo lead vocal) but perhaps fairer to suggest that the most critical, combative and polemical material is contained at the heart of the collection. And to say that those who spend far too much of their day involved with message-boards and social media may find some elements a little repetitive. None of the narrative-based chapters or the offerings from Messrs Spence and Franklin are uninteresting or anything less than entertaining but it could well be argued that some contributions across the whole book could have worked better as part of a subsumed chapter and others would have benefitted from just a little more room to develop interesting arguments. There are a couple of instances (notably where Social Media and the ownership cat, mouse and bidding process is discussed) where the material included seems somewhere between misrepresentative of the (often online) reality and a small (temporary) drift toward self-indulgence.
But enough of the negativity: this is a book to be enjoyed. Chris Graham’s back-to-back chapters swing for the fences and achieve at least a triple, as he details and then demolishes the attitude, conduct and actions of the footballing authorities in Scotland and then takes to task those privileged to report and comment on the game of football and its complementary business.
It’s here that the wider Rangers family may appreciate, when presented in black and white with cited example after example, the sheer volume of bile and remarkably unabashed manner in which institutional barriers and bias which have punctuated and driven one side of the Rangers saga were constructed and are, still to this day, being presented. It is remarkable to revisit the particular stance taken by certain journalists and to realise that, far from adapting their stories and slant as the facts were seen to change (or when the reality of the situation was confirmed in law and by governing bodies) in some cases – and yes we’re looking here at the golf show man for the BBC and the walking megalolz that is Alex Thomson – it did nothing but reaffirm their stubborn stance. In some cases it’s easy to argue that this is the prerogative of the individual operating in the market, willing to test the waters and hope people keep clicking, buying, reading and digesting. However, the behaviour of the SPL, SFA and the national broadcaster left and leaves so much to be desired and this is suitably highlighted and contextualised.
Most Worthy Brothers McKillop and Duff follow up Buckles Graham with two excellent chapters; warm and well-written considerations of how Rangers fans took up the challenge of these hard times and how individuals reconsidered their contract and contact with the Club. Auntie Gail Richardson then tries to understand quite how mental the most mental commentators on the issues surrounding the RFC problems could be and offers a personal example of how even normally semi-sensible people were dragged into the mania.
We then come to what might be for some the biggest surprise but is for me certainly the most satisfying of all the contributions. John Gow gets right to the heart of the reasons why the Rangers saga was presented in such a poisonous and irresponsible manner and delves into the reasons why this “wasn’t just jealousy or opportunism, there was something more. Rangers were hated. “ The rest of the chapter raises some very interesting questions and presents some very sensible theories on the sectarianism sham in Scotland and the ways in which serious issues are treated either as convenient weapons or misrepresented to an extent that can cause serious problems for the future of public discourse in Scotland. The double-standards raised are concerning enough but even very recent examples point toward a problem which reaches beyond the media and chattering classes and puts the spotlight on our police and elected representatives. It also calls on the Club to take a positive lead and stop hiding: forever being reactive and stuck on the back foot is now no longer acceptable. In light of recent events it might be worth asking more about the climate where such events as Rangers’ bus being set alight and Rangers Standard contributors being subjected to death threats seem no longer to shock.
The last two fan chapters fizzle with good ideas and impassioned pleading. Ross Hendry offers a seductive mixture of solid business thinking and footballing philosophy and wonders if we have the ‘will, finance or ability’ to implement a successful club-wide system overhaul and suggests a number of avenues where the Club could reap rewards, on and off the field, over the medium term with only a little imagination and commitment. It remains to be seen whether the fresh opportunity presented by our plight will result in anything other than short-termism. David Edgar’s analysis of how the Club was complicit in the dehumanising of the support is fascinating, and he makes a number of good points with regard to how the Murray regime created somnambulant followers and how difficult it is – despite exceptions such as the March to Hampden - to engage the majority of the Ibrox Kirk in anything fan-related which isn’t officially Club-sanctioned or is even mildly critical of the custodian(s), although he correctly notes that both a demographic change and a greater use of modern technology and media offers some signs for encouragement.
The book concludes with a fine essay and a considered plea from one of the journalists whose columns, articles and postings throughout these difficult times have been largely beyond reproach and whose conduct should have offered an example to many more experienced and supposedly senior in the Scottish media. Richard Wilson’s chapter is predictably thorough, reasoned and nuanced and his closing comments about those who support the Club – those who keep afloat and bring life to Rangers - are particularly important:
“They need to mobilise, they need to take control of their club, even if it takes years to achieve, and they need to become actively engaged in how the business is operated. It is their club; they, too, pass it on to the next generation.”
This is a necessary book. It gives the views of a sensible section of the Rangers support who suffered as their Club was bashed from within and without and who found, quite remarkably, that their voice was often the solitary one denied the chance to make a contribution by the makers and shakers of the Scottish media opinion clique. Much else will be written about the events of recent times in the years and decades to come – and with the benefit of distance, perspective and new information and context there should be a great deal of interesting material - but this is an essential tome for fans of the Rangers and for many of those participants in the Rangers story who might yet have to reflect upon their conduct.