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6 June 2016

Success on the pitch would be the perfect way for resurgent Rangers to confound those who choose to demonise club

Cup final violence showed the depth of hatred in Scottish football, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MAY 21: Hibs and Rangers fans fight as they invade the pitch during the Scottish Cup Final between Rangers and Hibernian at Hampden Park on May 21, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty)

Although I've never been able to summon up any interest in football, I've just spent hours reading about and around the Rangers versus Hibernian Scottish Cup Final on May 21.

It was a door into a world that troubled me more than I had expected.

Of course I knew about sectarianism in Scottish football, but the extent and depth of the demonisation of loyalists shocked me.

A Scot who occasionally contacts me privately on Twitter had told me how at the end of the match thousands of victorious Hibernian fans - overwhelmed by a success they hadn't had since 1902 - had poured on to the pitch, attacked Rangers players and goaded supporters.

The police had mostly been outside the stadium and so had been late arriving to restore the peace.

What had upset my correspondent particularly were attempts to blame Rangers, who had been very restrained.

However, Callum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, saw it otherwise.

"The police response at the Scottish Cup Final was nothing short of magnificent," he said.

"It was disgraceful that hundreds of fans outside the stadium conspired to inhibit the police response through acts of violence and intimidation as well as the cowardly act of using children as blockades and shields."

This allegation was expanded in the Daily Record by a journalist called Jane Hamilton, a Celtic supporter, who said anonymous police had spoken of Rangers' fans' "mob mentality" and alleged the police had to endure a barrage of abuse and the jostling of police vans by, according to one unnamed officer, "everyone", with parents using children to block roads, "a tactic I had only seen in Northern Ireland".

Mr Steele and Ms Hamilton seemed not to have learned from the Hillsborough inquest that when the police mess up blaming fans is a bad idea.

There is to be an investigation, and I'm not going to get into the ins and outs of what clubs and police appear to have got wrong during and after these events, but on social media the fallout has been what the sports writer Gordon Waddell described as "poisonous, hate-filled, he-said-she-said effluvia".

I've been reading a great deal of that, and I don't for one minute ignore the abuse of Taigs and Tims and Fenians, but the insults from republicans are of a different order, for they echo the language of demonisation republicans practised so ruthlessly in Northern Ireland and exhibit the same contempt for loyalists.

Rangers, who were founded in 1872, and whose rivalry with Celtic is legendary, have had a torrid few years of financial disasters that ended in liquidation.

Their assets were bought by Sevco Scotland (which later changed its name to The Rangers Football Club) and their players had to start again in the third division of Scottish football.

Back now in the top tier, their enemies call them Sevco and refer to their supporters as Sevconians, which the Urban Dictionary tells me refers to people "usually bald and toothless" and "consumed with bigotry and lies" who insist they are really Rangers.

On the website of Rangers supporters the Vanguard Bears, there is a thoughtful blog called "dehumanisation and the end game", which gets to the heart of the matter.

It is dehumanising to deny the club's identity by refusing to call it Rangers and to refer to its supporters as "Ku Klux Klan", "Nazis", "Huns", "knuckledraggers" and "scum".

An important part of the process of dehumanisation, as discussed in the blog, is deindividuation, "whereby individuals are seen as a member of a category or group, rather than being seen as a person".

As Sinn Fein did to Orangemen and the RUC, so extreme Scots republicans are trying to do to Rangers, with the intention of demoralising them by denying them sympathy, equality, dignity or respect.

I would hate to see supporters going down the victimhood path, but with the establishment of Club 1872, an independent new, united fan group which aspires to rebuild the club and keep it safe from dodgy businessmen, they have a much better alternative ahead of them.

Success would be the best way of confounding their enemies.

I won't be joining, but I wish Rangers well.

Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, was published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards