Tolerating The Intolerable
Strongly worded statements are not enough; football clubs need to use Social Media to take action against bigoted fans
Strong words from Stewart Robertson, the Managing Director of Rangers Football Club. He was responding to the sad, stupid and entirely unsurprising backlash which followed the players taking the knee in a show of solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement, and in defiance of racism more generally.
That a large, vocal subset of the Rangers support would be mightily enraged by this gesture was as predictable as night following day, so it was important that the club, for their public profile and for their right thinking fans, to be categorical in their condemnation (as they rightly were, it should be said, of the racist abuse suffered by Alfredo Morelos).
Quite rightly, the message was that this sort of poisonous attitude will not be tolerated. However, whilst this is is the right thing to say, it's long past the point where we've had enough of clubs saying it. Leanne Dempster said misconduct would not be tolerated when a bottle was thrown at a Celtic player, and when Rangers captain James Tavernier was confronted by a fan on the pitch (they may or may not have made similar comments after a coconut was thrown onto the pitch in the Edinburgh derby, but that was quite funny so that gets a pass).
Celtic are forced into similar statements pretty much every season, on the back of yet another UEFA fine for flares or banners or singing of certain songs. Hearts have had to. Aberdeen, too. Even my own club, Airdrieonians, have had their moments. Scottish Football fans, veritable encyclopedias of whataboutery that they are, will be able to rhyme off dozens of incidents which led to all sorts of clubs clubs wringing their hands, threatening action and promising that this sort of thing will not be tolerated.
Rangers are famously fond of a statement these days. They also have a track record of having to denounce conduct from their supporters, running the gamut from sectarian singing to outright violence. They are not alone in this, by any stretch; it's a Scottish football problem, a global Football problem. Nonetheless, the recent furore over Rangers players kneeling down pre-match is the latest example of a football club denouncing their supporters for unacceptable behaviour and promising it will not be tolerated.
You can find the replies to the 'controversial' tweet here, thus witnessing the incandescent fury that the somehow contentious gesture spawned from many on 'Rangers twitter'. And that's rather the nub. It's hard to weed out bigoted comments muttered, grumbled or even roared from the stands. Self-policing is integral when dealing with thousands packed into a stand or four. On Social media, things are made far, far easier.
The intellectual cave-dwellers haven't just let slip their ignorance in any old forum, they've done it openly, blatantly and directly in reply to the official Twitter and Facebook accounts of the club. Truly, then, the club can do something about it.
Devote resources to monitoring and investigating your social media, make a concerted effort, be thorough, and go after them.
You can check the names of the offending tweeters and cross reference them with the season ticket database. Then ban them from the stadium. If they have a season ticket, refund it. Granted, not everyone on the internet chooses to use their full name, but that can be worked around. Reply to them and ask them if they have a season ticket because you want to refund it. Tell them that they are barred from the stadium and that you'd like their details to enact this.
Of course, they might refuse. They might choose to continue to hide behind their Nom De Prats and refuse the direct request of the club (Facebook, of course, tends to feature far less pseudonyms than Twitter), but at least then they have been publicly rebuked by the club, directly chastised by the official Twitter or Facebook account.
That move, the threat itself of barring from the stadium, of returning a season ticket, would be a bold statement. The club itself reaching out to the fans who insist that all lives matter, who insist one should only kneel for the Queen and certainly not in solidarity with victims of racial oppression, who demand their captain be stripped of the armband for having the temerity to participate and who insisted that 'their Rangers' would never do such a thing, would have much more impact than a well worded statement on the official website.
It would make clear, directly to the very fans whose support they insist they do not want, that this is emphatically not 'their Rangers', that they really aren't welcome and that Rangers really don't want their money.
The club, any club, in an official capacity, directly telling a fan that they, their views and their money are not welcome. Imagine it.
They'd be leading the way with such an approach, and the rest of Scottish Football would have no option but to follow in Rangers' footsteps. Each and every club ought to make similar devotions of resources to this specific goal, creating teams with the sole purpose of taking their Social Media followers to task. Further steps could be taken, such as blocking any offenders from social media channels and deliberately making further, strong and direct statements in support of this movement that disturbs them so. These will have an impact, too, but not as much of an impact as the specific, deliberate and concentrated allocation of resources to the goal of tracking down and acting upon tweets, posts and comments of a bigoted nature.
Devise template messages, introduce guidelines, make clear the new policy going forward and invest to implement.
At long last, we'd have some evidence that maybe all the tough talk was actually genuine, and not a cynical exercise in PR management. Maybe we'd start to believe that this club, that all clubs, truly mean it when they say such fans are not welcome. That they don't want to just say these things are intolerable, whilst continuing to tolerate the comments, the conduct and, of course, the cash.
Otherwise, the impression is that all these statements from all these clubs are so much hot air. Empty rhetoric. Blatant lies.
Not doing this, continuing to issue statements addressed to fans in general, rather than being targeted and specific, allows room for the supporters in question to carry on regardless. It reads like a box ticking exercise, a standard response to be wheeled out the next time they need it. And the next time after that.
Time they fronted up and put their money where there morals are. Time, too, that the media ask the clubs precisely how they plan on not tolerating this sort of thing, rather than offering pats on the back for statement, after statement, after statement.