Element of Rangers support are way out of tune with forward-thinking club

RANGERS have made significant progress in many areas since emerging from their financial troubles last year.

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Rangers' head of safety and security, David Martin, addressed offending supporters at half-time
Rangers' head of safety and security, David Martin, addressed offending supporters at half-time

On the football front, a team of inexperienced kids, little-known foreign imports and grizzled veterans has put a shaky start firmly behind them.

The 3-1 win over Berwick Rangers at Shielfield Park on Saturday, a venue they were lucky to draw 1-1 at back in August, was further evidence of their improvement.

The side manager Ally McCoist hastily cobbled together last summer is now 22 points clear at the top of the Irn-Bru Third Division table and cruising to the title.

Elsewhere, the Ibrox club's bank balance, of grave concern to so many for so long, is in rude good health following a successful share offering.

Supporters have ploughed millions of pounds into the Glasgow institution along with many major companies, financial institutions and wealthy investors.

There are, then, many reasons for fans to be optimistic about the future of Rangers, on and off the park, after such a turbulent period in its 140-year history. Yet, it would appear a club desperately striving to move forward is being held back by some who seem determined to cling on to the past.

The conduct of a section of the away support, and a sizeable one at that, in Berwick, was depressing for anyone with the best interests of Rangers at heart.

There have, at certain times this season, been occasional lapses into the sectarian chants which have long since been outlawed in this country by government legislation. After Fraser Aird netted a last-minute winner against Queen's Park at Hampden in December, for example, one notorious chant was belted out.

What took place at the weekend, however, was on an altogether different level to such minor and isolated incidents.

Superintendent Tim Smith, of Northumbria Constabulary, stated in a radio interview there had been a "short outburst" of offending songs at the start of the match. The first 45 minutes of the game was accompanied by verses all sensible followers of Rangers hoped had been consigned to history.

David Martin, the head of safety and security at Rangers, wasted no time in addressing those responsible at half-time and the second half was nowhere near as bad.

Even so, many of the anthems aired by an element on The Ducket, the terracing opposite the main stand at Shielfield, left a great deal to be desired.

Rangers, to their credit, issued a terse statement on its official website firmly condemning the songs while the game was still being played out.

Meanwhile, ESPN, screening the game live on television, apologised to its viewers for any offence caused and promised to speak to the authorities.

Given the much-needed income the satellite broadcaster brings in to Scottish football in this era of austerity, it was a highly unfortunate moment.

The chanting was as surprising as it was sad. Rangers fans have enjoyed their travels in the fourth tier this season. Many friends have been made along the way. Rangers manager McCoist stressed that point when asked to comment on the regrettable events which had marred an otherwise satisfactory afternoon.

But a man who has, as much as anyone, helped to ensure the survival of the club throughout their difficulties, was also at pains to point out the chants were harmful and unacceptable. He is hopeful there will be no repeat of them, either at Ibrox or away, for the good of a club trying very hard to restore itself to the forefront of our national game and return to Europe.

"Our fans have been fantastic home and away this season," he said. "But if there was some unsavoury chanting then they let themselves down, let us all down, a little bit.

"I am very hopeful it is an isolated incident and we can move on. We have come a long way in recent years and we have to continue the good work that has been done.

"You will probably get one or two setbacks, one or two steps backwards, before we can move forward. But it is probably no more than that."

It has been speculated that many so-called fans believed that, because the game was played across the border in England, anti-sectarianism laws would not apply.

Strathclyde Police will, though, study video footage of the travelling support. If offenders can be identified then they could face criminal prosecution and club bans. Those punishments would serve as a much-needed reminder that these chants shame Rangers and have no place in football.

The focus after the Berwick Rangers game should have been firmly on the comeback the visitors produced after falling behind to an early Anestis Argyriou own goal.

In particular, people should have been raving about the wonder goal Andy Little netted just before half-time to put the visitors 2-1 ahead following Dean Shiels' penalty equaliser. The Northern Ireland international volleyed a Lee Wallace cross into the top left corner to take his personal haul for the 2012/13 campaign to 21.

The goal substitute Sebastien Faure netted midway through the second half to kill off the home team also merited a special mention; it was his first for Rangers.

Alas, other less pleasant matters overshadowed those strikes. Hopefully, that will not be the case against Stirling Albion at Forthbank tomorrow evening. Or again in this or any other season.

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