In the wake of Rangers fans clearly being heard singing sectarian songs during their home game against Hibernian over the Christmas period, very few journalists publicly criticised the tens of thousands of fans who targeted Alan Stubbs with chants of being a ‘fenian b**tard’ and celebrating their four goals by singing The Billy Boys with the sectarian add-on ‘up to our knees in fenian blood’.
One of the few who did was award-winning journalist Graham Speirs – who has been an outspoken critic of sectarianism in Scottish football – and who is consistently at the forefront of highlighting the knuckle-dragging element within our game.
Now Speirs has been shown the door by The Herald over his defiant counter statement following the publication issuing an apology to the Ibrox club.
In the wake of his article criticising and turning the spotlight on the fans for their descent into sectarianism once more – the journalist, like others, was on the end of abuse from the very ‘people’ who no doubt bellowed out The Billy Boys and ‘Fenian b**tard’ at the top of their lungs all the while Police Scotland stood by and did nothing.
The fact that little was made in the press of manager Mark Warburton’s comments on the game having a ‘fantastic atmosphere’ with one paper writing that the ‘atmosphere at Ibrox was redolent of old times in more ways than one’.
Despite the newspapers eventually jumping on the bandwagon of being critical of the sectarian singing over the next few days – not one journalist highlighted or wrote about Warburton’s claims of the atmosphere being ‘magnificent’ rather than poisonous and filled with sectarian hatred.
Think of that what you will.
It took Rangers several days to issue a statement on what they deemed ‘unacceptable behaviour’. Not once did they utter the word ‘sectarian’ possibly fearful of a backlash from their own supporters – after all they have a penchant for mob mentality be it against their own board or others.
The SPFL are still ‘investigating’ the sectarian singing and chanting from the game – which was a month ago.
But this latest turn of events involving The Herald, follows on the back of the BBC reporter Chris McLaughlin being banned from Ibrox for a second time – over what Rangers claimed as ‘misleading and unbalanced reports’.
That second ban signalled the BBC issuing another boycott in retaliation in support of their employee. Their statement read: “We are disappointed that Rangers took the decision to ban our reporter Chris McLaughlin from Ibrox. We believe it is unjustifiable and we stand by the integrity and the quality of our journalism.
“We will continue to report on Rangers both on and off the pitch and will feature match action where appropriate but, until this issue is resolved, we will not be sending journalists to Ibrox or attending Rangers’ press conferences.”
While the BBC stood by their man this time, not one word was said in support of former BBC employee Jim Spence who was not only insulted and abused online but was also approached in public by a disgruntled Rangers supporter when out walking with his wife.
Speirs wrote a second article questioning the ‘willingness of Rangers directors to tackle offensive behaviour’ and that one unnamed Rangers director was of the opinion that the sectarian Billy Boys song was in fact, a great song.
Obviously, without recording said conversation with the unnamed Rangers director, it would be Speirs’ word against that of Rangers and when the club battered down the door at Herald HQ to make their demands there was only two courses of action for them to take – either back their award-winning journalist at his word or throw him under the bus.
They chose the latter much to the enjoyment of Speirs’ abusers – including the Rangers Supporters Trust – who issued a statement taking great pleasure in Speirs ‘humiliating public climb down’.
The organisation, who openly supported the singing of the Billy Boys at a time when UEFA banned the song, said:
“The Rangers Supporters Trust is delighted with Rangers’ action in challenging the lies of Herald columnist Graham Spiers.The club has today secured a humiliating public climb down from Mr Spiers following his latest false accusations.
“Mr Spiers has made a career out of fanning the flames of sectarianism and his dishonest commentary on the subject has been highlighted more than once. Rangers acted decisively earlier this year to remove Mr Spiers’ press privileges. This action has been proven correct both in the context of Mr Spiers’ previous dishonesty and his latest outburst for which both he and the Herald have been forced to apologise.
“We do not believe Mr Spiers’ latest humiliation will necessarily curb his appetite for printing or broadcasting lies about our club. We therefore hope that in future, any editors or producers who still inexplicably employ him are more diligent in checking his work. Clearly he can’t be trusted to do so himself.”
This is an organisation that had Mark Dingwall as a board member – the editor of the Rangers fanzine Follow Follow, which was banned by former Rangers owner Sir David Murray from being sold at Ibrox because of its sectarian content. They also currently ’employ’ the bigot Chris Graham who had to quit his post as Rangers director after just two days following the shameful bigoted tweet about the Prophet Muhammed in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terror attack.
The fact that the Rangers Supporters Trust still have the shamed Islamophobic ex-director on their staff says all you need to know about this sectarian organisation – which moonlights now and again as a fans group.
You also have to question the Herald’s own decision making when they willingly serialised the book written by Craig Houston – who co-founded the supporters group Sons of Struth along with convicted drug dealer and football hooligan Sandy Chugg.
Not only did The Herald’s sister paper the Evening Times willingly publicised Houston’s book – they also ignored his homophobic comments aimed at Celtic midfielder Scott Allan to help with sales of it.
What does that say of The Herald Group?
The fact that The Herald chose to throw their own employee under the bus and pander to mob mentality and threats from the club also now gives the Ibrox side and their fans carte blanche to continue their vendetta against anyone who dares to step from the party line.
Rangers want their reports balanced, but even when a journalist publishes facts about the club or their fans they still go on the attack – as they look to pander to the mob within their support.
After all, they need to keep the fans onside in the wake of the comments of Dave King investing £30 million and providing a sizeable transfer kitty never materialising – having to settle instead for a loan signing from Hearts called Billy King.
A signing that was certainly not pandering to the mob I have to point out.
So with Speirs facing the usual mob tactics of:
1. Threats, insults and abuse
2. Threats of legal action from no mark fans
3. Employer being targeted by fans in mass email spamming
4. The club – finally pandering to the mob to stay in their good graces – taking action
The Govanites have got their wish in seeing Speirs removed from his position at The Herald. It certainly wasn’t down to journalistic integrity and more to do with commercial pressure from Rangers – with one board member already having previous for cancelling commercial deals with a newspaper over their reporting of Rangers.
Many quarters have criticised The Herald for pandering to the mob – both north and south of the border – as well as outwith the journalism fraternity. Including Tory MSP Ruth Davidson who face the wrath of some Gers supporters for what is being construed as some sort of ‘betrayal’.
The National Union of Journalists criticised the Herald for their decision to sack Speirs and that of Sunday Herald columnist Angela Haggerty who defended Speirs.
NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “It is outrageous that commercial meddling has led the Herald to sack a respected columnist. This pandering to the mob does the freedom of journalism and the reputation of the Herald no favours. We call on the editor to reinstate these columnists at once.”
Dominic Bascombe, assistant organiser at NUJ Scotland, added that the paper’s decision “sends a message that The Herald is unwilling to stand up for its contributors and is willing to sacrifice journalists when commercial interests are involved. This is totally unacceptable”.
Even Sunday Herald editor Neil Mackay broke ranks to state that he was not behind the sacking of Haggerty, that the decision was made by editor in chief Magnus Llewellin.
Much to the annoyance of Magnus Llewellin I expect.
I have been in a similar situation to Speirs, being on the receiving end of abuse, insults, lies being peddled about me and more worrying threats to my person and to that of my family. Elements of this same mob actively try to search for my whereabouts to ‘teach me a lesson’ while Sons of Struth’s Craig Houston called me up demanding I give him my home address so he can send me ‘something’. And all of that is on top of the pitiful and childish insults over my weight. Primary School stuff really.
This is not been a short term thing – in fact it has been going on for nearly the full history of Scotzine [Ten years] – likewise, the targeting of Speirs is not a recent thing it has been widespread and long term. A clear indication that this mob will target anyone who dares to voice their opinions, to publish facts and have the bare faced cheek to not cover up the negatives surrounding the once great institution that was Rangers Football Club.
Whether you are a blogger, a journalist, a programme editor, a lawyer, a footballer, a manager or a multi-millionaire – if you dare to go against the club and its Bully Boys be prepared to face their wrath.
Since committing financial suicide in 2012, the language used by this mob has been venomous and hate-filled. Their ‘journey’ turned nasty soon after Green bought the assets off the liquidated ‘traditional Rangers’.
This mob even have the cheek to believe they are the victims and that everyone is ‘picking on them’ despite the wakizashi being in their own possession after decades of demanding their club beat their rivals at every opportunity and by any means necessary.
One thing is clear to me, this mob is nothing more than a bunch of bully boys in the same mould as Billy Fullerton and his sectarian fascist gang of the 1930s.
The Herald’s capitulation coupled with the impotence from the SPFL and the clubs in failing to impose strict liability will do nothing to rid our game of these knuckle draggers and sectarian hatred in society let alone Scottish football.
As for what lies in store for Speirs in the future – we would gladly welcome this award-winning journalist to our list of contributors and with no hint of pressure from our commercial partners. Although I think Graham Speirs on Scotzine would send the mob into berserker mode.