by Calum Mechie
Growing up in rural (there were cattle across the road) Aberdeenshire in the ‘90s it wasn’t very easy to learn about diversity. My parents did their best with trips to continental Europe and, a little later on, the Middle East, but diversity (something which makes/has made Britain a bit Great) was always something that happened elsewhere.
One of the places that it did happen was in Glasgow, specifically down Govan way and especially specifically at Ibrox. Walter Smith is a very Scottish man, his credentials in that area boosted further by spending much of his career working alongside a man called Archie, but in the mid-nineties he presided over the most gloriously cosmopolitan side in the history of Scottish Football.
Now, even referring to any recent Rangers side as part of Scottish Football’s heritage is, in Aberdeen, controversial. Such has become the confused cocktail of angst, envy and disillusionment felt by fans of ‘the rest of the SPL’ against those of both sides of the Old Firm that it is frequently represented on nationalistic grounds. We’re Scottish You’re Not; or, Fuck Off to England Then.
This animosity exists towards Celtic and their fans too, but there seems to be a more nuanced appreciation of their situation: Celtic probably need to play in England to make the most of their large stadium and huge fan-base, but their fans would really like to bugger off to Ireland, and we don’t mind that so much.
Rangers fans, however, do actually want to play in England, live in England, work in England, drink in England, sleep in England, sing Rule Britannia in England, salute the flag in England and generally revel in the Carling-soaked, Scottish-hating schadenfreude of English football.
Rangers, and their fans, draw deeply into incredibly deep wells of ignorance/hostility in the North East of the country. This is sort of suggested by the ‘Stick your Union Jacks up your arse’ chant that used to echo around Pittodrie in the nineties (now it probably just sort of echoes – do you get an echo off empty plastic seats?). It is definitively proved by the infamous story of the Paramount Bar.
In 1995, this city-centre boozer installed TV screens inside the urinals at the gents. These played, for your urinating pleasure, looped videos of Rangers players celebrating goals. Aberdeen fans could load themselves full of Tennent’s (good, Scottish beer) and then quite (almost) literally piss all over the hated Teddy Bear darlings.
In 1995 Rangers were the dominant force in Scottish football, well on their way to winning nine consecutive league titles between 1989 and 1997, and this, of course, did not endear them to my generation of Dons fans. The rivalry, though, predates the success Rangers enjoyed under Souness then Smith. It was poisonous back when, under Ferguson, we were good. In ’79 there was some incident involving Doug Rougvie (pronounced, as far as I can tell, as though ‘ou’ is shorthand for ‘ooooooooooo’), which I don’t know the specifics of except that it happened in the Cup Final and led to an anti-Rangers chant with ‘blame it on the Dougie’ as its chorus. In ’89, post-Ferguson but with a few of his players and influence remaining, Neill Simpson destroyed Rangers’ Iain Durrant’s knee (it was fully three years before he played again), an action that is still pretty sickly feted at Pittodrie: ‘Nice one Simmy’ etc. etc.
Basically, Rangers are ridiculously unpopular in Aberdeen; when we play Celtic the chants relate to who hates Rangers more. So, this is said through both gritted teeth (I love it when the title appears) and closed lips as well — I don’t want wee in my mouth — but circa 1995, I actually quite liked Rangers.
That team, which included Gazza and Brian Laudrup, was really pretty good at the time and it looks increasingly halcyon now. I’m not going to overdo it, but it felt like we all had our eyes opened a little bit to what football was like elsewhere. Here’s Walter Smith, in an endearingly Scottish style, effecting Chick Young’s epiphanic moment.