We are still on a high after Aberdeen’s 7 goals at Dens Park the previous night. And now our Dynamo Birkerod team is completed with the late arrival of Ib and his two sons last night. We are a full team of 11 now.
In fact, we are so high, that rather than taking a cab from Glasgow Queen Street Station to Hampden Park, the first stop of the day, we decide to go by bus to get a closer look at the city. Finding the bus stop, however, proves a bit of a challenge, as my smartphone sends me first in one and then the opposite direction. We ask a policeman for directions. He tells us to go to the gallery of modern art – “with a statue with a cone on the top of the head”. Nevertheless, we are taken by surprise when we discover, that it is actually a 19th century equastrian statue of the Duke of Wellington with a modern, orange traffic cone on top of his head.
Our wandering around means that we are a little late on arrival at Hampden Park, not only the National Scottish football stadium, but also the home of the Scottish Football Museum. I tell the guy at the ticket office that we are a famous Danish football team, following in the footsteps of Archibald Leitch, the famous Scottish football architect, making a stop at Hampden on our way to Ibrox. He is a Rangers fan himself.
At first, he suggests that we should go on the stadium tour, but on second thoughts he advises us not to do so. If we want a drink before the match, we have to leave Hampden in just over an hour. So we settle for tickets for the football museum. But a few moments after entering the museum, a staff member comes across to us. He has heard of our quest, and offers us a look inside the ground, now that we can’t go on the tour.
We are taken to the VIP box where trophies are presented. It is a really beautiful, harmonic ground. Yet, I can’t help comparing with the photos I have seen of the ‘old’ Hampden. Hampden Park used to be the biggest football ground in the world, reaching a 150.000 capacity. Almost all of them standing on huge terraces. A really amazing, awe-inspiring sight.
I remember my late father telling me about his visit to Hampden in 1951, travelling with the Danish International team. It was the most impressive football experience, he had ever had. In fact, by the 1930’s, Glasgow had Hampden with 150.000 capacity, Ibrox with 120.000, Parkhead with 83.000, and Firhill with 50.000. A total of 400.000 in four grounds for a city with about 1.000.000 inhabitants.
Archibald Leitch grew up close to Hampden Park, which was the best ground in Scotland, before Archie got into football stadiums. So he has probably gained some inspiration there. It was not until the 1930’s, when Archibald himself had retired, that his company got to leave their mark an Hampden. The characteristic patented Leitch crush barriers were erected around the ground, a North Stand was built and the South Stand extended. According to Archibald’s sketches, the ground had a capacity of 163.782 – and if standing in the passages were allowed, it could be expanded to 183.688. In fact, the highest recorded attendance was just 149.415.
The ‘new’ Hampden just looks nice, seen from the VIP box. It is not as big as Celtic park or Ibrox. Standing inside the ground, it is hard to believe that it can hold 50.000. It looks much bigger from the outside, partly because of the many crush barriers sectioning the stairs around the ground for crowd control. Probably designed in the light of a catastrophe at Ibrox back in 1971. As people left the ground by the end of the match, somebody fell over at the foot of long stairway. The push of people leaving the ground and pouring down the stairway was so strong that 66 people were killed and more than 200 injured – a story that is being told inside the museum. Around the new Hampden, the efforts to control the flow of the crowd are quite noticeable.
The museum tells another, slightly different, story of havoc and crowd control – about the worst ever football riot in 1909. The replay of the Scottish cup final between Celtic and Rangers ended in a second draw, paving the way for yet another moneyspinning replay. Even before the match, rumours were rife that the clubs had fixed the match to go to a replay. Fans of both teams reacted to the second draw by going rampant, not just tearing down the goals, but also burning down the turnstile block. No replay was played and the cup and medals were withheld that year.
On a more cheerful note, our guide tells us that 1st division club Queens Park still play their home matches at Hampden. And that all their 4-500 fans or so prefer to sit in the VIP area where we are standing, as the seats here are clad with leather rather than just cheap plastic seats.
We scatter around the museum. There are many interesting or funny little objects, but most of us seem to be attracted to the screens that show old black and white footage of Hampden and particularly the crowd when it was at its peak. The number of people filling the terraces is unbelievable. I remember sports historian Wray Vamplew telling about his first match. It was in the middle of summer, bright sunshine, but he was still told to put on his wellies. He didn’t understand, till he got into the crowd. It was impossible to move around, and nobody could get to the toilets. So the terraces were used instead, and urine flowed down to the foot of the stand, where he was standing. Programmes were rolled up and used to prevent hitting the guy standing in from of you.
We leave for Ibrox just before noon with 3 hours to kick-off. It is only a 20 minute taxi ride away. Archibald Leitch’s main stand at Ibrox is in stark contrast to the main stand at Dens Park. He wanted Ibrox to be his masterpiece. For two reasons. He was a Glasgow Rangers supporter, and his first ever attempt at constructing a football ground at Ibrox had ended in catastrophe.
Archibald Leitch – who until then had worked on constructing factories – had for his first footballing commission erected wooden terraces at Ibrox in 1899. During an international between Scotland and England in 1902, however, the construction gave in to the weight of the crowd. 26 people were killed, and more than 500 injured, as fans fell through the construction onto the steel columns and concrete underneath. There was a court case afterwards, where Archie explained the accident by pointing out, that yellow rather than the prescribed red pine had been used for the construction.
Leitch pleaded with Rangers to give him another chance, even while the court case was going on. The fact, that they were persuaded, may also have had an influence on the outcome of the case. And it was from this experience, that Archibald developed the solid terrace banking with regular steps, steel barriers, designated aisles and account of sight lines.
And then in 1926-8, he was invited back to design a grand stand that could raise Ibrox to be the number one ground in Scotland. He had just completed the impressive red brick grand stand at Villa Park, and it was probably this that served as an inspiration. And it really is an impressive sight.
Underneath huge arched windows, there are symmetrical, arched openings all along the front. Huge mosaic crests adorn the sides of the stand. The main entrance resembles the entrance of a hotel, very different to the utilitarian look of Dens Park.
The unfortunate thing about going here on a match day is that we can’t get on a guided tour. And – we haven’t been able to get tickets for the grand stand, so we don’t get to have a look inside. I just can’t wait to get back for such a tour to see the marble floored entrance hall with art deco lights, the polished oak panelling in the blue room – and the huge concourse enlightened by daylight from the huge windows.
On the corner of the grand stand, there is a statue of former Rangers player John Greig. He was voted best ever Rangers player back in 1999, and the statue was erected two years later. It forms part of a memorial for the victims of the Ibrox disaster in 1971. Whereas the rest of the footballing world started to rebuild stadiums in the aftermath of Hillsborough in 1989, Rangers had by then rebuilt the other three stands of Ibrox as a consequense of the 1971 disaster. Moving from standing terraces to seated stands.
When Aston Villa made their move towards an all-seater stadium in 2000, they demolished their Trinity stand by Archie, even though it was listed, to make room for more seats. Rangers, fortunately, chose to preserve their listed stand, and at a huge cost make an extension on top of it. So not only does the Leitch stand have an additional deck on the top, it is sandwiched by stairway towers in steelframed glass, taking supporters to the new deck. The new towers, though, are shielded by Archie’s steel gates, proclaiming that this is the home of Rangers Football Club Ltd.
While I am absorbed in looking at the stand, the others have a burger outside the ground and then go looking for a drink. They call me to say that they have set up camp in a Rangers club a few hundred yards away and are waiting for me in the beer garden. It is called the “Wee Rangers Club”, and it doesn’t really look much from the outside. There is a £3 entrance fee, and I head straight for the garden to catch up with the others. With the sun shining, it seems a lovely place to tank up for the match – but out of nowhere, a shower makes us go inside to have a look around. The main room is fairly dark. Blue Rangers curtains to match the blue Rangers wall paper ensure that fans can follow the action of the Liverpool derby on big TV screens. There is, though, no sound on the telly. Instead a music box is playing pipes and drum militant music, with the fans frequently joining in, singing and stamping. It all has a distinct militant edge. Among the tunes, I recognize the “Billy Boys” song, which was banned by law from Scottish football grounds in 2011, due to its sectarian content.
At the bar, there are several portraits of Queen Elizabeth on the wall, red poppies, Union Jacks and references to the Ulster division and WW1. I am used to seeing fans gathering at pubs before matches, singing songs of their hatred to rival clubs. But somehow the attachment of the songs to historical, religious and political events and figures make this quite scary. The rivalry between the Protestant, unionist Rangers and the Catholic, separatist Celtic is arguably among the most sectarian footballing rivalries in the world. And although the two clubs don’t come head to head here today, it looms over everything.
Or maybe it is just me being a historian, paying too much attention to these historical dimensions to it all. One of my teammates, Jon, questions whether the fans actually put any real content in all these unionist expressions. Maybe they have just been brought up with this as the natural way to get into the mood for a match and don’t really think of the content.
He is certainly right about the part of kids being brought up on this. Tam suggests that we go and have a look down in the basement, where he says it is all songs about hatred to rivals Celtic. And down there in the darkness, there are quite a few kids at the age of 10-12, listening to the militant battle songs. Maybe the kids are only allowed in, because the match today is against Motherwell. When I afterwards check the facebook page of the Wee club, they have posts for the season’s Old Firm derby days stressing that it is strictly over 18’s only – and that the resident DJ will be playing “all our favourite tunes” with “a cultural evening afterwards”. I wonder what kind of cultural event that is.
Perhaps, I get an indication on a board on the stairwell to the basement. It proclaims that only those visitors who follow the custom of paying tribute to the queen are welcome here.
As we leave for the ground, I wonder whether we have just happened to land in an isolated sectarian stronghold, giving a distorted view of the true Rangers culture. That there is more to it than the Wee club, however, is reflected in the many stalls around the ground, selling flags and scarves. They all reflect the same sectarianism. “No surrender”, “We stand for our flag, we kneel for our fallen”, “Rule Britannia”, “God save our Queen”.
The union jack colours of Rangers are mixed with the orange of William of Orange, who defeated the catholic army of Ireland in the battle of the Boyne in 1690. The messages on the banners are open declarations of Ulster loaylism. “William of Orange”, “King Billy on the Wall”, “We are the People”, “No surrender”.
Special football scarves have over the past couple of years been made to commemorate the fallen of WW1, featuring the poppy, “lest we forget” and last year “Battle of the Somme 1916” – the most bloody day in the history of the British army. At Rangers, the Battle of the Somme scarf is focused on the Ulster division. As I work in a WW1 museum and I am interested in the use of history, I buy one of those out of purely academic interest – and immediately hide it in my pocket, as I don’t want to be seen with it.
In one of the stalls, “brothers” scarves connecting Rangers with a string of English clubs are for sale. Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City. I am relieved that there is no Manchester United scarf. But then I do remember, going to United matches in the 80’s, when sporadic chants of “Celtic” from the Stretford End would be answered by chants of “Rangers” from other parts of the stand. There were also the odd half Celtic or Rangers, half United ski hat. I never really understood it.
However, it seemed to be that the majority of United supporters favoured Celtic. Some claim that United have a strong catholic element, but perhaps it also played it’s part that Rangers back in 1974 brought 30.000 fans for a pre-season friendly, taking the United Red Army completely by surprise. But judging from United forums, most people in Manchester have forgottten about the link to the Glasgow rivalry. I am, though, at bit surprised that Rangers should have a brotherhood with Liverpool. I would have thought that they would distaste the use of “You’ll never walk alone” – with Celtic and Liverpool sharing the same pre-match anthem.
When I called Rangers to book tickets, I asked for tickets in Archie’s main stand. They could not find 11 tickets there, but offered me tickets for the club deck on top of it, instead. It seemed a good choice at the time. But as we climb the stairs to get on top of the main stand, I realize that it was a bad choice. Apart from not entering Archie’s stand, we will not even be able to look on the characteristic criss cross deck on the balcony of the main stand. An unforgiveable mistake.
Having said that, the concourse of the club deck is quite nice. Plenty of space, good pies on sale from the kiosks, and huge windows overlooking the area around the stadium. Not having had anything else to eat since breakfast, in fact, I have two pies. Peter, Jens and I decide to have a bet on the match as well at the bookmaker stall. Having seen Aberdeen in second-place tear Dundee in mid-table apart the previous day, it seems a fair bet that Rangers in third-place will do something similar to Motherwell, who are just off the bottom. Jens goes for 5-0, I go for 4-0 and Peter for 3-1.
After about three minutes, Jens and I look at each other in despair – Motherwell take the lead from a corner. And from then on, they seem to be in control and pose most of the danger, as Rangers just seem to be frustrated about things not going according to plan. You would have expected the away support to go wild. In one of my favourite football books “Saturday 3 p.m.”, Daniel Gray writes about the 50 eternal delights of football. One of them is to watch an away-end erupt in celebration of a goal. But he stresses that it has to be a packed away end. A few hundred scattered away fans only “resemble survivors of a shipwreck” waving for attention. This is what the Motherwell fans look like – in stark contrast to the wildly celebrating Aberdeen fans the previous night.
Adding to this overriding sense of frustration inside Ibrox, is the small Rangers “ultra” element in the corner below our seats. “Union Bears” a banner proclaim. A guy is standing on a platform with a megaphone, his back turned to the game. Time and time again he tries to get a chant going to a tune you in Denmark associate with drunks, who are too pissed to be able to express actual words. There is also a drum to accompany it. It is completely out of sync with what is going on on the pitch. And it somehow punctures the customary passionate oooohhhhs and aaaarhhhss, when tackles fly in that is the trademark of British fan culture. There is no help for the team in this. The chanting doesn’t influence the match. It doesn’t kick the players on. It just gives an annoying undercurrent, a feeling that some drunken fans are ego-tripping their way through it.
This summer, my son and I went to see F.C. Copenhagen play. We were both annoyed by this fan culture, so different from the passionate, traditional British way of living every tackle, shot and pass of the game. So it seems ironic that Rangers of all teams, whose supporters wrap themselves up in Union Jack and Unionism, should have a – albeit very small – continental ultra element.
In the second half, Rangers do get an equalizer, the game opens up with chances at both ends (by far the best ones to Motherwell, by the way), and on a couple of occasions the ultra element is drowned out by the entire stadium roaring and chanting.
The match ends in a 1-1 draw – with Motherwell unfortunate not to record a surprising but well-deserved win. So much for our betting. We walk all the way back to the city centre and the station. It is about an hours work – where we gradually make our way back to a less sectarian world. We do pass a couple of pubs that also look like Rangers strongholds. But we walk straight back to the station, get on the train back to Edinburgh, and make our way to Inspector Rebus’ Oxford Bar.
We need a completely different scene – and the Oxford Bar provides. Nice and very quiet. Good beer, space – a perfect setting for switching the attention to Edinburgh and Hearts, as Ken Stott, who portrays the Hibernian supporting Rebus of the TV series, is, in fact a Hearts supporter. And above our table is a slice of the original flagpole from the Rugby ground Murrayfield. I love it.
I will go back to Ibrox for a guided stadium tour one day – and to watch a match from Archie’s stand. Hopefully before then, I can get into contact with some Rangers fans with a less sectarian stance. Normally, when I visit a new football ground and go in the home section, I develop a warm sympathy for the club. Even though the Rangers fans’ at the Wee club were nice towards us, I don’t go away with a feeling of sympathy this time. Perhaps too much sectarianism sticks to the scarf, hidden in my pocket.