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20 Aug 12

Grassroots Support

Aleksandar Manasiev

Great players are not the only legends honoured at Glasgow’s Ibrox stadium, home to the Rangers football club.

The names of hundreds of fans have also been engraved into the red-brick walls, commemorating their devotion to their team.

I visited Ibrox soon after the club had suffered a legal setback more damaging than any defeat it has been dealt on the pitch.

Rangers was forced into liquidation this year amid a tax dispute and unpaid debts totalling £134 million.

The club now has new owners. It will begin the next season in the third division, after a humiliating relegation from the Scottish Premier League.

John Macmillan, the general secretary of the Rangers Supporters Association, hopes his team will return to the Scottish Premier League within four or five years.

For the time being, there are unlikely to be any more appointments on the pitch between Rangers and their legendary rivals, Celtic.

Off the field too, supporters of the rival teams will have fewer opportunities to fight each other.

Heavy policing has already made it harder for hooligans to wage war in the streets of Glasgow. But the clashes, when they do erupt, can still be fierce.

On my second visit to Ibrox, I passed through the subway station that was the scene of a major battle earlier this year between Rangers hooligans and supporters of Aberdeen football club.

Just a day after the incident, the police had already begun knocking on doors. They were still making arrests several months later. Officers from Strathclyde Police told me that all culprits are eventually brought before the courts.

Across town at Celtic Park, the home of Rangers’ rivals, I went past the statue of Jock Stein, the legendary player and Celtic manager. A plaque below the monument caught my eye: “Football without fans is nothing.”

Despite their reputation for violence, the supporters of Rangers and Celtic are commemorated at their teams’ grounds in a fashion that one rarely sees in the Balkans. The Scottish clubs seem to regard their fans as the foundation stones of their success.

Back home in Macedonia, the stadiums do not honour the supporters – and nor can they contain their passions.

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