Rangers F.C. signing policy
Between the 1920s and 1989, the Scottish football club Rangers had an unwritten rule whereby the club would not sign any player who was known to be a Roman Catholic. This was because Rangers were viewed as a "Protestant club" and as a deliberate contrast to their Old Firm rivals, Celtic who were viewed as a Catholic club, although Celtic have never had a Catholic-only signing policy. Rangers' policy was ended in 1989 when they signed Mo Johnston, under manager Graeme Souness.
Prior to the First World War, Rangers did not have any policy regarding players' religion, and at that time the club did have a number of Catholic players. In the 1920s, following the rise in popularity of the Orange Order in Glasgow where Rangers players and directors attended functions, Rangers quietly introduced an unwritten rule that the club would not sign any player or employ any staff member who was openly Catholic. An indication that the practice was specifically anti-Catholic rather than excluding all minority faiths and ethnicities was the signing of Egyptian international Mohamed Latif in 1934, albeit he only played one league match for the club.
The policy was not acknowledged publicly until 1965 when Ralph Brand said to the News of the World that Rangers operated a Protestants-only policy, when he left the club for Manchester City. Two years later vice-chairman Matt Taylor was asked about perceived anti-Catholicism with the ban on Catholics at Rangers; he stated "[it is] part of our tradition ... we were formed in 1873 as a Protestant boys club. To change now would lose us considerable support". Northern Irish club Linfield, which shares a similar culture to Rangers, had a similar policy, though not as strict as Rangers', until the 1980s, as a contrast to their Big Two rivals Glentoran.
Despite the policy, some Catholic players did play for Rangers during this time. Don Kitchenbrand kept his Catholicism secret and Laurie Blyth left the club after his Catholic faith was discovered. Some former Rangers players also stated that the policy extended to non-Catholic players who married Catholics. In 1980, for example, Graham Fyfe said that he had to leave Rangers because he had married a Catholic woman. The former Rangers player and Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has written that although Rangers' management knew of his decision to marry a Catholic, he experienced "poisonous hostility" from the club's PR officer Willie Allison.
By contrast, Celtic never had a similar policy banning players of any religion. Celtic manager Jock Stein, himself Celtic's first Protestant manager, once stated that if he was offered a Catholic player and a Protestant player, he would sign the Protestant. When asked why he said: "Because I know Rangers would never sign the Catholic".
In 1976 a friendly at Aston Villa was abandoned because of hooliganism by Rangers fans. This included fans attacking a pub that had been bombed by the IRA three years prior, which drew particular criticism from the Orange Order. The Orange Order stated "Let us be perfectly blunt. The same examples of low animal life who force their support on Glasgow Rangers are one and the same with the foul-mouthed drunks who cause us great embarrassment every July when they turn up to 'support' our annual rallies". In response, the Rangers manager Willie Waddell declared an intent to change the media perception of Rangers being a sectarian club. While he denied the existence of the signing policy, he stated that "no religious barriers will be put up at this club regarding signing of players" and pledged to remove supporters from Ibrox Stadium who did not accept it. Despite this assertion, no senior Catholic players were signed by Rangers following it; promising youth player John Spencer did join the club in 1982 and quietly progressed through the ranks, while having to deal with hostility from both sides of the Glasgow religious divide as a result.
Maurice Johnston signing
Graeme Souness became Rangers manager in May 1986 and declared his intent to build a team based only on merit, saying he felt that signing players who observed another religion or had a different skin colour[a] "felt completely normal". In the summer of 1989, Rangers signed Mo Johnston, a former Celtic player and openly Catholic. Johnston had recently agreed to return to Celtic from Nantes, but the deal had not been completed, and signing such a prominent ex-Celtic player was an especially big coup for their rivals. This was Rangers' first signing of an openly Catholic player since the policy was introduced. There were claims in the media that it was done to counter a FIFA inquiry into sectarianism. Johnston's agent Bill McMurdo felt that Rangers would need a "very special person" to cope with the pressure of being the first player to break the policy. Before signing Johnston, Souness had also been interested in signing other Catholic players, and had approached players including John Collins, Ian Rush and Ray Houghton.
Following the signing of Johnston, the general secretary of the Rangers Supporters Association, David Miller, stated "It is a sad day for Rangers. Why sign him above all others? There will be a lot of people handing in their season tickets. I don't want to see a Roman Catholic at Ibrox. It really sticks in my throat." Having received a leak that the transfer was about to happen, the Belfast Telegraph reported the deal before it was announced. This prompted a group of loyalists to gather outside the newspaper office demanding the story be retracted, while their telephone switchboard was busy with angry callers. The Rangers kitman refused to lay out Johnston's kit before each match as a protest against a Catholic playing for Rangers. Some fans responded by burning their season tickets, although this view was not shared by all of the Rangers supporters. Some welcomed the fact that they had got one over their rivals, while the Johnston signing brought back some lapsed fans who had been troubled by religious discrimination. Rangers' attendances and season ticket sales continued to grow in the following years.
The signing arguably caused greater upset amongst the Celtic support, as it had been expected that Celtic would re-sign Johnston. Indeed, Johnston had been signed on what amounted to a pre-contract agreement by Celtic in May 1989 and had then been prematurely presented to the media as their new signing. Johnston was fined by FIFA for breaking his agreement with Celtic, who could have prevented Johnston from playing by completing the deal. Celtic manager Billy McNeill wanted to pursue this option, but the Celtic board decided against this. Celtic supporters felt Johnston had betrayed them, calling him Judas, while Souness was given little or no credit for ending this source of anti-Catholic discrimination.
Despite signing Johnston, Rangers did not sign any further Catholic players for several years. The club did not make another major Scottish Catholic signing until Neil McCann in 1998. In the same year, Rangers lifted a ban on players making the sign of the cross at the behest of Gabriel Amato but warned them not to do it in front of supporters. In 1999, Lorenzo Amoruso became the first Catholic captain of Rangers. In 2002 defender Fernando Ricksen, who had been receiving sectarian phone calls from Celtic supporters, stated "If you're Catholic and you play for Rangers, then you are a Protestant. If you play for the Protestant people, you don't play for the Catholic people."
Depictions in the media
The policy was parodied in the BBC comedy Scotch and Wry where the Rangers manager (played by Rikki Fulton) unwittingly agrees to sign a young Catholic player (Gerard Kelly), on the recommendation of a Rangers scout (Gregor Fisher). When the player says he had to leave a match early to attend mass, the manager tries to find excuses for voiding the contract to avoid breaking the policy.
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It wasn't just Maurice Johnston. We signed Mark Walters, Rangers' first black player for 50 years, and the late Avi Cohen, who was Jewish, too. I'd spent my adult life in England and had my eyes opened to a lot more than if I'd stayed at home and not gone 'abroad'. Signing someone who was a different religion or different colour felt completely normal. It wasn't an issue. It improved Rangers then allowed them to grow as a football club after that.
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