So far, it’s been a close season of positivity at Rangers. Gerrard and his management team have brought loads of energy and excitement. New signings have been made already, with the promise of more to come. Players the fans wanted to see moved on have started to find other clubs. For most football fans, the anticipation of a new season is one of the best parts about following their club.
One signing has caused a fair amount of debate, though. Rangers have recently signed Jon Flanagan on a free transfer. The full back, who has had injury issues and not played many games in the last few years, has been brought in to provide competition in an area of the pitch where it’s been lacking. In footballing terms, he’s seen as a risk. That excitement and promise mentioned earlier would see many choose to hope he finds his promise of old rather than expect him to fail.
But the debate isn’t about his footballing ability. Sadly, Flanagan was involved in an incident with his girlfriend which saw him prosecuted for common assault. The details are pretty well known and easy to find. The question of whether or not Flanagan should have been signed by Rangers is a complicated one due to this. What I’m going to attempt to do here is to clarify a couple of positions, give my opinion on any inconsistencies there, and hopefully help anyone cut through possible confusion. I don’t believe there’s a “right or wrong answer”, as such. I do believe, though, that if you feel strongly either way about this, you absolutely have that right. We don’t need to agree on this, but we should all be sure we’re clear in what we’re arguing for.
Firstly, let me say that I in no way intend to play down the severity of what Flanagan done. Mitigating circumstances, in this case being blind drunk, don’t make anything somehow better. I think the fact Liverpool didn’t sack him, and his girlfriend stayed with him, suggests it was out of character. Regardless, he deserved his punishment. The life of a footballer means he’ll be forever stuck with this, and plenty of public criticism aimed his way for years to come.
So what are the positions being held? On one hand, there’s the belief Rangers shouldn’t have signed anyone with the sort of record Flanagan now has. On the other, many think he deserves the chance to be rehabilitated into football. Those are two ends of the spectrum, and one major confusion has been that some are trying to state both as a credible position.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t work. If you are of the opinion that Flanagan, or any footballer of a similar criminal record, deserves the chance to work in the game, you can’t argue that Rangers should have dismissed signing him because of said record. Our club is part of the footballing fraternity. If you are of the opinion our club shouldn’t sign him, by extension you have to apply that to every club. As such, you’re saying he shouldn’t be allowed to make a living as a professional footballer, the opposite of your original argument. It’s easy to take a stance on something from a distance, but the true test of any belief is when it affects you directly. With Flanagan signing for Rangers, our club is involved in this, and it’s no longer just a hypothetical discussion for the fans. If you’re saying “he deserves to be given a second chance, but not at Rangers”, you’re failing the test of your belief. I understand why many are arguing for that, but it simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
That slightly amends the positions mentioned before. Now we have to debate something a bit wider – does any player who has acted as Flanagan did deserve to be given the chance to have a career in professional football? He’s certainly not alone when it comes to off-field mistakes. In British football, you can name multiple players who have prosecutions for assault, racism, drink driving, bodily harm and even rape, who are all still making a living in the game. If you were looking at it from a very different perspective, you’d think that football has a rather progressive, liberal attitude. The truth is very different indeed. Morality and social conscience haven’t been prevalent in football for a long time, longer than I’ve been alive. In an age where young men are essentially superstars given vast amounts of money and adulation, these things have got worse.
None of that excuses Rangers, but it’s the nature of football right now. In the world of normal jobs, there are many companies who wouldn’t hire anyone with a criminal record. There are some who would, and many of those would be lauded for doing so. Footballers can be considered to hold a privileged position, though. A number of them are role models for kids and adults alike. There’s a more than fair argument for believing that football as a whole should hold higher standards. Even when stars of other spheres seem unaffected by criminal activity, that doesn’t mean football couldn’t have bucked the trend. It’s never going to happen, of course, but there’s plenty of merit in suggesting that’s where we should look for the game to go.
Our culture also promotes rehabilitation. The idea that someone who has served their time deserves a second chance is the sign of a progressive society. We all know mistakes can be made, we’ll know people who have made them, and we don’t want to live in a world where such things restrict you for the rest of your life. Some crimes and some people are beyond rehabilitation, but the vast majority are not. In the case of Flanagan, or other footballers with similar offences, there’s plenty of examples to suggest he’s more likely to have this as a one-off incident in his life. Maybe, somehow, football has the right approach from very dubious motivations.
If I’m honest, I don’t know where I sit on this debate. I don’t think it matters, on reflection. There are plenty of reasons to hold either view. When you consider just how closely our management team has worked with Flanagan over his career, you can safely say they know him better than any Rangers fan does. For them to see him as someone worthy of signing affirms my hope that what he done is something he’s never likely to repeat. He’s now branded forever, the price of being in the public eye and making a mistake. I wouldn’t ask any Rangers fan to change their view on whether he should be part of our club or not. All I would say is that those who don’t agree with you aren’t somehow right or wrong. This one goes far deeper than just one player who has signed for Rangers.
Any feedback and comments would be welcome. Please tweet us @abouttherangers and we’ll be happy to discuss.