Sixty years ago Glasgow had a registered population of 1.054 million (almost twice the current level) and 15 parliamentary constituencies. Of these no less than seven were held by the Conservatives, compared to zero for the seven Westminster and nine Holyrood seats that exist today.
As the new football season kicked off in that same year of 1956, the city boasted six league clubs, which was half as many again as today. All, including newly-promoted but still amateur Queen’s Park, played in the top flight but one club stood head and shoulders above the rest: Rangers.
While Celtic had, over several decades, regularly come out top in league and cup competitions, in terms of a historical record of trophies won, level of support and financial clout, Rangers were top dogs, not just in Glasgow but Scotland.
As is well known, both the Scottish Tories and Rangers have undergone a major reversal of fortunes since those heady days.
The Conservatives were first; haemorrhaging seats began, slowly at first, with the 1959 election but was then reversed, somewhat, in 1979, the first election contested by Margaret Thatcher. But Scotland soon fell out of love with the Iron Lady and by the time of the Major-Blair election of 1997 the country returned not a single Conservative MP, although since then one has been won back.
Rangers, by contrast, went from strength to strength, reaching the final of the European Cup-Winner’s Cup in 1961 and 1967, eventually winning the trophy in 1972 and becoming UEFA Cup finalists in 2008. For that reason its demise in 2012 was as sudden as it was shocking; effectively the structure of the old club was swept away in an administrative financial nightmare and what remained was banished to the lowest division of the league.
Ironically, the fate of the Scottish Tories and Rangers took the heat off criticism by the large left-liberal, nationalist-inclined section of the Scottish commentariat. With the Tories regularly hovering between the mid and late teens in terms of seats at Holyrood they were of little consequence and could be ignored, just like Rangers when Saturdays meant matches against the likes of Brechin City or Montrose.
But this is likely to change since the Conservatives became the second largest party in the Scottish Parliament following the May election and Rangers returned to the Premiership. Especially should Ruth Davidson start “landing a few punches” (metaphorically speaking, of course) on the First Minister and members of her cabinet, as she promised to do while campaigning, and Rangers become serious contenders for the Premiership title.
Their critics among the commentariat will then take off the gloves because the Tories and Rangers represent – or, more accurately are perceived to represent – three of their pet hates: the monarchy, the union flag and the Union itself.
In terms of anti-Rangers prejudice, the campaign has already begun. At the cup final in May, large numbers of emotional Hibernian supporters invaded the Hampden pitch and some went on to vandalise advertising hoardings, destroy a goal and intimidate several Rangers players, who had to be presented with their runners-up medals in the dressing room.
Yet according to the commentariat, the trouble was really the fault of Rangers supporters because of their ‘sectarian’ singing. Now these songs may indeed be deemed offensive but Rangers fans certainly do not have a monopoly on this type of behaviour at football grounds. Indeed, some of the songs may have been around for a century, with the lyrics so common that regular supporters of any club are probably inured to them by now.
The stance of the commentariat seemed to be reflected in the reaction of their own high priestess. While, understandably, congratulating Hibernian on their cup victory it was noted that the First Minister failed to commiserate with Rangers in defeat, even though Ibrox is located within her Holyrood constituency.
Miss Sturgeon went on to condemn “all violence” committed in the aftermath of the final but would not be specifically drawn on the scenes at the Hibs end, which were beamed across the world; instead she tweeted on the Saturday evening that her husband was a “happy Hibbee”.
Still, no surprise there. When Mrs Murrell witnesses a packed Ibrox she probably sees 48,000 ‘No’ voters and, by implication, the two million-plus who voted that way in the 2014 referendum.
So the Scottish Conservatives and Rangers should steel themselves for ‘robust’ treatment by certain media ‘opinion-formers’ (or who at least think they are) in the coming year.
This grouping (some of whom have come to support independence only after giving up on a radical, left-wing party ever holding power at Westminster) sees the Scottish Tories and Rangers as still too reminiscent of the old Scotland, the Scotland of 1956.
Sweep away those two barriers and the road to a quasi-socialist Scottish state – and the enduring fruits from an endlessly-ripe, public-spending money tree – is wide open.
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING?
Still on fitba and 1956, the new season of that year began on 11 August, almost four months after the cup final on 21 April (Hearts beating Celtic 3-1 BTW).
Compare that close season with 2016 when the cup final was held as late as 21 May and Scottish clubs were in European action by 30 June – during the first week of Wimbledon and a fortnight before The Open at Troon.
Several reasons are put forward for the increasingly empty stands at Scottish grounds, among them live football on Sky, all-day pubs, improvements to betting shops, even a more assertive womanhood dragging husbands around the shops on Saturday afternoons.
Perhaps we need to add another – over-exposure of the product which is making people blasé about the game, at least in terms of attending matches.
This is something the authorities need to seriously consider: even the bloodthirsty Romans eventually got bored watching lions devouring Christians week in week out.