here was one reason Rangers were waiting for Slavia Prague in the tunnel at Ibrox on Thursday 18 March.
They were not there to congratulate their opponents on a 2-0 win. They were not there to wish them well for the quarter-finals of the Europa League. Certainly not to share a beer after a match that turned into a brawl.
Nor were they there to corroborate whether Slavia’s Ondrej Kudela leant into the ear of Glen Kamara simply to say “you’re a f***ing guy”. They knew then what they know now, of what was uttered and why it was said. Rangers were there to confront. They were there to remonstrate.
Fundamentally, they were there to fight. And that was proved beyond doubt by Uefa. On Wednesday, they announced Kamara would be suspended for three matches for assaulting Kudela.
The same statement carried news of Kudela’s punishment: a 10-game suspension for racist behaviour, presumably because the governing body found him guilty of actually calling Kamara “a f*****g monkey”, despite his and Slavia Prague’s claims otherwise. It is worth noting a 10-game ban, of which one had already been served in the first leg of the Europa League quarter-final against Arsenal, is the minimum sanction Uefa could have applied.
Kamara’s lawyer Aamer Anwar said the player was left “disappointed”. He admonished the accused and his club for their conduct since the incident: “Ondrej Kudela acted in a grotesque and racist manner, but his behaviour was compounded by his club Slavia Prague, who implied that my client Glen was a liar.”
Kudela maintains innocence, of course. He voiced his surprise that the Uefa disciplinary committee had come to a decision at odds with an investigator who he says assured him the case would fall his way. “There was no convincing evidence for the accusation of racism against me, which I continue to reject.”
It’s at this point that it is important to separate shock and surprises. Because while there is anger at the leniency of punishment and lack of contrition from the guilty party, those associated with Rangers and Kamara saw this coming.
Manager Steve Gerrard cited concerns that European football’s governing body would not deal with it effectively. Those sentiments were later echoed by defender Connor Goldson when he stated he felt “the representatives won’t do enough, they never do enough”. Kamara, the victim, regarded a failure to act appropriately on the matter would be viewed as “a green light for racism”.
Actually, it’s merely a continuation of the amber. Get through it if you can, but don’t worry yourself if you don’t quite make it – you can still get through if you’re quick enough. No one’s going to pull you over. And the truth of that came to pass in the weeks that have followed, where Kamara and his teammates were subject to a greater tirade of racist abuse that Rangers staff and players decided to boycott social media in protest.
Which brings us back to that Ibrox tunnel and those Rangers players, and the reason they stuck around for 45 minutes waiting for a confrontation that never materialised. As unpalatable as it may be, they were there to extract their own form of justice knowing, deep down, “the right kind” would not be forthcoming.
Let’s walk out the merits of this “undue” process, if you will.
There’s a moment after you’ve been racially abused that it hits you with an eery, ringing silence. A peculiar internal phenomenon takes hold – a sense of helplessness that belies the external anger that all can see. The kind you saw on Kamara’s face when Kudela’s words hit him.
Internally, though, there is a disturbing quiet, as if your soul is gasping for breath as it drowns in the moment. Like a piece of you has been stripped away that keeps you afloat as a human being.
What follows is a visceral urge to give a bit back through violence and tear a piece off the perpetrator. Goldson admitted losing focus in the final minutes when the match restarted: “All I wanted to do was hurt someone”. And while we can moralise over this form of retribution, trying to apply logic to such a situation is one of blissful ignorance of such a scenario.
Because violence is rarely seen as an “eye for an eye” measure. Nor does it come with anything but fleeting satisfaction. And that satisfaction – the kind Rangers were angling for, and however much Kamara got – comes from knowing, deep down, that the guilty party will usually walk free from any real consequence of their actions.
The most productive harnessing of this feeling has come as a collective force. Movements throughout history have relied on this binding agent of retaliation in countless fights for injustice. As Martin Luther King Jr put it in 1967, a riot is the language of the unheard, and it also continues to be the strongest weapon for those punched down upon.
Its effectiveness during the pandemic has been inescapable, first through the Black Lives Matter movement re-energised after the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis Police. Most recently in the United Kingdom, the Kill The Bill movement arose out of the death of Sarah Everard to stop proposed legislation to allow law enforcement bodies greater power to unduly clamp down on protests, ultimately, at their discretion.
On a macroscopic level, you may wonder what this has to do with football. But look closer and you will see even in the insulated world of the professional game, players are being pushed to an extreme.
Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha became the first Premier League player to stop taking the knee before the previous round of matches citing anger at a lack of change. “Whether we kneel or stand,” he’s said, “some of us still continue to receive abuse”. And it was telling in the case of Kamara that he put out a statement in the aftermath of the Slavia Prague incident through his own lawyers.
More than one agent has told The Independent they fear some of their clients abused on social media may look to take matters into their own hands. For now, public shaming by way of screenshots has been encouraged to root out the problem, though a continued lack of action and support from social media companies and football authorities led to worries that some could try and take action themselves.
Right now, Rangers will be feeling that same anger. Kamara that same apoplexy and rage. And the only comfort he will have is that when he wanted to fight, his teammates were by his side willing to do the same.
They were there to fight because the institutions meant to protect them do anything but. And on Wednesday that lack of faith in due process revealed itself once more with the verdict handed down by Uefa.
The events of that Thursday night will never leave Kamara. Continually hanging over his head more so than ever now that it has been made to seem that he was the one in the wrong, a sense reinforced by his own ban. This will be another argument against the hassle of reporting a racist incident.
Being in that tunnel around people who were willing to risk themselves and fight alongside Kamara will have been heartening even if it was never going to be redemptive. The fire he and others feel is only growing harsher and more out of control each day. It won’t be long until that heat becomes too harsh to bear and the only thing to do is fight it themselves.