Steven Gerrard has pleaded with Rangers fans to behave themselves after UEFA ordered a section of Ibrox to be closed for this week’s crucial Europa League showdown with Legia Warsaw.
Europe’s governing body made the ruling after deciding a number of the Gers faithful were guilty of racist behaviour – specifically relating to ‘sectarian chants’ – during their opening qualifier against St Joseph’s.
The Light Blues will now have to close off a section containing 3,000 seats – which will come as a blow to Gerrard as he plots a return to the group stages.
He urged the Rangers support to ensure Ibrox was “rocking and shaking” for next week’s do-or-die second leg after claiming a decent goalless draw with Legia in Poland on Thursday night.
But the former Liverpool and England skipper has now warned fans their global reputation is at risk if they persist with the illicit chants.
“I back the statement that the club has made,” he said. “It’s disappointing when I think about the effect it’s going to have on innocent fans who go to the game and behave properly.
“They are going to miss out on the chance to watch the second leg which is all set up for an incredible match.
“I still think the crowd will be important next week. It’s a small section but it’s still not helpful.
“We do still want to send a clear message to our supporters that we’re going to need them with us in the second leg.
“We need the stadium to be rocking and jumping because as you saw last night they are tough opponents.
“We’ve been here before and I hope it’s the last time we have to deal with questions on fan behaviour. We want our fans to go to the games, enjoy it and get behind the team.
“That’s what being a fan is all about. We’ve got one of the best fan bases in the world.
“They follow us in large numbers home and away and they have got a reputation for being the best supporters in the world.
“So when you hear stuff like this it damages the fans’ reputation.”
The decision to order a partial stadium closure was made by UEFA’s control and disciplinary body.
The offending chants came during Rangers’ 6-0 home victory over St Joseph’s of Gibraltar on July 18.
UEFA confirmed the punishment and added that Rangers must display a banner with the wording “#EqualGame”, with the UEFA logo on it, in the closed section.
Rangers responded to the news with a stark warning to fans.
A statement read: “Our supporters have been asked repeatedly by the club to refrain from indulging in this, and other forms of unacceptable behaviour.
“Sadly, the warnings have fallen on deaf ears and the actions of this minority will cause the club and the majority of good and decent Rangers supporters to pay a heavy penalty.
Rangers added: “The area, or areas, to be closed will be announced in due course and the club will do its best to restrict the impact to supporters.
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“Unfortunately a significant number of supporters, innocent of any wrongdoing, will be unable to attend next week’s match.
“This is deeply regrettable to all at the club and we hope that the guilty parties, who attracted the attention of UEFA, might reflect on the damage their unacceptable behaviour is causing Rangers and their fellow supporters.
“If any individual supporter is unable to behave in a civilised manner then please stay away from Ibrox and our club. You are harming Rangers and that is something a genuine supporter would never wish to do.”
Chairman Dave King reiterated the club’s message to fans, saying: “Rangers has players and supporters from many religions, cultures and backgrounds but we are one and the same when we gather to support our club.
“If any supporter cannot accept that then Rangers is not the club for them.”
Rangers were fined 40,000 euros (£36,000) and banned from taking fans to a Champions League qualifier in Malmo after supporters were found guilty of sectarian singing in a 2011 Europa League match at PSV Eindhoven.
The club was also given a three-year suspended sentence that included a total stadium ban should the ugly scenes be repeated.