Case Law Update: Football Team Support - A Philosophical Belief?

By Andrew Willis
30 Sep 2022

The Employment Tribunal has ruled that support for a football club (in this case, Rangers) is not tantamount to a religious or philosophical belief. Therefore, dismissal in connection with it is therefore not automatically unfair.

And of course, if you don’t have time to go through the entire blog, you can always see our too long; didn’t read section here.

Employment law related to this case

Section 104(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 specifies that an employee can claim automatic unfair dismissal (i.e. no qualifying service needed) if the reason or principal reason for dismissal is that the employee:

  • alleged that the employer had infringed a right of his which is a relevant statutory right.

Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010: Religion or belief

(1)Religion means any religion and a reference to religion includes a reference to a lack of religion.

(2)Belief means any religious or philosophical belief and a reference to belief includes a reference to a lack of belief.

(3)In relation to the protected characteristic of religion or belief—

(a)a reference to a person who has a particular protected characteristic is a reference to a person of a particular religion or belief;

(b)a reference to persons who share a protected characteristic is a reference to persons who are of the same religion or belief.

Grainger plc and ors v Nicholson [2010] EAT, Burton J set out the following criteria:

(i) The belief must be genuinely held.

(ii) It must be a belief and not … an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.

(iii) It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.

(iv) It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.

(v) It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others …


subcontracted energy working walking through solar plant


McClung v Doosan Babcock

Facts of the case

The claimant had been a supporter of Glasgow Rangers football club for at least 42 years. He would spend most of his disposable income on attending games and he would receive a birthday card from the club each year. He is also actively involved in a charity connected to the club.

To the claimant, he believes his support for Rangers is so strong that it is tantamount to a religious or philosophical belief. It is a way of life, akin to going to church. He holds views which he claims are typical of Rangers fans, such as:

  • Caring passionately about the continued union of the UK
  • Caring passionately about The Queen and Northern Ireland
  • Involvement in the Orange Order and attendance at marches

He worked as a subcontractor for the respondent. He performed work for them between January and June 2019. He was not given any further work beyond this date. He alleges this is because the manager in charge of offering him work was a Celtic fan—a rival club to Rangers.

Claims were brought for automatic unfair dismissal and discrimination due to his philosophical belief as a Rangers fan.

What the ET found

The ET acknowledged that the claimant was clearly a devoted Rangers fan. However, it was found that whilst the matters the claimant argued were part of his support for the club were important to him, they were not underpinning or explaining what it was to be a Rangers fan. Beliefs such as support for the Queen and the union of the UK did not define Rangers supporters. These beliefs are not a prerequisite for being a fan of the football club. In fact, the club’s “Everyone – Anyone Rangers FC Charter” clearly emphasised that everyone and anyone was welcome to support the club.

In coming to its decision, the ET applied the tests from the Grainger case. They found that whilst his belief was genuinely held, it was not a philosophy or doctrine. However, it could be likened to support for a political party, which has been shown in previous cases not to be a philosophical belief. It also lacked the seriousness and importance to influence individual decisions and behaviours. Instead, it was a ‘lifestyle choice’ that had no ‘larger consequences’ for humanity as a whole. For this reason, it could also not be weighty enough to be placed on the same level as, for example, ethical veganism or religion.

His claims were as a result dismissed at a preliminary hearing.


football supporters watch game on TV in bar

Note for employers

In Scotland, there are strong links between religion and support for a football team. It is clear from this case however that this, and the other beliefs that are held by many Rangers fans, is not enough to become a cogent philosophy or belief sufficient to be a protected characteristic. Employers who face employee issues relating to support for football teams will be relieved that there is not a risk of discrimination being brought into the matter.

Support for a sporting team is without doubt something that many feel passionately about. This can lead to problems amongst staff who support rival teams, or even those who do not favour the sport at all. Employees must be reminded of the importance of treating others with respect, even when their opinions differ. Disciplinary action should be taken if they fail to do so. After all, even though discrimination will not be a problem, there are other issues that can still lead to claims, such as bullying in the workplace. 


A subcontractor worked for a Celtic F.C. fan. He was a Rangers fan. When the subcontractor wasn’t given any further work, he claimed it was due to them supporting opposing teams. He raised an unfair dismissal and discrimination claim.

To determine whether discrimination occurred, the ET had to decide whether his support for Rangers was a philosophical belief. He claimed being a Rangers fan meant having strong beliefs, such as support for the Queen and the union of the UK. They found that being a Rangers fan wasn’t a philosophical belief. Instead, it was a ‘lifestyle choice’ that had no ‘larger consequences’ for humanity as a whole.

Employers can breathe a sigh of relief as disputes involving football teams won’t risk discrimination being brought into the matter.

Expert legal support with equality and discrimination

The McClung v Doosan Babcock case demonstrates that a discrimination claim can be raised about issues that aren't even explicitly related to a protected characteristic. Conflicts between colleagues, and even employers and employees, relating to football aren't uncommon. This is why this case drew so much attention from employers, as a ruling in the employee's favour could've resulted in similar claims rising across all businesses.

Croner's advisors can prevent minor issues escalating into discrimination and tribunal claims. For those that do escalate, Croner's legal team advise on hundreds of tribunal cases a year and represent employers in court. We know what to expect and how to handle a claim.

Speak to us today for free initial advice on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Andrew Willis

Andrew Willis is the senior manager of the Litigation and Employment Department and assumes additional responsibility for managing Croner’s office based telephone HR advisory teams, who specialise in employment law, HR and commercial legal advice for small & large organisations across the United Kingdom.