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When did beautiful game turn so ugly?

MY name is Alan Taylor and I am a Jambo.

I say this in the full knowledge that there's very little I can do about it and that it is unlikely to garner much sympathy from many readers of this newspaper.

But like most football supporters I can no more change my allegiance than I can my blood group. When – or how – I became a Hearts fan I do not know but it was probably around the same time I was glued to Bill and Ben the Flower Pot Men. I remember as a toddler being given a maroon tracksuit for Christmas, which must have vexed my dad, who supported Hibs and whose definition of bliss was watching the Famous Five in full flow.

The fact that Hearts might not exist had never occurred to me until now. It is, like the BBC and the NHS, one of those immutable organisations that we assume will always be around. I know, I know. The same was said about Woolworths and look what happened to it.

It is a huge relief that the club has apparently agreed an extension to settle a claim for £450,000 from HM Revenue and Customs.

For faithful fans who, unlike me, pay good money week in week out to watch a team of journeymen, the affair has been traumatic in the extreme. As one ardent supporter told me, he could just about cope with a death in his family, but how do you deal with the demise of a football club which gives meaning to so many lives?

Only a few, short months ago Hearts fans lined the blitzkrieged boulevards of Edinburgh in joyous tribute to their heroes who had hammered Hibs at Hampden. Today Hibs – Hibs! – are top of the premier league and, as incredibly, solvent. As Sir Alex Ferguson once said, "Football – bloody hell!"

Though it is a while since I visited Tynecastle it still occupies a hallowed space in my soul, as Mecca does for Muslims. In making this comparison, I intend no disrespect. To those who say that football is not a religion I say that if it is not it has a remarkable hold over its adherents.

In Scotland, they have been tested more than most and have shown that they are not of the fair-weather variety. Take Rangers, whom many pundits and rival fans believed would be playing to crowds the size of which you could accommodate in a lift. Instead, they have packed like sardines into grounds in the middle of nowhere and travelled to parts of this benighted land that have never previously been honoured with their presence.

This is commendable and proof positive of the community spirit which football is capable of engendering. There is, however, an ugly side to the game which cannot be overlooked and which continues to plague it, namely the often appalling behaviour of some supporters.

Recently, a friend who is a lifelong fan of Rangers, told me how, in the wake of the club's current problems and in a gesture of solidarity, he decided to invest in a season ticket which he could just about afford. This has given him much pleasure. But what has not is the loutish, boorish, racist and sectarian bile he has had to endure en route to games and during them.

Was it always thus? Perhaps. The first and only time I heard my dad swear was at a football game. The word was "bloody" and I think it may have been in response to some clanger dropped by the referee. But my friend says that what he has experienced is different, more visceral, and utterly repugnant. And he can't quite believe that he is a member of the same tribe as those whose company he shares. Lest he be further associated with them he won't be renewing his season ticket next year.

Doubtless many perfectly decent fans will argue that such antics are slowly but surely being erased.

But if football is to reverse the malodorous situation in which it finds itself reform cannot come soon enough. The alternative is that which Rangers narrowly escaped and which is facing my beloved Hearts – relegation with scant chance of resurrection.

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