WHEN the comedian Andy Cameron was attacked inside the centre circle at Ibrox by an Aberdeen supporter as he entertained the crowd before a Rangers game back in 1999, he immediately made light of the incident. “I’m just glad I wasn’t wearing my sheepskin coat,” he said with typical irreverence afterwards.

The sharp and sudden rise in incidents of anti-social behaviour, assault and disorder at football matches across the United Kingdom, however, is no laughing matter.

Seeing James Tavernier, the Rangers captain, accosted by a Hibernian supporter as he went to retrieve the ball from the side of the park during the Ladbrokes Premiership at Easter Road on Friday evening was horrifying.

Witnessing the Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish being punched on the back of the head by a Birmingham City fan who had encroached on the playing surface at St Andrew’s Stadium earlier today – less than 48 hours later – was alarming in the extreme.

It underlined that unrest at games across the British Isles, not just in Scotland, is now endemic and also drove home that existing measures to tackle it are not working and need quickly and radically overhauled.

READ MORE: SPFL condemn Hibs fan who 'confronted' Rangers captain James Tavernier

They were hardly freak occurrences were they?

In the 2018/19 campaign in this country we have witnessed match officials, a manager and a substitute warming up at the side of the park being struck by missiles. Just last week a glass Buckfast bottle narrowly missed the Celtic winger Scott Sinclair. There has also, alas, been racist and sectarian abuse. Seeing flares being lit and smoke cannisters set off, and often thrown on the pitch, is now commonplace. As is vandalism inside grounds.

There has been a renewed clamour for strict liability – which sees clubs punished for disorder regardless of the measures they have taken before games to prevent trouble and irrespective of the punishments they have meted out afterwards to those responsible – as a result.

Proponents of strict liability advocate financial penalties being dished out, games being played behind closed doors and even, for repeat offenders, points being docked.

However, the flashpoint in Birmingham happened despite that rule having been in place in the English game for over four years now.

Gary Neville, the former Manchester United and England defender who now provides expert analysis on the game for Sky Sports, took to Twitter to argue that an example must be made of Birmingham to prevent similar scenes in future.

“The club are going have to take a huge punishment for this to act as a deterrent in the future,” he posted. “A points deduction or empty stadium for 10 games.”

The prospect of the Birmingham suffering as a result of his actions hardly entered the thinking of the moron who took a swipe at Grealish yesterday did it?

Leeann Dempster, the Hibs chief executive, refused to dismiss the possibility of the capital club closing a section of their stadium as a result of two flashpoints in the space of just six days on Friday night. Both the Sinclair and Tavernier episodes happened in front of the East Stand. But it is very hard to see what that will achieve.

The imbeciles responsible for the Tavernier and Grealish assaults were quickly apprehended by stewards, led away by police and arrested. They are facing lifetime banning orders, hefty fines and possibly even custodial sentences. The drastic personal consequences of their actions didn’t prevent them leaving their seats, encroaching on the playing surface and lunging at rival footballers as they went about their work.

The increase in these incidents is indicative of a wider breakdown of society. Sadly, football, which very much remains a working class game here, is an outlet for the disenfranchised to vent their anger. Games are played in an intense and often hostile atmosphere and it is obviously asking too much for some to behave like upstanding members of the public.

Is it right to place the responsibility for maintaining order in such an intimidating environment on part-time workers? Are you really going to put your personal safety at risk by confronting, even just identifying, potential troublemakers when you are being paid just £8 an hour? It is surely placing unreasonable demands on stewards.

READ MORE: Scott Brown brands James Tavernier confrontation a "disgrace" and fears a player being hit with a weapon

Hibs had an additional 50 stewards, and 275 in total, situated around Easter Road for the game against Rangers on Friday night in the wake of the trouble that flared at their William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-final against Celtic the previous week. They failed to stop Tavernier being set upon and seats being ripped up and thrown.

Fraser Wishart, the PFA Scotland chief executive, has been consistently scathing about the conditions his members are being forced to work in this season and he called for an urgent meeting between all stakeholders on Saturday.

“It is clear that the current processes in place are not working and we call for open and candid discussions between the relevant authorities to ensure that these dangerous practices are stopped once and for all,” he said.

Wishart is right. The sooner PFA Scotland, the SFA and the SPFL can sit down and decide on how to address the sudden and disturbing rise in affray and violence at matches the better. The prospect of somebody being seriously hurt, either in the stands or on the park, is now a very real one.

Scott Brown, the Celtic captain, is hardly a shrinking violet. He relishes meetings with Rangers and invariably performs at his very best in them despite the abuse he is subjected to. But even he has been shocked by what he has witnessed in the past few months. “The next thing is somebody has something to hit you with,” said Brown. “We have to make sure that doesn’t happen.”