CELTIC and Rangers fans both like to claim that the Old Firm derby is the best in the world. Few, though, would be brazen enough to put that down to the quality of football on show. The matches between the Glasgow giants tend to be frenetic and competitive contests that flash by in a blur with no quarter asked or given.

But, in the modern era especially, there are no players involved who would even come close to being considered world class. The financial gulf between Scottish football and European football’s Big Five leagues makes that impossible.

No, it is the atmosphere rather than the standard of play that lifts this match above other more humdrum derbies when it comes to any list of the global game’s most compelling fixtures.

Of course, a large part of that noise created on Old Firm day comes from the dreary and infantile sectarian chanting that continues to mar Scottish football and this fixture in particular. Perhaps one day those still romanticising about Irish politics and history will finally grow up or take their obsession elsewhere. This game doesn’t need that.

Both sets of fans have plenty of other things to get excited about. The two teams are playing well, are guided by iconic managers, and have a long list of cult heroes on the pitch worthy of having imaginative chants created in their honour.

Speak to any former player of either club and they will say the atmosphere on Old Firm day is unsurpassed. Even those who have played in some of the biggest fixtures in England, Spain or Italy, or represented their country in front of some of the most hostile crowds in world football, will insist there is nothing to match a Celtic versus Rangers contest at Ibrox, Parkhead or Hampden.

This fixture is Scottish football’s crown jewel. It is the only game widely recognised in other countries, one that carries the sort of cachet that makes it an easy sell for the SPFL’s international brokers. Bars and pubs all around the world will happily stick this game on the telly and know there will be at least one or two patrons intrigued enough by its reputation to give it their attention.

Given all that, it remains one of the most baffling decisions of recent years that both clubs have voluntarily chosen to shrink the fixture by vastly reducing the away allocation at their grounds.

Rangers struck first last year by cutting Celtic’s number of tickets at Ibrox, with the Parkhead club responding in kind. And it has undoubtedly diminished the fixture as a result.

The logic behind the decision was just about understandable – why give tickets to the other side if you can fill the stand with your own fans – but, in a stroke, it has removed a large part of what made this game so special.

The sight and sound of 7000 Celtic fans filling the entire Broomloan Road end of Ibrox may not always have been to the Rangers fans’ liking but you can be sure the noise booming out of the away end helped crank up the volume on the other three sides of the ground, too.

It was a similar story at Parkhead where Rangers used to be given a substantial section of the ground before their ticket allocation was cut and they ended up being stuck in the same wee poky corner that supporters of other clubs have had to endure for years.

The SPFL seem powerless to intervene on this given their rules state only that a “reasonable provision” of tickets should be made available to visiting supporters for every league game without being specific on numbers.

Both clubs can surely see the benefit to the fixture and the rivalry were they to restore the allocation again next season to the original levels, although it may be that neither wishes to be the first to bend on the matter, especially given how important next season could be if Celtic are potentially chasing a record-breaking 10th successful title.

But the recent Betfred Cup final at Hampden showed how powerful the Old Firm atmosphere can be when both sides are represented in vast numbers.

Nobody expects there to ever be a 50:50 split again for league games – sheer season ticket numbers on both sides makes that a non-starter – but a return to allowing visiting fans to attend in their thousands rather than hundreds would help restore this fixture to its former glory.

Kudos to whichever side of the divide makes that bold but necessary decision first.

And another thing

There have been plenty of negative stories about football fans’ behaviour of late so it seems only fair to redress the balance when possible.

When Dave MacDonald, St Mirren supporter and founder of the Black and White Army website, pledged to donate money to the Renfrewshire Foodbank for every point his team won in their four matches before Christmas he could not have imagined the response.

Other fans soon followed suit, with many also deciding in advance that they would donate to the charity even if their favourites failed to pick up a single point. St Mirren, though, responded by taking five points from the 12 available, earning the foodbank a staggering £20,000.

The generosity and kindness of football fans remains unsurpassed.