ONCE, when very young, I was tossing a ball bearing into the air and catching it. Nothing too unusual about that, you may think. But I was catching it in my mouth.

The obvious danger here was an unscheduled trip to the dentist’s office. But no, that would have been too straightforward. Instead, upon gobbling up a particularly adventurous throw, the tiny silver sphere continued on its downwards trajectory and lodged in my throat.

Uh-oh. What now? The choices were stark, the decision weighing upon which course of action presented the greater danger to my life; telling my old man what had happened or taking my chances with a hunk of metal wedged in my windpipe.

It was a marginal call. Clearly a lack of oxygen to my brain wouldn’t have made too much difference given how I came to be in this predicament, but in the end, I decided it was probably better in the long term just to take the clout round the lughole.

At the time, I was being raised as a fan of a football club other than Celtic or Rangers, and in prime, central-belt Old Firm country. It wasn’t easy, let me tell you, especially when sharing a blinking bedroom with a fanatical supporter of one of the sides.

My brother, and anyone else who knew me as a kid, would know then that the only thing that would stick in the craw of young me more than that ball bearing would be giving any praise or due credit to either side of the Old Firm.

Time though, just like the little metallic ball which was eventually swallowed, passes. The passing of the ball-bearing wasn’t exactly a comfortable experience, mind you. Had you been wandering down the hall as nature eventually took its course, you might have thought I had snuck a pinball machine into the lavvy with me. But the passing of time has eased the discomfort once associated with the success of the big two.

That is particularly so on the European front, and that is where praise must now not only be given, but lavished, upon both teams for what they have achieved this season in the Europa League.

I am writing this ahead of the second leg of Celtic’s last-32 tie against Copenhagen, but no matter the outcome, Neil Lennon and his players have had a wonderful campaign.

Yes, there was the entirely avoidable Champions League qualification defeat to Cluj, but the lessons were learned from that evening and Celtic have flourished on the continent since.

Their group campaign in a tough section was sensational. The highlights, of course, were the home and away wins over Lazio, and Celtic remain the only side to have beaten the Italian giants in the Stadio Olimpico this season.

If indeed they have made the last 16, then they will be due even more praise, but even if they haven’t, it has been a memorable and hugely admirable European sojourn.

As for Rangers, they have already secured their place in today’s draw in Nyon after an outstanding win over Portuguese side Braga, when perhaps nobody outside of Ibrox gave them much of a chance.

The enormity of the achievement should be placed into the context it deserves. Braga sit third in the Primeira Liga, ahead of Sporting, and had only lost twice at home all season. Rangers met them during a run of domestic fixtures where they won nine games from 10, drawing the other.

To come back from two goals down at Ibrox was a remarkable feat by Steven Gerrard’s men, but to show the defensive and tactical discipline that has been missing from their domestic performances since the winter break was arguably more impressive against such an opponent.

They mercilessly exploited Braga’s suicidal high line, and it was no surprise to see their pacy attacking threats like Ryan Kent flourish against such a set-up, when they have toiled against deep-lying defences of late.

Prior to Braga, Rangers emerged from a group containing an even bigger Portuguese club in Porto – beating them at home and drawing away – along with Feyenoord and Young Boys.

There are tangible benefits to all of this. Scotland are now all but certain to secure 13th place in the co-efficient table. If Celtic have gone through, or if Arsenal have advanced at the expense of Olympiakos, we already have. That means the champions of Scotland will automatically go into the third round of Champions League qualifying come season 2021/22, and there will be an additional place in the qualifiers.

Fans of other clubs may roll their eyes at the concept of drip-down economics in football, and argue that success for Celtic and Rangers on the continent only increases the gap between the Old Firm and the rest.

In case it has gone unnoticed though, the reality is the other 10 top-flight clubs haven’t

been competing in the same league as the other two for decades – save for the years that Rangers were having their dalliance around the lower tiers. Even then, Celtic won the title at a canter.

So, ask anyone at the helm of the other 10 if they think having at least one of the Glasgow sides in the Champions League is a good thing, and they will give you 400,000 reasons why it most certainly is. If two make it, then an £800,000 boost to the kitty doesn’t exactly strike me as scraps off the table.

So, a hearty congratulations on their success. Fans of Celtic and Rangers will both rightly have lapped up their European adventures. The prestige they have brought to the league and the financial benefits to the rest of the clubs down the line should make it easy for the rest to swallow too.