YOU always hear it. That in the heat of the moment, in the throes of a game, things get said on a football pitch that people would never dream of saying to another person in any other context.

Be that as it may, it is a flimsy excuse for appalling behaviour at the best of times, and no excuse at all when it comes to the alleged incident in the Albion Rovers vs Stenhousemuir match on Thursday evening.

Rovers substitute David Cox, who has bravely gone public with his mental health issues in the last few years, alleges that Stenhousemuir captain Jonathan Tiffoney told him ‘he should have done it right the first time’, in reference to suicide attempts that Cox had previously made.

We learned of this in a raw, emotional video that Cox posted to his social media channels as he made his way home from the game, having decided at half-time in the match that he was done with football. This wasn’t a one-off incident for him. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Stenhousemuir, to their credit, have referred the incident to the Scottish Football Association after speaking to both of the players involved, and Tiffoney has been placed on a leave of absence while an investigation takes place. If that investigation finds that he indeed made these remarks, then he should never play in the professional ranks again.

It is important to note that Tiffoney has since flatly denied making the comments attributed to him in a statement issued through his lawyer, but it is also hard to overstate the importance of how the SFA handle this issue.

Through his bravery in going public with his mental health struggles, Cox has helped hundreds or perhaps thousands of young men in Scotland and beyond, inspiring them to seek out help when they are in similar situations. It is no exaggeration to say that his honesty and openness may well have saved lives.

This is all the more remarkable when you consider that it has opened him up to ridicule and abuse from the hard of thinking. Abuse he knew would have been forthcoming when he decided to public regarding his attempts at taking his own life.

There are countless young men who have been in such situations, and many are sadly lost simply because they didn’t speak out for fear of being ridiculed in such a way. Not only must a clear signal be given out to the moronic that such hateful rhetoric will not be tolerated, but there must also be an unequivocal statement handed down to those who are suffering with their mental health that it is safe to speak up and speak out.

It was heartening to see the outpouring of support for Cox on social media from across Scottish football when the video was posted, and it can only be hoped that the well-wishes have helped to provide some comfort to him. On a weekend where a social media boycott is taking place to highlight the need for action against online hate and abuse, it was a small reminder that it can sometimes be a force for good.

It should also be a reminder that piling onto Tiffoney on social media, no matter how justifiable people may feel their anger towards him to be, isn’t the solution.

That Tiffoney should be publicly called out if he made these comments is only right, and sympathy will understandably be in short supply for him. His username was quickly tagged in the replies to Cox’s video, and the outpouring of sympathy for the victim quickly became a torrent of abuse towards the 29-year-old perpetrator.

‘So what?’, you may be inclined to ask. Well, Libby Emmerson, founder of mental health charity Back Onside, is more than acquainted with what situations can push people towards the edge. And she told Clyde One: “I don’t think it should be turned into a witchhunt on social media, and everybody turning on those individuals, because to be honest that’s just being as bad as what people are being to David.”

Worryingly, Emmerson also described how frequently this sort of abuse has already been levelled at Cox, and outlined her belief that had his previous clubs given more credence to his claims, we would never have reached this stage.

Similarly, Cox described that when he approached the match officials about the alleged abuse dished out by Tiffoney, they were powerless to do anything as they hadn’t heard it themselves.

There must be a clear procedure for players to follow in such situations, and for referees too. And there must be a clear message sent out that such repugnant behaviour will not be tolerated.

Hopefully, after a period of reflection, Cox will reconsider his retirement. But he could hardly be blamed if he didn’t.