IT is an image that has become iconic in Scottish football. When Rangers legends Walter Smith and Ally McCoist helped carry the coffin of their great friend Tommy Burns into St Mary’s Cathedral, the cradle of Celtic Football Club.

The tragic passing of the legendary Smith this week brought the sad memories of Burns’s death rushing back too, with now only Ally McCoist – so brave and captivating as he paid tribute to his friend and mentor on radio shortly after the awful news broke – left with us from a trio who once brought the nation together behind the Scotland team, but above all else, were just good pals.

I have, as many others have too no doubt, been thinking a lot about that image this week. And of McCoist.

The kinship between the three men brings to mind the many friendships between folk from both sides of Glasgow’s often bitter divide that you will all know personally, when camaraderie is often punctured by razor-sharp barbs about one team or the other, but always enveloped in warmth.

At the time of Burns’s death, the hope was that those who indulge in the more unsavoury elements of the Old Firm rivalry – the sectarianism, the violence, even the death threats – would have cause to re-evaluate their behaviours.

These men, idolised by fans of their own clubs and respected almost universally by those from the other, had shown that while rivalry in football is undoubtedly an intrinsic and beneficial part of the game, it was a long way from being among the things that truly matter in life.

It is easy to become despondent and feel that we have fallen far from the ideals that the likes of Burns and Smith lived by. Hugh Keevins, the legendary football journalist and close friend of both men, recently lamented how he felt the bitterness and anger contained within the Old Firm rivalry had reached its worst ever point. And as I hope he won’t mind me saying, he goes back a fair bit.

My hope is that just as football has always been the amplifier for the worst in our society, so too has social media simply become a gruesome amplifier of the worst in our football.

That is, most of the time. Mercifully, this week of all weeks, it has also shown the very best of the Scottish football fan community. The warm tributes paid to Smith from Celtic supporters and all sections of the Scottish game were a heartening reminder that the vast majority of folk are decent, and putting on the football scarf of one team or another doesn’t change that fact.

In the real world, there was another reminder of this at Easter Road on Wednesday evening, as a moment of silence was held for Walter Smith prior to Hibernian’s match with Celtic.

I can’t have been the only one who was nervous about what was about to take place as referee Don Robertson blew his whistle. Thankfully though, the moronic element who were intent on displaying their imbecility for the world to see were quickly shouted down by the respectful majority.

In the online world, the opposite is usually the case, with the decent masses chased to the sidelines by the ignorant and noisy. Why is it that the loudest people on these platforms are often those with the least worthwhile things to say?

This is not to argue though that the present-day problems we have in Scottish football are confined to the basements and bedrooms of the Twatterati on Twitter and their ilk. Nor specifically to Celtic and Rangers.

The reintroduction of crowds following the pandemic has been a largely glorious thing, bringing back the colour that had been drained from our football and our lives during the long months of lockdown.

But in that time spent frustrated watching on streams from home, it appears that some fans have returned to stadiums feeling more emboldened and less inhibited than ever before.

My beat is to primarily cover Celtic, so I’m not singling the club’s fans out here by pointing to the following examples, simply relaying my experience. From prior to the pandemic to now, there has undeniably been an increase in volume – in both senses of the word – of songs in support of the IRA coming from a section of their support.

At Celtic’s recent game at Fir Park, the Motherwell fans goaded the away support with a distasteful song about Celtic Boys’ Club, and the Celtic fans responded with a ditty of their own about the death of Davie Cooper.

Nobody wants to see the game sanitised to the point where the crackling atmosphere that rivalries bring is diluted, but really lads? And before the whataboutery starts to fly, I am sure this sort of stuff is happening everywhere else too.

Dundee striker Jason Cummings, for example, asked the question last weekend after listening to some of the abuse his teammate Leigh Griffiths was subjected to at Tynecastle; why should paying for a ticket give you the licence to say just about anything you like? It wouldn’t in any other walk of life, regardless of your feelings on Griffiths.

So, there are lessons that can be learned from all corners of Scottish football by the example set by Smith and his close friends, Burns and McCoist. And if those were to be heeded, what a lasting tribute it would be to two legendary men, now sadly departed.

Rivalry is important to Scottish football. The need for decency is greater.