STICKS and stones, and all that. That’s what a great many apologists would have you believe Scottish football’s eternal struggle with sectarianism amounts to. Except, as evidenced at Hampden Park on Sunday, the more pressing issue within certain sections of certain supports is a fundamental lack of decency.

Yes, while words and songs may not break any bones, they can absolutely damage the reputation of our clubs, our game, and even our country as a whole.

Before the teams had even entered the arena, a large number of Celtic supporters had given air to a ditty that has caught on among them in recent times, mocking the deaths of Rangers figures Davie Cooper, Walter Smith, Jimmy Bell and Andy Goram to the tune of ABBA hit Super Trouper.

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Quite what Celtic icon Tommy Burns, great friend of Smith, would make of it, one can only wonder. But it is a safe bet to surmise he would be embarrassed and ashamed to hear fans of his beloved club lowering themselves to such depths.

Not to be outdone, the Rangers supporters soon showed that whataboutery is rampant in Scottish football for a reason; there is always some sort of despicable behaviour perpetrated by the other side which their rival can point to in an attempt to absolve their own misdeeds.

The wisdom of holding a minute of applause in tribute to Hibernian chairman Ron Gordon, who died last week, was questioned ahead of the game by a few colleagues in Hampden’s media room. As beloved as he may have been to Hibees, and as respected as he may have been for his efforts towards the betterment of Scottish football as a whole, he had no real connection to either club.

As sad an indictment as it is, the fear was that some supporters would be unable or unwilling to afford his death the respect of simply standing and applauding for 60 seconds. Predictably, and depressingly, those fears were well founded.

A large section of the Rangers support – a minority of the 25,000 in attendance perhaps, but still a large section – broke out into a chorus of The Billy Boys around halfway through the gesture, leaving the rest of us looking at referee Nick Walsh, willing him to blow his whistle and save these eejits from themselves.

Not far behind the press box too, in the Rangers hospitality seats, came shouts towards Celtic’s Japanese players that were racist in nature as well as being quite the indictment on the Scottish education system. It was difficult to know where to start when one gentleman implored the Rangers players to get ‘wired into that wee Chinky’ - presumably referring to Kyogo, who had the ball at the time - but all it inspired from those around him were guffaws of laughter.

These are just some of the extreme examples of the distasteful nature of the ‘bants’ at Sunday’s game. Sad as it is to say, the familiar background soundtrack of chants about fenian or orange bastards have mostly become white noise.

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That religious aspect of the Old Firm derby and the morbid curiosity it inspires from the outside is as much a selling point for the game as the football itself. Perhaps even more so, as much as we might not like to admit it.

It was ever thus, and we are all guilty of turning a blind eye to it at times. Journalists, players, managers, fans themselves. And the big wheel keeps turning.

I have written in the past about the phenomena of the 90-minute bigot, where normally upstanding members of the community with close friends or even family on both sides of the divide go to the match, vent whatever frustrations they may have in their lives through such songs or chants, and then go home and never let it affect any other part of their days.

In fact, many reading this will inevitably be thinking ‘so what?’. If we accept that we are swimming up-stream then in the age-old battle against sectarianism, what is the point I am trying to make exactly?

Well, maybe it’s just me, but since lockdown ended a couple of years ago now it seems that the invective has incrementally plumbed newer and more shocking depths. It is almost as if a pressure valve was released when fans were allowed back into stadiums, and things that were seen to be off limits even by the low bar traditionally set in the Old Firm rivalry, now seem fair game.

Mocking death. Revelling in it, even. Overt racism. Gleeful singing - and banners - about paedophiles. Behaviours that were once pushed to the margins have now become mainstream, the perpetrators emboldened.

A similar phenomenon can be seen in the behaviour of the ‘Ultras’ groups of late too, who I have often defended for the atmosphere and colour they bring to the occasion. The sight of one fan launching fireworks off a stick towards the pitch in full view of the stewards and police at Hampden on Sunday showed the mile some of their number will take when given an inch.

Hopefully, Scottish football finds a way to accommodate the improvements to the matchday experience they can bring through ‘safe pyro’, for instance, which works well in other European countries.

There can be no safe space though for the sort of indecent songs and chants coming from a growing section of supporters. They may not be sticks and stones, but these fans are hurting their clubs and the image of the Scottish game with their words more than they might know.