More than 25 years ago at Cartha Queen’s Park rugby club on Glasgow’s south side I hosted an event sponsored by Scotland on Sunday newspaper. We called it, somewhat provocatively, Rugby for the People.

I was then the paper’s sports editor and had been puzzled at why so few state schools in west central Scotland encouraged their pupils to play rugby. On those few occasions when a rugby aficionado on the PE staff did attempt to tutor us in rugby’s esoteric ways we found it be thrilling and dramatic, a liberation almost.

We all wanted to be professional footballers, though we knew that the overwhelming majority of us lacked those indefinable physiological and neurological gifts – that unique alchemy - that separated journeymen amateurs and professionals.

Yet, some of my young school football team mates could have been very good at rugby, being possessed of speed, strength and bravery.

When we launched our campaign we thought (perhaps naively) Scotland would have a better team had rugby not been almost the exclusive preserve of privately-educated pupils from Edinburgh or the children of Borders farmers. 

The Herald: 14/09/18 GUINNESS PRO14 . EDINBURGH RUGBY V CONNACHT. BT MURRAYFIELD - EDINBURGH. Edinburgh's James Johnstone and Connacht's Kyle Godwin.

Our campaign was supported by John Beattie and Sean Lineen, two fine Scottish internationals.

Mr Beattie related an anecdote about trying to teach a group of children from Easterhouse about the technicalities of a line-out. In so doing, he inadvertently stepped on the hand of a young lad, breaking it in several places. Horrified, he immediately stopped play and went to the aid of the injured child. Only to be told by him: “f*ck off; there’s nothing wrang with me”.

The former British Lion said that if you were able to bottle that spirit and imbue the Scottish international team with it, then they wouldn’t keep getting their arses spanked by the great southern hemisphere nations.

The launch event was packed and it seemed we’d struck a chord. Last year, Scottish rugby’s governing body launched an initiative in partnership with local authorities to do just that. The SRU stated: “this is the first time Scottish Rugby has produced a statement of intent around increasing state school rugby participation”. So, why had it taken 27 years after our newspaper campaign finally to embrace this?

It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that much of this is class-based. And it’s only by understanding and accepting this that some sense can be made of civic Scotland’s egregiously different attitudes towards those who support rugby and those who travel substantial distances to watch football.

That reactionary mind-set underpinned the UK Traffic Commissioner’s consultation announced last week which proposed a long list of restrictions on travelling football fans akin to the instructions that accompany the transportation of dangerous animals. The immediate and wide-ranging backlash has since caused the Traffic Commissioner to cease the consultation, but the fact of its launching was damning.

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The proposals would have compelled bus convenors to engage with a dedicated football officer (like a political officer on old Soviet era military exercises) 48 hours before the game.

Buses would require police permission to stop anywhere within 10 miles of a ground and there would need to be proof of purchase of “a substantial meal” before alcohol could be consumed. They’d only have been allowed to arrive at the venue no earlier than two hours before and not later than one hour before the game.

Politicians of all shades lined up to condemn the proposals, including the First Minister Humza Yousaf. Yet it was his party which had established the template for treating football supporters like scum with the equally punitive and draconian Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act.

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Derek Watson, director of Motherwell-owning fans' group The Well Society, was the first person to raise the alarm about what the Traffic Commissioner was proposing. He said: “Fans have often been an easy target for politicians looking for a collective to blame for worsening societal issues.

“Fans are Scottish footballs biggest asset. We should be screaming about rising ticket prices; free-to-air football on TV; lifting the booze band and the many challenges which are faced week-in-week out. We'll take the victory, but hopefully it's the first of many.”

The attitudes redolent in the Traffic Commissioner’s proposals are familiar to Scottish football supporters everywhere they go: the disproportionate police presence; their openly surly and contemptuous attitudes when you walk part them on your way to the ground. It’s almost as though they’re willing you to look at them the wrong way so that they can arrest you.

It was all captured in those attitudes in the Offensive Behaviour Act and the continuing ban on drinking: police with hand-held cameras photographing young supporters for any signs of mischief, and the dawn raids on homes to arrest young men deemed guilty of having sung dodgy songs or expressed discriminatory language.

It was all class-based, of course. The rugby chaps can be trusted to drink responsibly, even when they’re making a nuisance of themselves. The football lot … well they’re animals and must be watched at all times.

Two weeks ago, I watched Scotland against Georgia at Murrayfield, having got over my initial surprise at discovering that the former Soviet republic actually had an international rugby outfit. And on Saturday, I visited Firhill along with 2300 other supporters to watch Partick Thistle play Queen of the South in a Challenge Cup tie.

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Obviously, we’re not comparing like for like here, yet the sharp cultural differences went well beyond staging and size.

At Firhill on Saturday, the first thing you encounter are several volunteers collecting for a local charity. It was a reminder that supporters of many football clubs – large and small - have a heightened sense of awareness of the needs of their local communities.

Earlier this year, I witnessed the myriad social initiatives of Albion Rovers in the wider Coatbridge community. Celtic’s oft-reviled Green Brigade have raised literally hundreds of thousands of pounds for food banks in an area containing some of Europe’s poorest communities. Dozens of other supporters groups across Scottish football fund and maintain lifeline services in their communities. They also bring millions into local economies.

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They preserve social cohesion, uniting generations of families in feeling a sense of belonging to the places that reared them and the values of helping stricken neighbours. Football and boxing offered a route out of poverty and imbued in them a sense of pride often missing in their working weeks.

Football created local heroes who could show what discipline and hard work and self-sacrifice might achieve when the social odds were stacked against you.

The Challenge Cup is perhaps the least garlanded of all of Scottish football’s prizes, yet all of this was evident at Firhill on Saturday: three generations of one family from the Maryhill area listening to their grandfather telling them about Davie McParland, the fine Thistle from the 1960s and 1970s who led them in their greatest moment: a 4-1 League Cup final victory against mighty Celtic in 1971.

Mr McParland’s portrait is emblazoned on a wall beside the Firhill gates and this elderly chap was bursting with pride as he told his grandchildren that he’d witnessed his deeds. Under no circumstances though, could this man be trusted to drink alcohol within sight of the playing surface as the game proceeded.   

During the game those children witnessed perhaps the flowering of a new hero. Thistle’s young midfielder, Ben Stanway lit up the game with a masterclass of grace, poise and skill. At one stage he performed an outrageous pirouette beyond his opponent reminiscent of a famous turn performed by the great Dutch player, Denis Bergkamp for Arsenal against Newcastle 21 years ago. It was worth the ticket price alone.

Going to Murrayfield, just as on those other handful of occasions I’d attended a Scotland rugby match, had all the drama of a trip to a Christmas pantomime. For a section of Scottish society, it’s an occasion to be seen at. The result didn’t really matter and it would have no impact on the everyday lives of the watchers.

The only intensity occurred just prior to the kick-off when it became known that Fiji had beaten England and then again in the long queues forming at the stadium bar waiting for a beer as the game above played out its irrelevant denouement. 

None of these games had the edge or sense of jeopardy which comes with a football match, no matter how lowly the league and humble the participants. In football there is always something at stake, even if it’s only fierce local pride.

It’s just that when working-class people manifest intensity and fierce tribal loyalty that the civic authorities begin to fret.