THERE won’t be a footballer out there who would condone what Jamie Carragher did by spitting at the Manchester United supporters who were goading him after Liverpool’s defeat last weekend, but similarly, there won’t be a player out there who won’t sympathise with his position.

Football remains one of the last bastions of non-PC behaviour, and footballers are still seen as a legitimate target of abuse whether that is in stadiums or even out on the street. Society has moved on, but football remains rooted in the dark ages.

I go to the ice hockey with my son, and it’s a great atmosphere. You might get the odd grump and groan, but you don’t get the vile abuse that you get in a football context. No one wants to sanitise the game, but there is surely a line to be drawn somewhere.

In Scotland of course, it happens regularly, and when you have played for either of the Old Firm you are seen as fair game for sectarian abuse whether you are running out at Ibrox or Celtic Park or are picking up a pint of milk.

I’ve had it myself, particularly of course when I was at Rangers. I was on my way to training one day and stopped off at a shop in the West End, and there was a guy walking his daughter to school at around 10 to nine in the morning. He called me an orange p***k, right in front of his daughter. I told him that was a fine example he was setting, but he just continued swearing at me until I was out of sight.

When you are in the shops like I was that morning or like Russell Martin was during the week, or at the airport like Scott Sinclair, then it is unacceptable for me.

When Darren McGregor went to Rangers, I told him what he was going to have to deal with, and all of a sudden, he would be seen as fair game for these people. Should it really be a prerequisite of joining one of the Old Firm that for the rest of your life you will have to put up with sectarian abuse?

It still happens to me to this day. I often get accused of being an orange b*****d when I’m out and about. The fact I’m not a member of the organisation, and a St Mirren supporter, seems irrelevant.

There was a funny moment when I was coming out of Tynecastle after a St Mirren game with David van Zanten, and a Hearts fan shouted; ‘Haw Thompson, ya fenian b*****d.’ David was on the floor laughing, then eventually asked the guy if he even knew what it meant. He didn’t, of course, but he just felt as if he had to say something derogatory to me, no matter what it was.

I can’t see that ever changing. A fan feels it is their right to go and vent their fury at a player on a Saturday, and god knows I’ve had it in the past. But for some incredible reason, society accepts it. How can it be that a grown man, surrounded by women and children, can stand up and rhyme off as many abusive terms and swear words as he likes, then sit down and it’s alright?

These types are always the ones who will run to the steward as soon as a player bites back or gestures at them. But fine, I can accept it at the game. It won’t change, so there’s no point moaning about it, you just have to learn to handle it the right way. But in the street?

Now, when I am on the end of this stuff, I either just laugh or have a bit of a joke with it. Generally, that approach diffuses the situation, but there is undoubtedly a poisonous section from both sides of the Old Firm who just want to abuse you.

As a footballer, you have to be aware that if you are out on the town, then this sort of thing is par for the course, and you accept that it goes with the territory, but when you are out with your kids and your family in a shopping centre or a Tesco, then it is out of line.

I’m never going to say that how Carragher reacted was acceptable. Unless someone physically assaults me, I’m not too fussed by what they say to me. But there is no doubt that people now are going out with the sole intention of goading players and getting it on their camera phones to put it on social media. Players have to be on their toes, and realise that people are dying to get this sort of reaction out of them.

What I would say is that for every idiot that wants to abuse you, there are five guys that are really decent and just want to chat to you. It is definitely a minority who behave in such an unacceptable manner, but I don’t see it stopping any time soon.

I could count dozens of occasions where I could have reacted differently to situations, and I haven’t, but it does take huge restraint. When I was younger, I did used to have a wee bite back on occasion, but now it’s water off a duck’s back.

As much as it may leave a bitter taste in the mouth at times, my best advice for any players on the receiving end would be to turn the other cheek.