THE SPFL and television companies need to knock Rangers’ and Celtic’s heads together to safeguard the value of the Old Firm derby.
During the week we saw suggestions from Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell that their support could boycott league games at Ibrox over safety fears.
It was a strong message, and the latest in a series of tit-for-tat gambits between the two clubs.
The starting point was Rangers’ argument they needed to reduce Celtic’s allocation because the demand for season tickets at Ibrox was so great.
I understand that logic. Looking after your own supporters has to be the priority for all clubs, large or small.
But it was a move that was always likely to prompt some sort of retaliatory action on the part of Celtic.
For the situation to have deteriorated so far is a huge shame. It can’t be allowed to continue.
Any of us who can remember back to when away fans were banned for Celtic’s visit to Ibrox in 1994 (following a dispute over broken seats on a previous visit) will have no desire to see it happen in the future.
As someone who was lucky enough to play in the fixture on several occasions, I can tell you it is the atmosphere that makes it.
There is no better feeling to see than both sets of fans going at it hammer and tongs – and then to make a contribution on the park that sends your team’s support home happy.
So many foreign players have come to Glasgow to play for Rangers and Celtic and fallen in the love with the fixture.
That is what appeals to the world-wide audience, what draws in the television companies and what beefs up the price when the negotiations get started.
To only have one set of supporters present would be a huge loss to the whole theatre of the occasion.
It stands to reason. If you only have home fans in the ground, then all you need is for the away team to dominate and you are in a danger of having a near-silent crowd.
That is no use for the broadcasters and, by extension, no use for those in charge at the top of the SPFL.
They have been delighted with the upswing in interest in the country’s top flight. Having managers with the presence of Steven Gerrard and Brendan Rodgers at Rangers and Celtic is a massive boost to the profile of our game.
And with the likes of Steve Clarke, Neil Lennon, Craig Levein and Derek McInnes all also working in the Premiership, there is a marked feeling of optimism and rejuvenation, witness the new TV deal.
True, things didn’t go to plan with the Betfred Cup semi-finals, with a big row over the initial plans to play both games at Hampden Park on the same day.
But when the dust had settled, we still saw the two matches between four of our biggest clubs attract more than 110,000 people on the day.
That’s a huge success for the competition, and for the league itself.
So there is plenty of reason to be upbeat, especially given the national team’s success in the Nations League.
At the same time, we have to also be careful to protect all the assets that we have.
The Old Firm derby absolutely qualifies as an asset.
It is one of jewels in the crown, and if the clubs will not join together to sort out the ticketing issue, then the authorities and television companies must step in.