FOOTBALL is softer than ever.
Nowadays, the kind of tackles I was on the receiving end of playing for club and country are punished.
Back in the day, they barely merited a ticking off from the referee.
Similarly, much of the chants from the terraces are no longer tolerated in today’s all-seated stadia.
And you know what? I’m all in favour of the direction the modern game is heading.
That may surprise some people.
But if the past few days have taught us anything, it is that we all have to move with the times.
The racist abuse being dished out to players – Raheem Sterling the highest-profile among them – underlined that there are still some sick people out there.
It would be easy to say the spate of players being verbally abused that is scarring the game right now is a sign that twisted behaviour is on the rise inside football grounds.
But I reckon this sort of thing has never really gone away.
There has always been an undercurrent.
But more and more people have had enough of it now – and I believe they’re increasingly happy to draw attention to it.
Just as the game itself has changed since the days I was playing, fans have changed, too.
It used to be that on the pitch, tackles would usually be wild, while players would square up to each other every week.
The behaviour in the stands at times went hand-in-hand with that.
That has changed, which is OK by me because it gives today’s players the kind of protection I never enjoyed.
Now the time has come to take the same harsh stance over the behaviour of supporters whose views belong in the past.
I was horrified to hear the abuse that was dished out to black players from the terraces during my playing career.
That was 30-odd years ago – and it’s terrible that some people still have that mind set.
But abuse isn’t just being dished out over race.
Former Scotland and Manchester United captain Darren Fletcher went public through the week over his experience of opposition fans singing about his health issues during matches.
We’ve also heard of players, who have endured the horror of losing children, being targeted for abuse from the terraces.
That’s absolutely hateful. Unforgivable.
Some people blame booze for that sort of behaviour, but I don’t think that’s at the root of it.
I think the kind of people who are capable of shouting things about players’ race, their health, or their family, are just downright deranged.
The same goes for people who throw things at players and match officials.
I used to get shouts during my career because I was a Scot playing in England. It would be: “You Jock this,” or: “You Sweaty that.”
Every non-English player got similar – the Welsh guys, the Irish guys, any foreigner, really.
Football clearly still has a problem with fans who think abusing players in a discriminatory fashion is OK. That’s because society still has the same problem.
But while it might be embarrassing for clubs in the short term to have their names dragged through the mud by these idiots, making sure incidents are made public is the best way to make sure they stop.
I reckon Hearts manager Craig Levein was spot on with what he said after the incidents involving his keeper, Zdenek Zlamal, and Hibs boss Neil Lennon at the Edinburgh derby last month.
If fans see, or hear, any sort of unacceptable abuse taking place, they should alert the police.
I don’t think it’s for stewards to deal with – not at the wage they get paid.
It’s a criminal matter, so it’s for the long arm of the law.
If decent fans can help the coppers out, the idiots will hopefully get the message that their stone-age behaviour is now well out of date.