THE tit-for-tat nature of football is nothing new, nor is it a phenomenon that is restricted solely to Scotland. There are seemingly no depths to which rival football fans won't sink if there is an opportunity to point-score over another side.

Only this week, former Scotland captain and now Stoke City midfielder Darren Fletcher spoke about how an entire away section taunted him about his chronic ulcerative colitis, with his family being forced to listen to a song mocking him for an illness that not only almost claimed his career, but his life.

So, there is no exceptionalism in Scottish football fans plumbing the depths for a cheap laugh. It happens everywhere.

But even by the normal gutter level bar that is set in order to cause genuine offence, this week has been a wretched one for anyone who engages in the often-murky cesspool of Scottish football discussion on social media.

It was heartening to see the thousands of messages from across the footballing divides in support of Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths this week, and equally as dispiriting to see the responses that lurked in the replies.

Compassion can be in short supply in football, and barbed exchanges between fans are all part of the game. No one wants to see the sport become sterilised, but I don’t think it makes you a ‘snowflake’ – the in-vogue comeback from the sort of numpties who think they can say whatever they like to whomever without reproach – if you find the concept of dragging subjects like child abuse into the conversation at every conceivable opportunity repulsive in the extreme.

Whataboutery is one thing. Since time immemorial that has always been the way of it, particularly with the Old Firm. It’s almost like a law of physics. For every comment about Rangers, there must be an equal and opposite comment about Celtic, and vice-versa. There is a section of both supports that is so invested in the misfortune of the other that if their rival ceased to exist (yes, yes I know…) then they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves.

But being balanced isn’t about pandering to both sets of supporters equally, and not every comment about a Celtic or Rangers issue should have to be qualified by looking for equivalence in the past at the other club and ensuring that you address that too. Sadly, that is what has happened this week, where many of the messages in support of Griffiths have been met by “aye, but what about…”

You may not like Leigh Griffiths and the persona he portrays on the football field. Rangers fans, more than any other, would have reason not to. Not only has he repeatedly done damage to their hopes on the field by scoring important goals against them, but he has revelled in having that upper-hand by tying Celtic scarves to posts at Ibrox and waving a giant Irish tricolour in the Broomloan Road Stand. A figurative red rag to a bull.

I find it sad though that some people can’t separate Griffiths the footballer, an extroverted character it looks increasingly likely he was playing as a means to deflect from the problems he was having, with a fellow human being who has fallen on hard times.

Mental illness or depression isn’t something that only afflicts the destitute or those who are down on their luck. As Griffiths’ own case shows, not even those who in the eyes of many seem to have it all, are immune to its relentlessly invasive clutches.

But for every person who may be encouraged to open up about difficulties they are having with their own mental health through the example of Griffiths, another person will instead be discouraged and continue bottling it all up when they see the ridicule and vitriol that has been unleashed by some in response.

Despite the saying, football is not a matter of life and death, and while we all love our teams and love the game, perhaps some people should remember that fact.