THE difficulties inherent in writing about Celtic and Rangers were once again driven home to me earlier this month as the row over how to conclude the 2019/20 Ladbrokes Premiership season amid the coronavirus pandemic and football shutdown raged.

One particular article led to this correspondent being branded both a “Celtic sympathiser” (it was, apparently, obvious from my byline photograph) and a “hurting Hun” (no reason was given for that slur). What chance do you have?

The response to what was, or so I believed at the time, a balanced an objective piece which presented both sides of the argument underlined that covering the fortunes of the Glasgow clubs can be a fraught and futile business. Many fans instinctively search for evidence of bias. Invariably they will unearth some perceived slight that fuels their paranoia.

When it comes to reporting on the thorny issue of sectarianism the complications increase ten fold. Abandon hope all ye who enter there! It is a minefield from which there is no emerging unscathed.

So it is to his enormous credit that Archie Macpherson has, in his ninth decade no less, decided to tackle these contentious subjects in his latest book, More Than A Game: Living With The Old Firm.

Macpherson has chosen the 40th anniversary of the 1980 Scottish Cup final riot, an infamous event that led one of his most memorable commentaries, to put his experiences, reflections and opinions on them down on paper.

“This is like a scene out of Apocalypse Now,” he lamented that day as hundreds of rival supporters clashed on the pitch after Billy McNeill’s team had edged John Greig’s side and police on horseback waded in to restore order.

But as well as being an iconic broadcaster – he is still, many years after putting down his microphone, regarded as “The Voice of Scottish Football” - Macpherson is a fine writer.

More Than A Game is a collection of anecdotes, interviews and reminiscences from a lifetime spent in and around the Ibrox and Parkhead clubs in both a personal and professional capacity and makes for fascinating and enjoyable reading.

He is clearly undeterred by the inevitable reaction his tome will provoke in some after half a century on the front line.

He recalls being accused of impartiality for calling Rangers players by their Christian names more often than their Celtic rivals on one occasion. Not, however, by some deranged fan who had accosted him in the street. No, the allegation came from the Celtic director Jimmy Farrell. The encounter left him feeling “a bit like Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four”.

Farrell, though, was by no means alone in having his suspicions about the BBC. Indeed, Jock Stein, who Macpherson developed a close working relationship and friendship with during his career, was mistrustful of them also. His wariness stemmed from their failure to show full highlights of the 1957 League Cup final which Celtic won by a record 7-1 scoreline.

Macpherson's explanation - that the technician in charge of the operation had gone for a cup of tea at half-time and inadvertently left the dust cap on the recording camera in the second-half - fell on deaf ears.

The first-half of More Than A Game focuses on the 1980 Scottish Cup final, the build-up to it, the match itself, the riot and the aftermath and there has surely never been such a comprehensive account of the match. The second-half, meanwhile, looks at Celtic, Rangers and sectarianism in the decades since and examines what, if anything, has changed. Much, of course, has happened during that time.

The Criminal Justice Scotland Act, Maurice Johnston’s signing for Rangers, the murder of teenage Celtic fan Mark Scott and the formation of Nil By Mouth, the resignation of Donald Findlay QC as Ibrox vice-chairman, Neil Lennon squaring up to Ally McCoist on the touchline, the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications at Football Act and the Govan institution’s financial implosion are all covered in depth.

Lovers of football nostalgia will enjoy Macpherson’s insights into the actions and attitudes of some of the major figures in Old Firm history, from Jimmy McGrory and Bill Struth to Jock Stein and Willie Waddell to Sir David Murray and Fergus McCann, and even those who pride themselves on being knowledgeable on this topic will find something to delight and surprise them.

Macpherson rightly concludes there is less concern about who is Catholic and Protestant now than there was in his boyhood days in the East End of Glasgow in the 1940s and 1950s due to sweeping social improvements and the emergence of a better-educated population. At the same time, he concedes the “sectarianism at the core of the fixture has a resilience that seems impenetrable”.

The Covid-19 outbreak has, despite the controversy about Celtic being awarded their ninth consecutive Scottish title on a points per game basis, put sporting concerns in their proper context. But there has been little if any respite from the nastiness and pettiness of the Glasgow football rivalry. Nor, alas, is there ever likely to be.

More Than A Game: Living With The Old Firm by Archie Macpherson is published by Luath Press.