WHEN Celtic’s acting chief executive Michael Nicholson confirmed this week that Rangers supporters would not be allowed access to his club’s ground for the January Old Firm fixture, the fallout was predictable.

In this case though, both Celtic and Rangers are the ones responsible for the latest round of mud-slinging between fans of the clubs. This particular piece of tit for tat comes from the top down.

Given that Celtic supporters weren’t admitted to Ibrox for the first game between the sides this season back in August, you didn’t need to the prescience of Mystic Meg to predict that Celtic may follow suit.

Quite rightly, you may think, if you are a Celtic supporter. Why should Rangers enjoy the advantage of having their ground packed out solely with their own fans if Celtic cannot also enjoy the same privilege?

Ok, fine. The score has been settled. But after this match, with that parity achieved, will we finally see one club take the moral high ground and restore the Old Firm fixture to what makes it such an attractive selling point for the Scottish Premiership in the first place?

At the moment, we are stuck in a cycle of one club refusing to guarantee access to the other’s fans, prompting outrage from the other side and widespread approval from their own supporters. Get it up them, right? Only we then have the other side becoming indignant when the roles are reversed.

The clubs have been able to hide behind the restrictions placed upon them by the Covid pandemic to deny rival fans access during this period, but let’s not forget, this unseemly row about tickets goes back to when most folk here thought Astra Zeneca was one of those teams the Old Firm play in European qualifiers in July.

It was Rangers who first reduced Celtic’s allocation at Ibrox to around 800 fans in the corner of the stadium rather than handing over the entire Broomloan Road Stand, as tradition had long dictated, back in 2018. The reason given was that they wanted to accommodate more season ticket holders, putting Rangers fans first. Which is their right. Though the frequent Celtic wins at Ibrox and the subsequent large-scale parties they were throwing post-match may have rather stuck in the craw of a few in the Rangers boardroom, I would suggest.

Celtic did not take it well, as you might expect, and duly reciprocated. But at least within their statement of rebuke at the time, there was an acknowledgment that the fixture itself was being diminished.

It read: “Celtic Football Club has confirmed that it will issue approximately 800 tickets to visiting supporters for the fixture against Rangers at Celtic Park on September 2. This mirrors the decision announced recently by Rangers.

“This is not a development we welcome and it is unfortunate that the initial decision came without any form of discussion. The previous arrangements worked well for both sets of supporters as well as contributing to the status of the fixture as a sporting occasion.

“Following the unilateral action by Rangers, we cannot allow our own supporters to be doubly penalised, by having access to the away fixture reduced so dramatically, while not being offered the opportunity to maximise our own support at Celtic Park."

The great irony of course is that following this move, Rangers actually started to pick up a result or two at Celtic Park, and thousands of their own fans were denied the opportunity to rub their rivals’ noses in it on their own patch.

Without the intensity and the electricity that is generated between a vociferous home support and a large, noisy away support, the Old Firm fixture has become just another derby.

Yes, of course there are aspects of the rivalry that we could do well without, but it is the 90 minutes of sheer passion and indeed, hatred, that make it so compelling even for those with no affiliation to either side.

The noise, the colour, the bedlam. It was box-office. That was the dynamic that made the game so appealing to football fans all over the world. As a selling point, the fans have become even more important in recent years as the standard of product on the park has declined.

As it is though, Celtic have missed an opportunity to at least take a step towards restoring the fixture to what it used to be. They had an opportunity to seize that moral high ground, but have instead taken the low road for fear of losing face.

Hopefully soon one of the clubs will climb down and a reciprocal agreement can be reached that allows more fans from both clubs to attend the fixture at Celtic Park and Ibrox. Take it from a man who has been in the middle of the maelstrom often enough, Martin O’Neill, who is also of the mind that the occasion and experience is being diluted by this farcical stand-off.

"There is nothing like Celtic v Rangers with a full stadium,” O’Neill said earlier this year. “There is something there that other derby games just don't have.

"I think of the Manchester derby, which I've played in, or Liverpool-Everton, or Liverpool-Manchester United, and I still don't think there is anything to compare with the Old Firm.

"When I was there, and you went to Ibrox, you felt you had some company, that you weren't alone when you saw the Celtic fans. And I'm sure Rangers felt exactly the same when they could fill one end of Celtic Park.

"There is the cauldron of it, there is religion in there, you can throw everything into the mix. You can use all sorts of adjectives to describe these games but there is something magical about them.

"There is an intensity that just does not exist anywhere else."

Sadly, until this impasse is resolved, it no longer exists in Glasgow either.