SCOTTISH football remains unrivalled when it comes to shooting itself in the foot. On the one hand, we are in the midst of one of the most exciting seasons for years. Talented young players are emerging all across the country, almost every club still has something to play for as we move through March, and there are fascinating storylines cropping up on a daily basis. Brendan Rodgers’ recent departure from Celtic made front page as well as back-page news.

If you were a parent considering taking your children to their first match, or a fair-weather fan mulling over a return to the terraces after years of watching from the sofa, there would be plenty to hook you in. The clubs are doing their bit, too. St Mirren, for example, are running a family supporters bus to an away match for the first time on Saturday. The choice of opposition is no coincidence either – St Johnstone are one of the most fan-friendly clubs in the league and charge just £16 admission for an adult and two children. That’s the kind of initiative that deserves greater recognition and reward.

But just as mums and dads are starting to rummage through drawers looking for old scarves or stopping by the club shop to pick up a new one, a small alarm bell rings inside their head. They remember Steve Clarke’s anguished plea about sectarian chanting, and the glass bottle that whizzed past Scott Sinclair’s head as he prepared to take a corner. They read about the deluge of other missiles being thrown from stands, the crush earlier in the season at Celtic Park, the increase in pyros and smoke bombs being let off, the smashed-up seats, and the return of elements of the “casual” culture that we thought had been left behind in the 1980s. The video of Morton and Falkirk fans fighting after their recent match at Cappielow was as disheartening as it was embarrassing, as was the sight on Friday of a supporter running on to the pitch at Easter Road and confronting Rangers' James Tavernier.

Weighing up the good and the bad, you couldn’t really blame any parent or armchair fan for thinking a day at the 10-pin bowling complex or the cinema might be a safer alternative. After all, nobody is going to start throwing coins or screaming obscenities during an Odeon matinee. Once families have taken that decision, it becomes harder to win them over again. And Scottish football can’t afford to lose the next generation of supporters.

The publication last week of the annual Supporters Direct Scotland survey outlined both the good and the bad. More fans now feel they are getting value for money at SPFL games. There was a wider acknowledgement of the role played by Supporter Liaison Officers (SLOs) in providing a bridge between a club and its fanbase, and of the work clubs do in their local communities. Those were the positives.

More disappointingly, came confirmation that unacceptable behaviour is on the rise, with more than half of all respondents having experienced or witnessed sectarian, racist, physical or homophobic abuse at matches. It is a form of self-destruction that is harming our game significantly at a time when there are so many good things to shout about.

The rise of the Ultras movement in Scottish football and their ongoing feud with the police is at the heart of this spate of anti-social behaviour. For the most part, the introduction of these groups has been a welcome addition to the game. They bring noise and colour to previously sterile all-seated stadia and are undoubtedly devoted to their club. The majority are well-behaved and well-intentioned.

The growth of this younger, more mobile and vocal fan-base, however, has also attracted a minority of hangers-on determined to cause trouble, particularly at away matches. Perhaps within the confines of a recognised group they believe they can act with impunity, as if coin throwing and breaking seats is just another form of expressing themselves.

The ongoing tension with the police and the erosion of trust between both parties clearly doesn’t help. There are understandable grievances among supporters' groups who feel they have been unfairly scrutinised and their privacy invaded. The eagerness with which fans drinking alcohol on their way to matches have been targeted by stop checks, for example, seems a needless and hostile act. The police, in turn, will argue that they are merely trying to make football a safer place for everyone.

The Police Scotland-commissioned report published this week by Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts touched upon concerns over public safety – placing an onus on the clubs to do more - but failed to address many of the wider issues within football, including the role of the police themselves.

Accountability, then, needs to be a two-way street. Fan groups need to self-police where possible and weed out those who are tarnishing their name. There has to be an acknowledgement that anti-social behaviour is unacceptable and ruining the reputation of the majority of supporters who only want to attend matches to watch their team play.

The police and clubs, in addition, need to adopt a less hostile and threatening stance towards fan groups, the majority of whom are well-behaved and not out to cause trouble. Greater communication and levels of tolerance are vital if these sorts of incidents are to again become a thing of the past.

Scottish football is as entertaining and exciting now as it has been for many years. We owe it to ourselves to ensure these mindless acts don’t continue to detract from that.