GIVEN the mocking they have had to put up with over the last few years for their wretched run of results, you can almost forgive Fort William FC for making someone else the butt of the joke for once.

It’s hard to know if chairman Peter Murphy was deliberately throwing shade or not on some of the club’s younger supporters when in a recent statement he warned they would be banned from attending future matches for bad behaviour unless they were “accompanied by a parent”.

For there can be no more effective way to bring a youthful delinquent down a peg or two than by threatening to sit their mum next to them to nag them about sitting up straight and behaving throughout the game. And tuck your shirt in while you’re at it.

As is often the case with these things in the digital era, the comments were soon being shared far and wide on social media, provoking some hearty pointing and laughing at the Fort William fans for getting clamped online by their own chairman.

It may, however, have been a source of frustration for the club that the serious nature of the message was virtually ignored amid the communal chuckling at the punchline.

The statement didn’t expand on what constituted “unacceptable behaviour” at Highland League football matches, leaving it in the realms of the imagination as to whether it was merely juvenile high jinks or something more sinister that might have caught the eye of the local constabulary. Hopefully the former rather than the latter.

Regardless, this flashpoint again touched on an issue affecting clubs throughout the country from non-league all the way up to Celtic and Rangers at the top, namely how best to accommodate the burgeoning youth supporter movement in Scottish football.

First of all, it should be stated without fear of contradiction that the surge in these “ultra” groups has been for the most part a hugely welcome development in our game.

The end of the terracing culture at the top end of the SPFL and the introduction of all-seater stadia made for a while going to the match a safer experience but also a much duller one too.

The atmosphere changed. Singing and chanting at many games fell away. Where once going to a match was an interactive experience as the crowds on the terrace swayed and moved in response to events on the field, a new era was ushered in where “customers” sat mostly in silence on sterile, plastic seats, effectively neutered by their surrounds.

As new grounds sprung up in out-of-town locations to replace crumbling relics from the Victorian era, that effect was magnified tenfold inside these modern but soulless caverns. A lot of what it previously meant to go to the football was stripped away. It became a passive experience.

The gradual introduction, then, of these new vibrant, colourful and noisy supporter organisations over the past decade or so changed everything.

Surfing on a new-found sense of pride in Scottish football that turned its back on the previous fawning adulation of the English Premier League, these groups have helped create a much-needed atmosphere at grounds.

In many cases defying the restrictions of their all-seated sections, the likes of the Green Brigade, Union Bears and Motherwell Bois have deployed their youthful energy to renew their club’s song book, adding choreography, drums, banners and flares. You can see a lot of time and effort goes into it all.

Looking to Europe rather than England for inspiration, it has helped galvanise a previously disaffected element who often felt they had been left without a voice as football became a family-focused affair.

It was hard not to feel a sense of admiration while watching St Mirren’s W7 North Bank group energetically bouncing up and down throughout the tedium of Wednesday’s goalless draw with St Johnstone and wishing you still had even a semblance of their vitality.

In many cases, the fan groups provide more entertainment than what is unfolding on the pitch. My son and his pals have christened themselves “the North Bank Juniors” and spend many a game looking enviously along at the older boys and girls creating the colourful din and counting down the years until they can join in. When you’re watching the SPFL’s lowest scorers, any sort of distraction has to be welcome.

Of course, it is not always good, clean fun. Any large congregation of teenagers and other young people will at times be drawn to mischief or other more serious demeanours. The fascination with pyros is not to everyone’s taste, while some of the chanting borders on the offensive and, at some clubs, sectarian.

Well-intentioned groups can also find themselves infiltrated by other individuals keen to cause trouble – especially on away trips – with ordinary supporters damned by association.

As the Fort William statement demonstrates, there is undoubtedly still a sense of unease between clubs and supporter groups, with the police often also taking an unnecessarily keen interest in the fans’ activities including their lives away from the stadium.

For all that, the hope must be a way can be found to harness the energy and colour these groups have added to the matchday experience. It would certainly be a lot duller without them.