IT has not been a good week for “banter”. In fact the very word is in crisis.

The once innocent term was in the dock last week, not only in the ­highest legal offices of the land, but most visibly of all, when a group of women walked out the Scottish Football Writers’ Awards dinner during a speech by the former barrister Bill Copeland.

Allow me a wee daunder through the ­dictionary if only to connect Scottish ­Football to the satirist Jonathan Swift, the celebrated author of Gulliver’s Travels.

In 1710, six years before his most famous book was published, and over 150 years or more before the invention of either Celtic or Rangers, that’s three centuries before ­either of them had a colts team, Swift used the term banter to describe verbal teasing.

It was a word he had picked up in the ­marketplaces of poverty-addled London and felt deserved a wider audience, not least by introducing the term to ­readers of his regular column in the magazine Tatler.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon praises broadcaster Eilidh Barbour for awards ceremony walkout

Over the centuries banter has morphed and is now largely a male pursuit. Along the way the term “banter” has shed its ­innocence and has taken on a more toxic, even sexist dimension.

Banter once signalled a jousty and ­informal exchange of stories and ­challenges but is now more commonly a word of contention in employment ­tribunals. According to the Financial Times, the number of employment ­tribunal cases in which workplace banter was cited rose from 67 in 2020 to 97 in 2021, this on the back of research that demonstrates that the notion of banter is at its most disputed when it comes to workplace exchanges around protected characteristics like gender, age, and race.

In one example a Scottish-born Asian, Kieran Sidhu now based in the south of England, is suing his workplace for racial discrimination after colleagues referred to mockingly as an “Arab shoe bomber” in what he has claimed was a sustained campaign of racist abuse.

We have reached a stage in society where informality at the workplace has soured and some peoples’ perception of what acceptable humour is, has veered carelessly off the road.

Banter is no longer what describes ­informal workplace attitudes. It is for many the source of unhappiness and ­vulnerability.

Last week the torch of ­responsibility shone brightly in the eyes of sports ­journalism. When Eilidh Barbour the TV broadcaster got up from her seat and left the Scottish Football Writers’ annual ­dinner. She did not name the speaker nor the joke that had angered her, it was much more pervasive than that, her reaction was against the complicit atmosphere in the room and a culture that still pervades football.

She subsequently tweeted: “Never felt so unwelcome in the industry I work in than sitting at the Scottish Football ­Writers Awards. A huge reminder there is still so much to do in making our game an equal place.”

Nor was Eilidh alone. Women in ­Journalism Scotland (WiJS), some of whose members walked out too, followed up with a press release that turned on the press itself: “Sports journalism appears to be among the last bastions of misogyny within journalism.

“In a recent survey carried out at the end of last year, WiJS discovered that of around 95 sports desk staff jobs at ­Scottish newspapers, just three were filled by women.”

Coming on the back of the David ­Goodwillie crisis at Raith Rovers when the club signed a rapist and provoked a civil war within its own supporter base, the very last thing football needed was ­another parade of old school misogyny.

Nor was football alone. On Tuesday the Daily Record led with an astonishing front page accusation that the QC Brian McConnachie had shared a WhatsApp message – again in the withering name of banter – that in effect he would “shag” Rape Scotland’s Sandy Brindley “just to have something over her”.

The National:

In words that seem to echo the dispute within football, MSP Monica Lennon ­(above) argued that the Faculty of Advocates should have condemned the “blatant ­misogyny and sexism” of his messages and must “drag itself out of the dark ages”.

What is striking about these cases is that we are dealing with otherwise ­intelligent and professional people not an underclass of morons.

Football's after-dinner speakers are mostly drawn from the professional classes, Bill Copeland, whose old school act provoked the walkout, is a former barrister. Others on the after-dinner circuit come from accountancy, business, broadcasting and the refereeing fraternity.

Age is a factor too, many of the ­speakers are aged between 50-70 and grew up in an era when Scottish football tolerated a whole battery of prejudices from religious bigotry to outright sexism. Many of these acts have curdled over decades, mining the same old subject matter oblivious to the societal change around them.

At an awards dinner, football clubs traditionally reserve tables for their ­nominated players which now ­includes young players of the year and ­increasingly women’s categories. At many tables the average age is 25 whilst the acts that are booked are frequently retired from their profession. Consequently there is not just a generational gap it is an experiential gap too.

Describing Celtic’s Japanese players as “nips” feels like a joke that may have been vaguely racy when Tora! Tora! Tora! was in the cinemas, almost a hangover from the Second World War. Now it seems crass, insensitive, and antediluvian.

The Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou (below) an award-winner on the night, admitted as much when he spoke out at a Celtic press conference later in the week, and ­criticised the mood in the room and the performance of Copeland. His words hung in the air like a reminder to the gathered press that things could be ­better, more ­tolerant, and decidedly more ­modern.

The National: Ange Postecoglou

Yet again, many people jumped to the easy target and blamed the often-ugly ­rivalry on social media for a decline in ­decent behaviour. I partly agree but there is a dimension to social media that is ­often overlooked. It has been a phenomenal space for fund-raising and for the very best of what being a football fan means.

In Edinburgh alone there are two ­outstanding examples of fan participation the Big Hearts’ Kinship Care Programme a Heart of Midlothian charity which ­offers support to address the emotional, practical, and financial challenges faced by young people and their carers.

Across the city Hibernian’s Dnipro Kids has helped evacuate orphan ­children from Ukraine into Poland and on to ­Scotland in what is one of the most ­inspirational stories of football fans ­intervening in the real world.

I admit to a seam of personal bias in all of this. I know Eilidh Barbour as a fellow St Johnstone fan and I recently hosted an event at Perth Theatre on the rise of women’s football, where she was the star guest.

In the audience was two rows of ­teenage girls, players from Perth high School who the day before had won their age group Scottish Cup.

The sense of achievement at the show was palpable. This was the golden ­generation that had come of age when the Scottish women’s team had trumped the men and reached the World Cup finals. It was at a time when the coverage of the game was growing on BBC Alba and BBC Scotland.

Scottish football journalism either ­listens to these changes, both in terms of gender and active spectatorship, or it will continue to do itself enormous self-harm, by retreating into a myopic and defensive shell, detached from the changing world.

If banter has any future, it needs to hire a new suit and find a different tone of voice.