WHEN it comes to Academy football in Scotland, coaches across the country will tell you it is more about the taking part than winning.

That, of course, is as long as players benefit from the experience and improve tactically, physically and mentally week by week, game by game.

Lifting silverware is always a moment to savour and something to celebrate, but it is not the ultimate aim for young players that are attempting to rise through the ranks to first team football as quickly as possible.

When it comes to the Old Firm, it is slightly different. Not only do players have to continually strive for success, they must be able to handle the ups and downs of life at clubs where the demands are like few others.

So when kids get a real chance to show their talents and their mettle, they should be given the opportunity to make the most of it.

Unfortunately, Rangers and Celtic will be denied that challenge when they meet in the Scottish Youth Cup final at Hampden next Thursday.

The only fans inside the National Stadium will be proud parents and recipients of tickets through the clubs’ community projects.

Supporters only have themselves to blame after a series of incidents at youth matches in recent years but it is a shame that the next generation won’t be able to play in front of a proper, vociferous crowd and get a feel for the Old Firm fixture. How does that help them prepare for first team football in the future?

Surely 5,000 fans in each end of the Hampden bowl could have been policed accordingly? Banning supporters is the easy way out, and an opportunity missed.