I COUNTED them in and I counted them out again. Fifteen Teddy Bears, 11 glove puppets, a few squishmallows and two Grinches, both of whom seemed entirely relaxed about being stuffed in a black bin liner awaiting a Christmas collection.

I was an enthusiastic volunteer last week helping out my old housing scheme’s official charity Letham4All, who are participating in a soft-toy collection being co-ordinated by the St Johnstone ultras group Fair City Unity (FCU).

The objective is to gather the biggest number of soft toys possible and then distribute them to families the length and breadth of Perthshire, from Lochearnhead in the west to Errol in the east of the county.

The target is families trapped in both urban and rural poverty, ensuring that no child in Perthshire wakes up without a brand-new cuddly toy on Christmas day. The final collection point was at St Johnstone’s home game against Motherwell yesterday, and now the preparation begins to wrap and deliver the toys.

Anyone who moans about football fans has not seen Fair City Unity and their rivals in action.

Scotland is witnessing the very peak of the ultras movement, and while the media obsesses about flares and pyrotechnics, the ultras’ answer is often with sentiments that are deeply embedded in community politics.

Yes, they challenge stewards, the police and ground safety conventions – but equally they challenge the idea of the football fan as a 90-minute moron.

Irrespective of tabloid stories of overpaid players, social media spats and low-grade racist abuse, last week Scottish football fans engaged in the most charitable and caring week in our history. They deserve respect and congratulations, not the usual demonisation that young men tend to attract when it comes to football.

Fan groups across Scotland have been active in their communities. It is virtually impossible to list them all, but the breadth of community action across Scotland is astonishing and emphasise an often forgotten fact – that football remains hard-wired into real communities at the most testing time imaginable Just as Fair City Unity set off for a midweek match against St Mirren, making pick-up collections of soft toys from fans in Glasgow and the west coast, the host club St Mirren launched their own local initiative.

A club statement said: “Ahead of what is set to be one of the toughest winters to date, St Mirren Football Club have launched a new initiative to collect warm clothing and jackets that we can then distribute throughout the local community.”

The collection points were at turnstiles where fans left old jackets, unwanted duvet coats and woollen scarves.

There was a slice of dark humour in the air too. Police Scotland had asked the club to discourage fans from sporting balaclavas, an accoutrement of the ultras but ironically the warmest headwear available to the needy. One wag from Paisley observed that St Johnstone fans should all be encouraged to wear balaclavas, preferably back to front.

Food bank collections are now a time-honoured part of Scottish football. The annual Green Brigade food bank collection at Celtic aims to be the biggest in the group’s history. By midweek, the Green Brigade had already racked up £59,585 worth of food to deliver to impoverished families, and for the first time, the group has reached out to Celtic’s ancestral homeland, and will deliver food in Ireland too.

Greenock Morton’s captain Grant Gillespie made a social media appeal to encourage fans to support their food bank collection, at their Championship game against Partick Thistle. Travelling Jags fans have committed to take part and carry food and household goods to the game.

Austerity has ignited football fans to react like never before and to take sides in what is shaping up to be a significant winter of discontent.

In a blistering front cover under the headline “Enemies of the Poor”, the Daily Record removed any doubt about where the blame lay, and it wasn’t the war in Ukraine. Their front page on Wednesday was a string of mugshots of Tory prime ministers from David Cameron to Rishi Sunak, a dismal decade of ideologically driven austerity politics that has seen Scots on benefits suffer a decline of 16% in real terms.

It is no surprise that when the Tories get into power and then cling on beyond their popularity, it is the poorest who suffer.

Austerity is biting hard across Scotland, but to give perspective beyond home, devolution has failed to be a significant buffer to Westminster-led cutbacks.

According to WalesOnline, local authorities in Wales are set to be engulfed by a “financial firestorm” with services including schools, libraries, waste collection and care homes all facing huge cuts. Try as they might, Labour in Wales are struggling to keep the lights on.

It is not the role of football to mitigate against political failure, but one of the huge assets that clubs have is their grounds. Many are under-used during the week awaiting the next big weekend match. Several clubs have already mobilised their fans to act as volunteers to host warm spaces and free meal services.

Motherwell’s Heat Hub is exemplary. They will open their doors on Tuesdays and Thursdays to provide a warm space for those concerned about fuel poverty, where hot soup and food will be on offer.

Unlike major corporate charities such as Oxfam and Macmillan, football clubs are more localised and can draw on a fan base that feels deeply attached to their club that they will turn out in all weathers.

Of course, scale still matters. The bigger clubs have already aggregated their official charity initiatives into registered foundations. The Celtic Foundation has relaunched its seasonal sleep-outs in aid of the homeless at Christmas. The Glasgow version will be at Celtic Park and the London event at St Anne’s Primary School in Whitechapel in the vicinity where the Marist Brothers relocated Brother Walfrid after he had successfully set up Celtic as a club to support the poor in Glasgow’s East End.

The Rangers Charity Foundation has a community partnership with Glasgow City Mission supporting the Overnight Welcome Centre, which provides a safe, warm place to sleep for those who would otherwise be rough sleeping.

Aberdeen FC’s community trust stands out in another respect – it has been among the most consistent to benchmark its value. A 2018 Uefa Social Return On Investment report demonstrated that Aberdeen’s Community Trust added £97 million of value to the North East region. As football fans across the UK respond to poverty in their local communities, others have put the emphasis on the mental health fallout from austerity.

At Montrose, club captain Paul Watson relaunched the club’s support for men’s mental health through the so-called Changing Room initiative.

Football fans the length and breadth of Scotland have volunteered to support the first national league for people living with various mental health conditions to support the recovery of individuals with lived experience of mental ill-health and tackle stigma associated with mental ill-health.

The Scottish Mental Health and Wellbeing League Cup will be held on November 29 at the Ravenscraig, while the recently formed Scottish Autism league focuses on supporting young people aged 10-16 years with autism.

As the Scottish Government takes on the fearsomely difficult challenge of convincing a sceptical media about the need to move the nation’s monitoring away from economic notions of growth, towards the more all-encompassing concept of a wellbeing society, capturing the value of all of these football initiatives is a vital part of the anti-austerity agenda. Support your local club by supporting what they do locally.