CELTIC boss Brendan Rodgers has expressed disappointment that Windsor Park has been declared a no-go zone for the potential Champions League qualifier on July 14.
The Irishman, who was brought up in the village of Carnlough in County Antrim, admitted regret about the Linfield situation, but said: “I understand the issues that can be around it.
“But Northern Ireland is a new place from when I was growing up. The sadness for me is that this was maybe an opportunity for the police and those there to show the new Northern Ireland.
“You go to Belfast, to some of the great parts of Belfast, and it’s totally different.
“It’s a real vibrant city now with people coming together, with the politics happily removed from a lot of it. It’s two communities coming together in all facets of life, with the biggest one being in terms of sport.
“I understand the issues around it, but there will be a sadness for me because I saw it as a great opportunity to show – if the game was to take place – that two teams can have fans who can support and be passionate but live and support together.
“I suppose the frustration would be for the Irish supporters. Week-in, week-out, they travel across to Scotland and all around the world to see their team.
“Then a game on their doorstep is one they can’t see. I’m bitterly disappointed for them. But it’s a decision, if the game takes place, that’s unfortunate.”
”This was more a policing issue, really. I understand that for the 11th or 12th of July there are going to be lots of people coming on boats across to Northern Ireland from Scotland, at the same time as Celtic supporters, potentially.
“The game has to be played at a certain time within a certain week so I can understand the issues. I just hoped that it could have been managed.
“I just feel the bigger picture was that it was a great chance to show what the new Northern Ireland is, which is a great place where two sets of supporters from the different divides could support their team with passion and walk the streets together.
“Like I say, it’s a new Northern Ireland. There was a lot of hardship before. I wasn’t even right in the middle of it, but it was always there.
“Thankfully, a lot of the politics are removed from it and in lots if walks of life in Northern Ireland now Catholics and Protestants come together, which is the way it should be.
“And sport has always been something that can bring people together. It’s a different place and gladly so.”
There had been suggestions the first leg of the second qualifying round could have been played in Glasgow to avoid a clash with the July 12 date in Northern Ireland – but Rodgers stressed it is important for Celtic to have the second leg at their home stadium.
He added: “These are games where if you have the advantage everyone would want the second leg at home.
“We don’t need to lose that advantage. I can never presume that because we are playing a lower level team we will win.
“You don’t want to give away any advantage. These are important qualification games and coming back for the second leg – as you saw last year against Astana when the crowd helped us over the line – the home game can be crucial.
“They are all tough games. We focus on ourselves to get the job done. I’ll be glad if it’s Linfield because I’ll look forward to going back home and seeing people back there. Whoever it is, our objective is to qualify.”
Listen to “The CQN Podcast: A Celtic State of Mind – Episode 1” on Spreaker.
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