UEFA asked for a five minutes break when drawing the Champions League qualifiers earlier this week so that they could arrange things so that sides from certain countries could not face each other in the draw.
Fair enough most folk would have thought.
They then came back into the room and gave Celtic a potentially horrible trip to play Linfield -a team that was in the news last winter for playing the bigots’ anthem The Billy Boys over their tannoy at half time in a match on Boxing Day, in Belfast on July 12 or the day before.
The very fact that neither of these two dates are deemed acceptable to the PSNI indicates that UEFA have made a serious error on allowing this potentially explosive tie to be drawn.
If the game isn’t able to be played on the specified UEFA dates due to prevailing circumstances in the six counties then the governing body should have acted to prevent the sides being drawn together.
The UEFA dates for the fixture – July 11 or 12 were known in advance.
The Orange Walks in Belfast and the surrounding area on this day are well established and widely reported for the trouble that often results.
Anyone in the Northern Irish FA, the SFA (no laughing at the back), or indeed UEFA should have realised the dangers of Celtic being asked to play Linfield in Belfast on July 11 or 12.
Understandably the PSNI have said no to this happening.
However if that is the decision made after the draw why was the matter not considered before the draw and the option of Celtic being potentially down to play Linfield removed when UEFA are deciding on which sides mustn’t play each other.
Linfield seem delighted at the draw and no wonder. It will provide a massive cash windfall for the minnows.
Maybe Celtic, in their decision to reject tickets for the away tie, now to be played on Friday July 14, will accept that they should have spoken up in advance too?
Yesterday the French side Lyon, Celtic’s old Champions League rivals, announced a pre-season friendly with the Scottish Champions on Saturday July 15. Is this now going to be cancelled? Is Celtic’s pre-season schedule to be ripped up and thought again simply because of Orange Walks?
Celtic are certain to reject their ticket allocation for the possible Champions League confrontation against Linfield in Belfast.
The Hoops bosses fear major security issues for the match at Windsor Park despite a switch to Friday, July 14 with a 5pm kick-off. This has huge potential for trouble and while you can have every sympathy for the traveling support who simply want to support our team – and I include myself in that category – it really isn’t a position we should find ourselves in.
The football authorities have let down the Celtic supporters badly here and Celtic know it.
Now, following a board meeting, the club are ready to advise supporters not to travel and will refuse to take up their allocation of tickets.
Linfield have to beat San Marino minnows La Fiorita to set up the second qualifying round match with Brendan Rodgers’s side.
The dates for a potential Linfield v Celtic first leg at Windsor were originally July 11 or 12.
The latter was ruled out immediately as that day clashes with Orange Order marches taking place across the country.July 11 was deemed a non-starter by the Police Service of Northern Ireland insisting their resources would be stretched to the limit that evening.
July 13 was also considered before a meeting yesterday in Belfast involving Linfield, Celtic and the police forces of Northern Ireland and Scotland, where July 14 with an early kick-off was given the nod. UEFA were satisfied with the outcome.
Have a look at this image of the Orangemen’s bonfire in Belfast from a recent 12th July. That’s Celtic strips you see them about top burn. There’s even one of former Celtic manager Neil Lennon, a former Northern Ireland international player on there with his Celtic strip on.
UEFA should have a long, hard look at these images and ask is it the right thing to do to ask Celtic supporters to play there at all?
It must never be allowed to happen again.
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