Earlier on in the week I had written a blog piece about there being an elephant in the room surrounding the circumstances that meant the potential game between Linfield and Celtic was unlikely to be played on the dates that were put forward for the tie by UEFA.
The home leg for Linfield was scheduled to happen on either the 11th or 12th July. However, as discussed previously, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have said that they are unable to accommodate the game being played on either of those two dates.
It soon transpired that Linfield wanted to maintain having the home leg of the tie played at Windsor Park and a date of the 14th July was mooted. That date has officially been confirmed assuming Linfield make it past the San Marino champions, La Fiorita.
With the date confirmed, Celtic fans who live in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland were excited by the fact they wouldn’t have to get a ferry or a flight to watch the Hoops. Other fans who also follow Celtic where ever they go were also excited at the prospect of watching the SPFL Premiership champions in Ireland.
Celtic have this evening issued a statement detailing when the games against Linfield are going to take place and also intimate that Celtic supporters would not be able to access tickets for the game at Windsor Park citing ‘safety and security issues’.
The full statement is as follows…
EARLIER this week, Celtic were drawn against Linfield or La Fiorita of San Marino to open our UEFA Champions League qualifying campaign, with the away leg due to be played first, on 11 or 12 July, and the home leg to be played at Celtic Park on 18 or 19 July.
Following security concerns raised by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Celtic has taken part in discussions with Linfield and the PSNI over recent days. While there can be an option to reverse the fixtures if both clubs agree, during discussions, Linfield made it clear that they did not wish to reverse the tie and they wanted play their home leg first.
In addition, as is often the case in football, Celtic’s football management team wished to play our away leg first so that we could benefit from the advantage of playing the second leg at home in front of our supporters at Celtic Park for this crucial European tie.
Following the discussions, it was agreed among the clubs and PSNI and has now been confirmed with UEFA that, should Linfield progress to the Second Qualifying Round, Celtic’s UEFA Champions League match against Linfield will take place at Windsor Park on Friday, July 14, with a 5pm kick-off.
No tickets will be available for Celtic supporters for the match. The safety and security of all Celtic supporters travelling and attending matches is of paramount importance to the Club.
Should La Fiorita of San Marino qualify for the next round, the first leg match would take place on 11 or 12 July.
Regardless of opposition, Celtic’s home leg of this qualifying round will take place at Celtic Park on Wednesday, July 19, 2017, and entry to this first home European qualifier will once again be included as part of the 2017/18 Season Ticket.
If the tie against Linfield proceeds, it will not affect the friendly match between Celtic and Lyon at Celtic Park on 15 July – more information on this match will follow as soon as possible.
What are the safety and security issues that Celtic and most likely PSNI have? It is incumbent on Celtic to provide absolute clarity and transparency as to why this decision has been made.
In the statement it makes reference to ‘security concerns’ which led the original fixture dates to be moved. Why can’t Celtic reference the fact it is in the middle of the 12th of July celebrations? Why the reticence to deal with the issue directly rather than talk around the reasons for the fixture being moved. I think the club owe it to fans, who have watched Celtic in Israel, Kazakstan and Russia without having to refuse away tickets, to divulge the reasons why it is not safe for Celtic fans to travel to another UK city to watch their team play a game.
It is not enough to just cite ‘safety and security concerns’. We should be talking about exactly why PSNI think they would be unable to ensure the safety of Celtic supporters. Would the scenario arise if Linfield hadn’t drawn Celtic? As I had shown in my previous blog post, Linfield have played Champions League qualifiers on the 11th of July before.
One other key aspect of this is that now no Celtic fans will be allowed travel, why not have the game on the 11th anyway? I understand the crowd may be larger as the visiting team is Celtic and that is why PSNI have said they don’t have the resources to ensure the game is managed appropriately but as no Celtic fans are visiting now, surely the game would need less of a police presence?
In all of this, the underlying issue is the ‘Battle of the Boyne’ celebrations that take place across Northern Ireland around the 12th of July. It would be interesting to know if the fixtures had been reversed and the home tie was at Celtic Park first, would Celtic fans still be not allowed to travel for the second leg, with that game having been on the 18 or 19th July? Is that why Linfield didn’t want the game moved to Celtic Park first as it would have ruined their own celebrations of the 12th? Is there ever a scenario where Celtic fans would be able to travel to watch their team play Linfield in any circumstances? Because if there are not, that opens up other questions.
Are Linfield going to refuse to take tickets for the game at Celtic Park now or can Police Scotland provide assurances that fans of the Northern Irish team would be able to travel with safety and security? I imagine the security arrangements would not be any more difficult to implement than a Celtic vs Rangers game at Celtic Park.
We should be having a full, frank and open discussion surrounding the reasons why Celtic fans can’t be safely accommodated in Northern Ireland without the diplomacy shown by Celtic. I know Celtic don’t want to draw criticism if they were to detail exactly the concerns they and PSNI have but with Celtic not issuing much clarity to the support, it looks like they will just let the supporters decide the reasons for themselves the reasons and will now face accusations of being afraid to discuss publicly the issues surrounding this fixture.