Celtic Should Hold Firm On Their Linfield Stance. It Is Right, And For The Right Reasons.

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Today The Celtic Trust and The Green Brigade issued a joint statement asking the club to over-turn the decision not to take tickets for the away game in Linfield. I found the statement pretty ridiculous, if I’m being honest, for a number of reasons.

First, it opened with the story of the Celtic fan exodus to Lisbon to watch The Lions take on Inter Milan.

Maybe I’m nuts, but tweaking on the heart-strings like that is all well and good except what was the point?

This isn’t Lisbon, which was a relatively benign city, against opponents who didn’t feel one way or the other about us.

It isn’t Seville, which didn’t know what hit it when eighty thousand fans turned up for a party.

This is Belfast. In July. Against a club which has an element in its support who despise ours. Who have links to our shabby wannabe rival, right here at home. In a city where certain neighbourhoods need walls thirty feet high to protect them from firebombing and worse.

I know the people who wrote that statement are smarter than its first paragraph reads.

And it’s only the first thing that’s wrong with the statement.

I don’t know how the PSNI feels about the game; I can’t imagine the idea of thousands of Celtic fans attending it thrills them.

I can’t imagine that it’s one they would view with enthusiasm.

And of course Linfield publicly say they want Celtic fans there; our club has refused tickets for the fixture and so the home club knows full well that they can bait our supporters by telling them they are welcome. It’s a cheap shot, one that costs them nothing to take, and if it drives a wedge between our club and the fans then great.

It’s a manipulative move, and their directors must be rubbing their hands together seeing how well it’s come off, ending up in the statement like this.

Of course, it’s more than just that for Linfield.

They can’t have the image of their club being tarnished by the idea that visiting fans aren’t safe in their ground, so that’s another reason for them saying they will roll out the red carpet. But I strongly suspect they are pretty pleased with this outcome. Celtic isn’t the only club “protecting the brand” here.

And whilst I’m on that subject, I ponder the Celtic Trust getting involved in this.

Celtic has a number of organisations which represent the supporters.

One is the Association. Another is the Affiliation.

These organisations are perfectly capable of making representations to the club on behalf of their members if they feel as if they’ve been badly served here. The Green Brigade is a supporters group of a different sort, and I say that as one of the fans and someone who’s made their case on any number of times on any number of issues here and elsewhere.

In my opinion they are just as wrong here as they could be.

Of course our club is concerned with supporter safety.

This is a perilous tie, and all the massaging words from Linfield will not change that one iota.

And I’ve said this from the start; this is not the fault of the home team. This is not even about the home team, it’s about the general atmosphere that will swirl around the game that night, in a city where Celtic fans will have been burned in effigy that very week.

That game ought to have been labelled a high-risk fixture.

The teams ought to have been kept apart in the draw.

The possibilities for serious violence are so great as to require no elaboration, and people can pretend they don’t get that as they like, but I can’t imagine anyone having genuinely failed to understand why our club is concerned.

Football without fans is nothing; I agree with that sentiment.

But that sentiment doesn’t cover a multitude of sins.

A risk to the safety of our supporters is unacceptable no matter how the team might rely on their voices in the stadium.

If this game were being played in a warzone no-one would realistically blame our club for refusing tickets and it won’t be unusual or unique to the moment if certain parts of the North of Ireland were still smouldering from riots when this game actually kicks off.

It is an un-necessary risk for us to take and whilst I understand why some fans might want to attend this game, I cannot fault the club for protecting them.

Where the mind boggles is with the assertion that the club is behaving unreasonably to want to “protect the brand.”

Hell, yes, the club is “protecting the brand.”

A certain section of our support has given them no choice but to think in such terms. Everything from flares and smoke bombs to the repeated singing of certain songs has made us enemies where we should have had none. I fundamentally disagree with UEFA on the issue of political chants, but those rules exist and our club has asked fans to respect them, with the good of the club in mind. They’ve refused to, and it’s not difficult to see why a game in such a place and in such a time concerns people inside Celtic Park. The flares and smoke bombs are another issue again, one where a certain element of our fan-base is not listening at all and will not get the message.

There are some who don’t think our club should accept tickets for any European away game as long as these issues persist. I am not one of those people, but the ideas is gaining traction. I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been discussed inside Celtic Park.

So yes, there is an element of “protecting the brand” in this decision; of course there is. I don’t have any disagreement with the club acting out of that motivation; Celtic belongs to all of us, not just a handful. The strength of “the brand” is how we can attract a guy like Brendan Rodgers and give him the resources to get to the Champions League in the first place, and to toss that charge out there as if it was an insult … I don’t understand that at all.

And here’s where I have an issue with The Trust.

The Celtic Trust, as I said, is not a mere fan organisation.

It is a shareholders organisation.

And it has traditionally operated brilliantly in that role. You only have to look at the moronic, often scandalous, behaviour of certain other supporter’s trusts to see how outstanding ours is, and how intelligent and insightful are its leaders.

But this must be the first time in my living memory that a group of shareholders has openly criticised the board of directors on the organisation it represents because they made a decision to “protect the brand.”

That’s the board’s job, as the Trust has reminded them more than once in light of Res12 and other issues.

In fact, again, as the Trust is fond of reminding them, the board has a legal responsibility to “protect the brand” … on the shareholders behalf.

In this, the Trust has been tremendous in holding them to account.

I find it odd for them to be so critical of this decision, in that light.

As to the suggestion, apparently made in all seriousness, that Linfield should offer Celtic fans who wish to attend tickets whether our club supports that or not … that proposal is reckless beyond belief, and I marvel at that being made with the official stamp of the Supporters Trust on it.

As the statement itself has accused the club of not consulting its fans, I’d like to know how many of the shareholders were consulted before that was offered in their name. I have a certificate hanging on my wall, where I can look at as I write these words.

Sure as Hell nobody bothered to ask me for my opinion on that press release.

It makes me sad having to write this piece. I thought the logic of the club’s position was obvious here. I can understand the disappointment of people who would have liked to attend the game – this blog published an excellent article by one of them at the weekend – but I can’t wrap my brain around a statement that attacks our club for trying to protect the safety of supporters and its own reputation by opting out of a high-risk hate-fest like this.

There are some who have accused our club of “pandering to sectarianism.”

This statement does not do that, but the point needs addressed regardless.

All the club has done here is acknowledge the unique nature of the fixture. This is not the fault of Celtic or Linfield, any more than it would be the fault of a club in, say, the Ukraine if we were drawn against them at a time of heightened fighting with Russia. Each game is examined on the merits and the conditions relative to it … Belfast, in July, is not a good time to host a Celtic match. It is not “pandering” to recognise that as a reality. It is a shocking, disturbing, reality … but our club has no choice but to deal with it as it is, not as we’d wish it to be.

I hope the club stands by its decision; it is both responsible and right.

I cannot say this enough times; this tie is not one from which the slightest good was ever going to come.

Everyone at Celtic will be happier when it is in the rear-view mirror.

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