Well that was wholly predictable, wasn’t it?
Celtic are set to face Linfield. During the Halloween season. In Belfast. In the Champions League.
It seems to me that there’s not a hope in Hell of that game going on there on that date, but that will be up to UEFA. There is no doubt they will deem this a “high risk” fixture, and there’s no doubt that it’s the very last one the club would have wanted.
Put bluntly, that draw is a nightmare for us.
Off the field anyway, where it will attract the very worst possible elements. There is a certain grim inevitability about these ties resulting in more UEFA fines and unwanted attention. I wish I could be more upbeat about this, but I’ve lived long enough to know this one’s going to be ugly, and nasty.
Of course, this isn’t guaranteed to happen; the North of Ireland club has to get through its first round ties, but that’s pretty much assured. These games look set to happen, and everyone in the background at Celtic Park will be sweating them.
On the park the task is much more straightforward of course. They don’t present a great challenge to us as a team, and we should dispatch them with some ease. This isn’t last season, this isn’t last season’s team. This is Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic, in full flight, and the likely atmosphere in these games, however poisonous, will not resemble the one in Gibraltar. It will serve as a reminder to our club about what’s at stake. It will keep them sharp.
Sevco’s lunatic fringe is already celebrating this draw, and they make no bones about it. They are not harbouring fantasies of their brethren knocking us out; they are harbouring fantasies of pitched battles, widespread disorder, full on riots and the like. Don’t forget, these people define themselves by who they hate and this is a dream come true for them; Sevco’s nutcase element can turn up for this one, unleash all their bile and hide behind the colours of another club.
Linfield, itself, isn’t half as bad as some reports might have you believe. In fact, the club has attempted to move itself past the sectarian element of some of its support in a way Sevco has never tried to. Those moves are all going to be trashed in the space of one game. Their board didn’t want this any more than ours did, because they know how this goes.
UEFA better move fast and decide how to handle this one. I can’t believe that either club will wait to find out the outcome of Linfield’s first round ties before they move to have this one sorted out. Playing the first leg at Celtic Park is a possibility, but that does nothing to change the simple fact that we’re going to be going over there when the sick and fag ends of their “culture” is still being scooped out of some of the gutters.
It’s not great.
But this is what the drawn has (literally) thrown up.
And so we prepare for it.