Linfield last night responded to the potential of a draw with Celtic with a suggestion that is no help whatsoever, and, quite possibly, guarantees the worst of all possible outcomes. They’ve suggested that the combustible fixture in the Champions League – should they qualify for it – by moved back one day. To 11 July.
It doesn’t take a Mastermind champion to see the holes in that idea.
Indeed, when even the Scottish hacks can pick up on it there’s little doubt that it stinks.
Playing it on 12 July was bad enough, but that, at least, would present the attendees of a crazier persuasion with something of a dilemma, as most of them tend to spend that day marching and commemorating being up to their knees in blood.
They also drink. Copious amounts. A day of that, combined with football, is a mix the PSNI would have been careful with. Those attending the game would have had to compromise and some might not have bothered. Many of those who would have liked to attend will be scattered across the country. Others would go exhausted and ready for their beds. It would have been tense. It would have been ugly … but perhaps it would also have been more restrained.
But hold it a day earlier, and the nutjob element will be there, in full swing, using the match as a dress rehearsal for the following day.
Their Scottish brethren will be out in force, many choosing to come over a day earlier to have their own mini re-enactment of the Boyne.
The prospects, if our club is over there in that period, are ghastly come what may. But I agree with the crowd safety expert who said 11 July is far and away the worst option. And it’s no surprise to find that it’s the one Linfield want.
I was willing to give their club the benefit of a very big doubt here.
See, this isn’t their fault.
This is just the way the draw has come out. They didn’t ask for this. Under normal circumstances the idea of switching the home and away legs would be ridiculous. But these aren’t normal circumstances and the club knows full well they aren’t.
I marvel at anyone who says they are looking forward to this, or who was pleased by this draw. I don’t know where the excitement over it comes from. As a football contest it’s a non-event. The only possible reason for anyone to be “up for it” is that they want to revel in the ugly element that will surround it, with all the likely consequences of that, like our supporters risking their safety and our club’s reputation hanging by a thread.
Perhaps some people don’t care about that.
Perhaps others underestimate the potential for serious, serious trouble inside and outside the ground.
I am under no such illusions.
Some of our fans think that this is pandering to bigots, that the match should take place as per the draw.
I get that, I really do. I understand where you’re coming from folks, but let’s live in the real world for a second here. This match is a powderkeg. In a civilised society it shouldn’t be. I agree. But we have to deal with the reality of what this thing is, not what we’d like it to be. And the reality is dreadful.
So, safety first. The safety, primarily, of our own supporters and players.
Aside from drawing Chelsea or one of the far-right Italian teams, this is the worst possible draw we could have had, and that would have been true whichever part of the year the game took place. But with the malevolence which swirls around these dates, with their “culture”, I cannot conceive of a more dreadful set of circumstances.
Forget an “Old Firm” game and all the ugliness that has surrounded them down through the years.
This is infinitely worse.
For all the viciousness attendant in the worst of those games we’ve never had to experience the full-spectrum hate which boils away across the water. Most people, especially here, have no concept of how dark it could get.
Imagine playing an old-school Celtic-Rangers game, in Belfast. In July.
You wouldn’t dream of it and no-one would allow you to do it.
There aren’t enough police in Europe to keep a lid on it.
Frankly, anyone who’s not horrified by this prospect needs a lie down.
It seems that Linfield aren’t bothered about any of that.
They want the match to kick off, on 11 July, at 5pm.
That’s insane. That’s dangerous. And their motive is purely financial. They want the TV pool. They want interest in the tie at a premium, which won’t happen if we’ve turned them over by six or seven at Celtic Park first and the match is a formality.
I understand it. Of course I do.
But it’s unbelievable that they would put money before protecting fans and it will be an unpardonable disgrace if UEFA allows them to.
We’re dealing with the most volatile possible time over there.
Has none of their directors seen a newspaper lately? Not only is politically motivated or sectarian violence all the rage, not only are extremists are carrying out atrocities from every corner of the spectrum, but we’ve also seen, in gruesome detail, in London, what can happen when public safety is compromised for the sake of cold hard cash.
The first leg cannot – it must not – be played in Belfast, not even at 6am. Not on those dates.
Celtic should be clear on that, and they should be equally clear that they don’t want tickets for the game and will not be giving “the away support” – many of whom, I guarantee it, will have Glasgow accents and know all the words to the Famine Song – any for Celtic Park.
More than anything else, everyone at our club must already just want this over and done with, as quickly and (hopefully) painlessly as possible.