Belfast Telegraph

Celtic boss Rodgers saddened' Linfield tie had to be moved

By Victoria Leonard

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has expressed "sadness" that the potential Champions League clash between his club and Linfield was moved from July 11, saying it was a "great opportunity" to showcase the "new Northern Ireland".

Last week, representatives from Linfield and the PSNI met to discuss the game, which will now be played on July 14. The original date on July 11 had raised concerns over security and police resources.

And the first-ever meeting between the Bhoys and the Blues moved a step closer last night, after the Irish League champions defeated La Fiorita of San Marino 1-0 in the first leg of their Champions League qualifier at Windsor Park.

However, Carnlough native Rodgers believes that the rescheduling of the expected tie is a missed opportunity to showcase the progress made in the province in recent years.

"I understand the issues that can be around it," said Rodgers from Celtic's Austrian pre-season training base.

"But Northern Ireland is a new place from when I was growing up. The sadness for me is that this was maybe an opportunity for the police and those there to show what the new Northern Ireland is.

"Because it is, it's totally different now. You go to Belfast, to some of the great parts of Belfast, and it's totally different.

"It's a real vibrant city now with people coming together, with the politics happily removed from a lot of it. It's two communities coming together in all facets of life, with the biggest one being in terms of sport.

"I understand the issues around it, but there will be a sadness for me because I saw it as a great opportunity to show - if the game was to take place - that two teams can have fans who can support and be passionate, but live and support together." On Tuesday, two Celtic fan groups - the Celtic Trust and Green Brigade - urged the club to reverse their decision to decline tickets from Linfield, and asked the Belfast club to consider selling directly to visiting fans.

In a joint statement posted on Facebook, the groups said: "The vague statement released by the board late on Friday afternoon did not contain any clear explanation of this decision - a decision made with no consultation at all with fan organisations, groups or regular European away travellers.

"The statement noted 'safety concerns' but it is our understanding that the PSNI does not object to Celtic fans travelling and, indeed, Linfield has publicly encouraged the board to accept our allocation and stated they are 'more than happy' for Celtic fans to attend the match. We believe that the board is more concerned with protecting the brand than the welfare of the fans or the success of our team. We call on the board to reconsider their decision, and should they fail to do so, for Linfield to sell tickets directly to Celtic supporters."

Linfield's narrow win, pages 54-55

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