Belfast Telegraph

Celtic's win over Linfield passes without major incident between fans

Celtic's victory over Northern Ireland club side Linfield has passed off without any major incident between the fans, despite a number of ugly moments during and after the match in Belfast.

Projectiles were thrown at Celtic corner takers Leigh Griffiths and Jonny Hayes from a Linfield section of Windsor Park and, at the final whistle, a number of fans of the home team attempted to access the pitch when Griffiths tied a scarf to the goal posts.

One supporter did make it onto the surface but was quickly ejected as police and stewards moved in to contain the situation.

Notwithstanding those incidents, the Glasgow side's 2-0 win did not witness any serious disorder.

While Celtic declined its ticket allocation for the Champions League qualifier, citing security concerns, around 200 Hoops fans secured tickets by other means.

Celtic, a team synonymous with Irish nationalism, refused tickets amid fears there would be trouble among the club's supporters and fans of Linfield, a team with a strong unionist/loyalist support base, during a week that also witnessed key events in the Protestant loyal order marching season in Northern Ireland.

Acknowledging the reality that Celtic fans would obtain tickets regardless of their club's stance, especially with so many based in Northern Ireland, hours before kick-off Linfield announced that a section of the ground would be reserved for away supporters.

With Windsor Park just over half full, Linfield were able to allocate a whole stand to the small number of Celtic fans. It meant supporters could enter the ground at opposite ends - a move that minimised opportunities for confrontation.

No trouble was reported pre-match amid a tight security presence.

Torrential rain at the final whistle also ensured fans did not linger outside.

News of the late segregation spread on social media ahead of kick-off.

One Linfield fan who was unaware of the change and tried to enter the ground at the Celtic end was Democratic Unionist Assembly member Jim Wells.

"I was re-routed," he joked afterwards.

"They refused to let me into the West Stand as they alleged that I was not a Celtic fan. How did they know - nobody asked me which team I supported? I was in plain clothes as it were."

An outdoor fanzone for Celtic fans was set up at a pub complex in west Belfast. Early high spirits at the Devenish venue were also dampened by the downpour, with fans forced inside.

Organisers had initially sought £15,000 from Belfast City Council to support the initiative.

The request created controversy, with some councillors questioning whether it was an appropriate use of ratepayer money. On Friday evening, Feile an Phobail withdrew its application for financial support.

"Feile will not be used as a political football despite attempts by some in the media and those politically opposed to the community values Feile upholds," it said in a statement.

The fixture was moved from July 11/12 to avoid a clash with Orange Order commemorations at the height of the marching season.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has insisted that Celtic's decision not to accept the allocation of away tickets was taken "solely by the football club and was not made by PSNI".

However, Celtic officials later said they were surprised by the PSNI's statement.

"This is clearly not our understanding of the situation," the club said.

In his pre-match press conference on Thursday, Northern Ireland-born Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers said he was disappointed the club had felt unable to take up its official allocation.

"The football club haven't been able to have assurances for their safety, which is sad for me," he said.

"C oming back to Northern Ireland, and a new Northern Ireland, and not being able (to) ensure that the supporters' safety is guarded, then that is a problem for me."

Police made one arrest - a 25-year-old man on suspicion of disorderly behaviour - during the match day operation.

PSNI Superintendent Norman Haslett said: "I would like to pay tribute to and thank the vast majority of fans from both football clubs who behaved impeccably and enjoyed the football match in Belfast between Linfield and Celtic this afternoon.

"Unfortunately, there were a small number of incidents which police and other relevant authorities will be reviewing in the days to come.

"I would like to thank everyone who worked together to ensure fans were able to enjoy the football safely."

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