Dream tie for Cliftonville... but just 3,000 fans will see Celtic face Reds at Solitude
A potential money-spinning game for Cliftonville against Scottish giants Celtic will be played at the north Belfast club’s home ground instead of a larger and more lucrative venue.
Thousands of fans are expected to travel to the home and away games after both teams were drawn to play each other in the qualifying rounds of the Uefa Champions League.
The historic game will be the first time a Northern Irish club will have faced Scottish Premier League champions Celtic in a competitive match.
While the Irish League champions’ ground holds fewer than 3,000 fans, chairman Gerard Lawlor said the club was happy to play the match at Solitude and not at a bigger venue, such as Windsor Park. It could cater for three times as many fans — and bring in a lot more cash.
“We are happy enough with Solitude. I think Solitude will provide a much better atmosphere than anywhere else,” he said.
“I think it will be a great occasion, a spectacle, and my board has worked very hard to make Solitude a venue to have nights like this, so it would be wrong for us to jump at the first hurdle to go elsewhere.”
Mr Lawlor, however, said the draw again raised the issue for the need for a major neutral sporting venue. “What it highlights is that we do require a neutral football environment and stadium in Northern Ireland,” he said.
Celtic’s name came out of the hat first, to host the first leg on July 16 or 17 at Celtic Park with the return leg on July 23 or 24. However, the Glasgow giants agreed to switch the dates, with the first tie being held in Belfast.
“Celtic and ourselves have agreed to that so we will just need our decision rubber-stamped by Uefa,” Mr Lawlor confirmed.
“We have both agreed to play the first leg here and then go to Celtic.”
When the two teams played each other in a friendly in 1984, the game was abandoned due to clashes between fans and police.
However, politicians are confident there will be no trouble this time.
UUP councillor and Glentoran FC board member Jim Rodgers said he believed it would be a peaceful match.
“It is a fabulous draw. I think this will be a great event for the city and for football,” he said.
Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said: “This will be a fantastic celebration between two clubs who have built up a good relationship over the years.”
Story so far
Cliftonville lifted their second Irish League Cup in January and went on to win the 2012-13 Danske Bank Premiership in April. The Reds drew 2-2 in a friendly with a Celtic XI last summer, and beat the Scottish giants 3-0 in a friendly game to celebrate the north Belfast club's 130th anniversary in 2009.