Belfast Telegraph

Justifiable concerns won't spoil big game

Editor's Viewpoint

The possibility of Linfield playing Celtic in a Champions League qualifying round is a mouthwatering fixture viewed purely from a footballing point of view. It would draw a maximum crowd to the national stadium and mean a financial bonanza for the Blues.

But, from a security point of view, it would be a potential nightmare. Obviously a match between the two clubs would bring fiercely partisan fans to the game, but the first leg of the tie being played on July 11 in Belfast brings an added dimension of tension to the fixture.

It is a time of year when policing resources are already being stretched to the limit with Eleventh Night celebrations bringing their unique demands to the PSNI, who also face a huge logistical exercise the following day keeping a watchful eye on a large number of parades throughout the province.

The run-up to the Twelfth also sees a large influx of Scottish visitors including a significant number of bands, and inevitably among them will be a sizeable number of Rangers supporters who would be cheering on Linfield to cause a huge upset.

All the ingredients for a volatile cocktail of tension are there and the suggestion of staging the game with a 5pm or 5.30pm kick-off is a sensible one. Perhaps even earlier might be better, but it could also cut down on the attendance which Linfield naturally would oppose.

While the initial reaction is to paint something of a doomsday picture, it should be emphasised that the vast majority of the followers of both clubs are true supporters hoping for success for their team which most will have followed throughout their lives.

But there will be a elements drawn to the game in anticipation of trouble and that is where both clubs will have to show zero tolerance of anyone causing bother.

The fixture has another added spice - as if one was needed. Both clubs are managed by Northern Ireland men, David Healy at Linfield and Brendan Rodgers at Celtic, and both clubs lifted three trophies last season.

Healy played for Rangers during his footballing career so knows all about the intensity of emotions that can be roused in fixtures like this one.

However, this tie is not yet a certainty as Linfield have to defeat a club from San Marino before earning the right to meet Celtic. Sport has a habit of causing surprises and upsetting the best laid plans.

Belfast Telegraph

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