Belfast Telegraph

Potential Linfield v Celtic tie moved to July 14 over security concerns

By Adrian Rutherford

A Belfast clash between Linfield and Celtic has been pencilled in for July 14 - avoiding the security nightmare of a powderkeg eve-of-Twelfth tie.

The Friday evening fixture, which would have a 5pm kick-off, was provisionally agreed after a high-level meeting yesterday.

It came after the Belfast Telegraph reported how the PSNI had stepped in to veto a proposed July 11 match.

The sides are on course to meet for the first time in a Champions League qualifier - provided Linfield overcome La Fiorita from San Marino.

But the prospect of Celtic coming to Windsor Park, and all the emotion that goes with it, has been front and back page news since Monday's draw.

Even Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill got caught up in the excitement yesterday.

Speaking on a visit to Belfast, he said: "We should note it's a game that is only a possible game at this moment in time, but the Celtic tie is a huge carrot for Linfield to get beyond the San Marino side.

"I go back to when I was manager of (League of Ireland club) Shamrock Rovers in Europe and we had a game against an Israeli team, and the carrot for us was to play Juventus if we beat them and we got through the tie.

"That was brilliant and it would be the same for Linfield to play a massive club like Celtic in the Champions League.

"I think the Linfield players would enjoy the media attention that would come with it and I think it will be a great game if it comes to fruition."

As long as Linfield overcome La Fiorita in their first-round clash, they will face the Scottish champions in a two-legged qualifier.

They had been scheduled to play the home leg in Belfast on either July 11 or 12, but the prospect of a high-risk football match at the height of the marching season alarmed the PSNI.

Senior officers quickly ruled out staging it on either date.

A meeting between officials from both clubs and police was held yesterday, with the July 14 date being fixed.

Discussions were ongoing last night on whether Celtic would take up their allocation of tickets for a match in Belfast. It is understood Linfield are happy to have away fans at the game, and would accept tickets for the return tie in Glasgow, if it happens.

Celtic were represented at the meeting yesterday by their head of security Ronnie Hawthorn.

Also present were Linfield chairman Roy McGivern and representatives from the PSNI and Police Scotland.

Sources said July 12 had been ruled out from the start. July 11 was also deemed impossible. Alternative dates of July 10 and July 13 were discussed, but both were also considered problematic.

Eventually July 14 was settled on, with the 5pm kick-off a police decision.

Mr McGivern said: "I'm pleased that both clubs and all parties have worked together to reach an amicable solution and we would host the first leg in Belfast as drawn."

If the tie goes ahead, Linfield stand to make around £1 million.

They have already been assured of live TV coverage, with BT Sport one of three broadcasters interested in securing the rights. Adding intrigue is the fact that Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers is from Co Antrim. Also, Linfield boss David Healy played for the Bhoys' bitter rivals Rangers during his career.

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