Thursday 27 July 2017

Watch: Celtic's Griffiths at centre of Linfield storm

Linfield 0 Celtic 2

Leigh Griffiths tied a Celtic scarf to a goalpost after the match at Windsor Park. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Leigh Griffiths tied a Celtic scarf to a goalpost after the match at Windsor Park. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

At least there was no argument about the football.

Celtic were superior to Linfield in every department on a curious evening at Windsor Park where the half-empty stadium was a fitting tribute to the pantomime nature of the build-up to a Champions League qualifier moved to Friday because of the clash with July 12 celebrations.

There was some tension, of course, with the second-half played out to a soundtrack of barking dogs, the occasional politically-themed chant and the usual shaping between sets of supporters that were separated by security, perimeter walls and a 100m dash in slippy conditions.

The highlight, if one could call it that, was Celtic's Leigh Griffiths receiving a yellow card for understandably delaying the taking of a corner because a bottle of Buckfast was hurled in his direction.

That will be another dent to the finances of the Irish League side. Home chairman Roy McGivern left his seat to go down and convince the throwing section to cease the impromptu javelin practice.

Asked if he had any concerns for Griffiths's safety at the time, Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers said: "I didn't see or haven't heard anything as of yet as to what was thrown on, I could only see it from the dug-out.

Griffiths of Celtic holds up one of the bottles thrown at him by Linfield fans. Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Griffiths of Celtic holds up one of the bottles thrown at him by Linfield fans. Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Referee Konrad Plautz booked Griffiths for time wasting. Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

"It was maybe a bottle of some sort, but anything, whether it's a coin or a bottle or whatever, shouldn't happen.

"Players go on to the field and it should be a safe environment for them.

"You want the passion from the stands to stay in there. But if you take that away from it, it was a good evening. You sometimes get these scenes throughout the country, not just here but other places as well.

"Obviously it's not what you wanted to see. The game was played in good spirit, in the main. So it's not ideally what you would like to see. I thought it was strange him getting booked for it."

Brendan Rodgers watches from the sidelines. Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Brendan Rodgers watches from the sidelines. Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Linfield boss David Healy said he didn't see any missiles being thrown.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle at full-time too when Griffiths, who had earlier stared down Linfield supporters after delivering the corner for Celtic's second goal, tied a scarf to one of the Windsor Park goalposts.

It didn't go down well with the section of fans that were wound up throughout and an attempted pitch invasion by a casually-dressed local was thwarted by security who were rewarded with another shower of objects from his pals. Fittingly, The Jam's 'Town Called Malice' was belting out over the tannoy at the time.

"Better stop dreaming of the quiet life, 'cause it's the one we'll never know.'"

In truth, the flashpoints were brief in nature. The dominance of Rodgers' side made it a non-event on the pitch, but Linfield lost out on two counts with the dispute between Celtic and the PSNI over who really wanted the away side to turn down a ticket allocation glossing over the fact that the hosts missed out on a serious amount of revenue.

Scott Sinclair (L) of Celtic and Robert Garrett (R) of Linfield. Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Scott Sinclair (L) of Celtic and Robert Garrett (R) of Linfield. Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Early in the day, Linfield's decision to bow to the inevitable and recognise that some enterprising Celtic fans would have tickets anyway only succeeded in emphasising the farcical nature of the whole charade.

Perhaps tensions might have spilled over with a greater number of Celtic fans in the ground. In some strange way, the incidents towards the end could be used as a kind of justification for the safety-first policy.

Argument

But the argument is a weak one; the security resources were there to manage the situation. This was never going to be a repeat of Dundalk-Linfield in 1979, a showdown at the height of the Troubles where the first leg at Oriel Park was so fraught that the decider was moved to Holland.

Before kick-off one photographer spotted two punters with Linfield paraphernalia entering the ground and swiftly removing it to reveal Celtic gear.

But even that was unnecessary as Celtic fans with tickets were notified that they could simply enter via an entrance that would bring them to the old Kop end of the redeveloped stadium. A couple of hundred hoop-clad fans created a small away section that enjoyed the one-sided affair.

There were never going to be serious segregation issues with just over 8,000 tickets sold for the 18,000-capacity stadium.

A few miles away in the city centre, a significantly larger number of Celtic followers were watching in a fanzone.

Belfast City Council had voted to fund it but the application was withdrawn after protests. In a stunning development, Sinn Féin representatives had welcomed the plan, while unionist-leaning politicians had led the opposition.

Concerns ranged from the cost to the songs that might be played at it. As ever, the lines between relevance and irrelevance were blurred.

When this tie is over, and there is a sense that a good number of the people involved will be relieved when that's the case, including regular Linfield fans, the various actors in the ticket allocation debate say they will comment further.

The Hoops say it was on account of police advice due to security concerns. The police say it was Celtic's decision.

With this match effectively an extended version of the Old Firm rivalry, it has got bogged down in the same vexing game of 'he-said she-said' that so often dominates discourse in these parts. If whataboutery became an Olympic sport, the denizens of Northern Irish politics and Scottish football would battle it out for medals.

Linfield were willing to hand an entire stand over to Celtic fans and they would have filled it easily with fans from north and south. On the eve of the game, Rodgers said it was shame that his friends and family could not attend.

Granted, this was a week where the Eleventh Night bonfires featured the usual effigies of Sinn Féin politicians, tricolours and - in one case - a racist banner about Celtic's Scott Sinclair.

Such celebrations of hatred paint an ugly picture of a country that has advanced from grim times.

The absence of confidence - wherever it came from - in the game going ahead safety with a proper reflection of Celtic support in the area drained any 'glamour' from this affair.

Football lovers didn't miss much. After set-piece concessions to Sinclair and Tom Rogic, Linfield steadied the ship after the interval, with former international goalkeeper Roy Carroll utstanding.

The teams could meet again in next season's competition. Following an enervating three-week circus, few will be rooting for that outcome.

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