Linfield’s chairman has played down concerns that Celtic fans will get tickets for a potential Belfast showdown – despite the Glasgow club declining its allocation.
The Blues are guaranteed a lucrative Champions League qualifying match with the former European Cup winners if they overcome La Fiorita of San Marino in the first round.
The UEFA draw earlier this week sparked immediate concern that the clubs’ meeting in Belfast – scheduled for July 11 or July 12 – would be a major security headache.
Celtic responded by agreeing to move the fixture to July 14 and, more controversially, to forego the chance to have around 4,000 Hoops fans at the first leg in Belfast.
In statement on Friday, Celtic FC said the safety and security of fans “is of paramount importance to the club.”
The decision provoked an angry backlash from many Celtic fans on social media who vowed to buy tickets regardless of the club’s wishes.
The safety and security of all Celtic supporters travelling and attending matches is of paramount importance to the Club
Blues chairman Roy McGivern told the News Letter that he would “have loved to have seen Celtic fans” at Windsor Park, but added: “The club is now drawing a line under the Celtic game. All this speculation is not helpful. The decision was a matter for Celtic and the PSNI – it was not a matter for Linfield.
“I would have loved to have seen Celtic fans at the game but it certainly won’t ruin any spectacle for us. We will go ahead, if we get through, and we will look forward to it.
“We have a massive game next Wednesday night and we can’t carry on with all of this...we have to get through before we even start thinking about Celtic.
“The two clubs have worked very well together this week and we are just delighted to be hosting a potential game on July 14 in Belfast.”
• Celtic FC statement in full: “Earlier this week, Celtic were drawn against Linfield or La Fiorita of San Marino to open our UEFA Champions League qualifying campaign, with the away leg due to be played first, on 11 or 12 July, and the home leg to be played at Celtic Park on 18 or 19 July.
Following security concerns raised by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Celtic has taken part in discussions with Linfield and the PSNI over recent days.
While there can be an option to reverse the fixtures if both clubs agree, during discussions, Linfield made it clear that they did not wish to reverse the tie and they wanted play their home leg first.
In addition, as is often the case in football, Celtic’s football management team wished to play our away leg first so that we could benefit from the advantage of playing the second leg at home in front of our supporters at Celtic Park for this crucial European tie.
Following the discussions, it was agreed among the clubs and PSNI and has now been confirmed with UEFA that, should Linfield progress to the Second Qualifying Round, Celtic’s UEFA Champions League match against Linfield will take place at Windsor Park on Friday, July 14, with a 5pm kick-off.
No tickets will be available for Celtic supporters for the match. The safety and security of all Celtic supporters travelling and attending matches is of paramount importance to the Club.
Should La Fiorita of San Marino qualify for the next round, the first leg match would take place on 11 or 12 July.
Regardless of opposition, Celtic’s home leg of this qualifying round will take place at Celtic Park on Wednesday, July 19, 2017, and entry to this first home European qualifier will once again be included as part of the 2017/18 Season Ticket.
If the tie against Linfield proceeds, it will not affect the friendly match between Celtic and Lyon at Celtic Park on 15 July – more information on this match will follow as soon as possible.”
• Joint Linfield and PSNI statement in full: “Linfield Football Club can announce that, following negotiations with all relevant parties, provisional details have been agreed for a potential Champions League second round qualifying tie against Celtic.
In the event of the club progressing through the first qualifying round, we have agreed to play the home leg on Friday 14th July at Windsor Park with a 5.00pm kick off. The potential second leg in Glasgow will be on Wednesday 19th July.
No further details about arrangements for this potential game will be announced until after the conclusion of the first round qualifying ties.
Linfield Chairman Roy McGivern commented: “I am pleased that agreement has now been reached for us to stage a potential Champions League first leg tie against Celtic FC at Windsor Park on Friday 14th July.
I would like to thank all of those involved for their efforts in resolving what was a difficult situation and we can now concentrate fully on our forthcoming games against FC Fiorita from San Marino.”
PSNI Operations Superintendent for Belfast, Norman Haslett said: “Police have been in close contact with representatives from both Linfield and Celtic Football Clubs due to the possibility of a Belfast fixture between the two clubs in July. Public safety concerns surrounding the fixture and the impact on the greater Belfast area over the Twelfth period have featured strongly in our considerations and discussions. I can confirm that all parties have now reached agreement on the arrangements for the match, should it proceed.
“The match, if it comes about, will be played in Belfast on Friday 14th July, with kick off at 5pm. I am hopeful that the game will pass off without incident and that the City of Belfast can be showcased as a great venue for European football.”