When the draw for the game against Linfield was made, I scanned the usual airlines and looked for a deal. Pretty soon I realised that we were a while away from getting a confirmed date and I just don't have the dough to go for a week or anything like. When Linfield were our confirmed opponents, it became obvious quickly that it was going to be on Friday the 14th. I went on Easyjet and saw a flight to Belfast for £28.99 over, £34.99 back on the Saturday afternoon. Then it dawned on me, we are playing Lyon on the Saturday afternoon. So I hesitated and in that time, it was announced we would not be taking/getting an allocation for Betty Windsor Park.
I know some folk have an image of the stadium and the area surrounding and probably saw good reasoning in this but most of that reasoning doesn't apply. One day I was in Belfast, this was probably four years ago, after a night in Larne. My mate who looks after me in the north, Gary, always takes me wherever I want to go and we decided to go to west Belfast. We did all the usual things, a pint in The Rock, various murals and even had a chat with the Mayor of the time. After visiting a guy in the RVH, we got back in the car and I nodded off for 10 minutes or so. When I woke up, all around me I saw union flags, red, white and blue kerbs and even a U.V.F. mural in the distance. Gary was just parking the car up and I looked at him like any Fenian bastard would having just pulled up into a bastion of Loyalism (Boucher Road to be precise) Now anyone who knows Gary, knows he wears Celtic gear almost everywhere he goes. So there he was, breezing out the car, Celtic tracksuit top on, not a care in the world. And guess what? No one batted an eyelid. This shocked me at the time but Belfast has changed a lot since I started going there in the 90's. Then, you stuck pretty much to places like Ballymurphy, Turf Lodge and Andy Town (sic). Not that I am suggesting everything is fine now, it never will be as long as the British occupy the six counties, but I saw a lot of comparisons with the time Ireland played at Windsor to qualify for the 1994 World Cup back in late 1993 and, quite frankly, they were ludicrous. When Ireland played there, there was a war on. I can't be any more concise.
It is 2017 now and Ireland is a very different place from 1993. Of course, the sectarian hate-fest provided by the Orange Order still rains over the six counties but then look at the ongoing situation in Palestine and I don't remember anyone saying we shouldn't play there last summer. All this centred on Celtic pre-match. There were suspicions that the club made the choice to not take tickets and this was backed up Linfield and the PSNI (Hold on, I'm getting there) Now, I've never had any dealings with Linfield but there hasn't been a police service in the north of Ireland that has been a bastion of truth and so I'll take anything they say with a pinch of salt. My own sources at Celtic are adamant that the only way they were getting tickets for that away leg was if the tie was switched to Celtic Park first. Brendan Rodgers did not want that. Over-cautious? Think back to a year ago...
There were a couple of operations meetings at Windsor Park that had Celtic officials bewildered. Quite simply, Linfield said one thing and then did another. This is what led to the announcement at Noon on the day of the game that there would be Celtic section for existing ticket holders. Like you, that majorly pissed me off. I could have been there. You could have been there.
Cut to the game itself and as we strolled around the park, bigots threw batteries and bottles. For some reason, the referee deemed that a bookable offence for Leigh Griffiths. You will always get a bonkers/corrupt Ref but are we really going to just accept the one match ban?
The home tie was played last night although you'd barely know it given the coverage since. A banner went up. Some folk didn't like it, others loved it and Celtic put out a statement about it. I won't moralise about it, I would not listen to me if I was an angry young man just as I didn't listen to folk like me when I was an angry young man. I did know though that as soon as it went up, UEFA and Celtic would go ballistic.
I think we all did.
Just as all on Twitter threatened to collectively lose their minds, there was some comic relief although it was about as funny as the actual show. "Celtic Travel" (one guy in an office basically) released a price for a day trip to Trondheim. £489. When I saw it, I felt like a Doctor Who fan who hates women.
Then as encore, Celtic announced we would be charged £25 for the Rosenborg game. This after we watched the bulk of the academy side against Lyon? Come on, eh?
The overriding thing in all of this is, where are our leaders? The SLO appears to be answering for most of the club right now as everyone else seems to have lost their tongue. Nameless statements won't fly these days and neither will the complete lack of communication with a support who are getting restless about the increasing lack of transparency at Celtic.
Peter, it's time to talk to your public.