Caution rules as Celtic and Linfield turns into damp squib
The Scottish side came out with an easy win at a half-empty and uneasy Windsor Park
Leigh Griffiths ties a Celtic scarf to a goalpost after the Champions League qualifying game between Linfield and Celtic at Windsor Park. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Windsor Park is a much changed place in what are now much happier days, but when Belfast’s former DUP mayor Brian Kingston suggested this week that the city was now “mature” enough to handle rivalries like the one between Linfield and Celtic he might just have been getting ahead of himself.
November 1993 this was not, but the scale of the police presence outside the ground and the lack of supporters inside it told you all you needed to know about confidence levels amongst the various organisers that the whole thing could be carried off without the sort of hostility that characterised the meeting back then between the two teams representing Ireland North and South.
That resulted in selling less than half of the ground’s 18,000 or so seats. Most clubs would rail against being directed to play a game behind closed doors, but Linfield seemed to semi-embrace the notion.
The precise chain of events that prompted Celtic to decline their proposed allocation of 4,000 tickets is now disputed, with the Scots claiming they were following the advice of the PSNI, something the police have since denied. Whatever about the rights and wrongs of it, at least there was some sort of logic to it all.
How Linfield came to set a ceiling of around 8,000 on the attendance, and so leave another 6,000 seats empty, is more difficult to understand.
That they had left the Kop empty to facilitate those Celtic fans who beat the ban (the police had apparently anticipated that anywhere between 200 and 1,000 would based on an analysis of purchasers’ postal codes) looked entirely sensible when maybe 400 actually showed up and congregated at that end of the ground. But the upper tiers of both the main stands were also unsold, while the East Stand cannot have been much more than half full.
Doubtless it was all done for entirely the right reasons, but the upshot is that a sporting occasion that could have been great was nothing of the sort because of the caution. The police presumably had a big hand in it all too, but perhaps the motivation is that the “community” has not come quite so far as everyone would like to pretend.
Flags and emblems
The slogans, flags and emblems adorning the nearby streets in the wake of “the 12th” certainly would suggest that that might have been a factor.
However, as it turned out the closest there was to trouble inside the ground involved the throwing of various missiles at Leigh Griffiths as he lined up to take a corner 65 minutes in.
Linfield manager David Healy said afterwards he had not seen the specific incident, but suggested that you would see similar at an Old Firm game or Manchester derby.
The Spanish referee may have broadly agreed and thought of some of the things that have been thrown at players taking corners in Clasicos because when Griffiths delayed taking the kick a second time, with items, including coins, it appeared, still flying, the match official booked him.
Asked about it afterwards, Brendan Rodgers expressed surprise over the card, and played the rest down with the observation that “if you take that away from it, it’s a good evening”.
The bulk of the Linfield fans contented themselves with reminding his team and its supporters in song that they are British, and know they are, cheering the various yellow cards shown to visitors and revelling in Roy Carroll’s succession of fine second-half saves.
Yet the corner of the stand from which Griffiths had been targeted never completely settled, and after the player, who has a bit of form in this regard, tied a Celtic scarf to a post at the end, there was a one-man pitch invasion by an angry individual. Happily for Griffiths there was no shortage of security on hand to deal with him.
As for the result, Celtic won easily having briefly looked early on as though they might score from every corner. Lucky for Linfield they didn’t although, two down after 20 minutes, it briefly seemed as though the hosts might be facing the unpalatable prospect of a record European defeat on home turf (currently 5-0). Instead the goals dried up due to a variety of reasons, with Carroll’s performance being one given but others less easy to explain.
Rumours that they were simply heeding PSNI advice that not beating locals too badly would make the lives of the officers a little less uncomfortable are as yet unconfirmed. But if they ever are, they will doubtless be disputed. That, it seems, is the enduring nature of communities, and rivalries, like these.
Anyone for Glasgow?