Cliftonville first Champions League obstacle for Celtic

Posted by Andy Muirhead

Celtic will face Northern Ireland champions Cliftonville in the second qualifying round of the Champions League.

AP Photo/Scott HeppellCeltic hope to repeat their success in the Champions League, where they earned a memorable home win against Barcelona (and Lionel Messi) last season. Joe Ledley is at left.

Celtic, who were seeded for the draw, will be favourites for the tie, but face a further two qualifying rounds if they are to reach the group stages for the second successive year.

The first leg was set to be played on the July 16 or 17 at Celtic Park, with the return leg on July 23 or 24. However, Cliftonville have requested that the ties be swapped, so that the first leg is in Belfast and the second in Glasgow.

It is speculated that the clubs are wanting to swap ties to help with increased revenue from the Celtic Park game, both with the Cliftonville fans as well as TV broadcasters.

One issue not of Cliftonville's or Celtic’s making is the potential fallout from the game being held in Belfast on July 16 or 17, a few days after July 12, a major date in the Orange Order and Protestant community in Northern Ireland and Scotland. While it may be minimal given that just under a week would have passed from those festivities, the second week in July is always a volatile period in Northern Ireland. Throw into the mix a Cliftonville-Celtic game, it could be very messy indeed for those attending the game and those in the surrounding area.

The teams met way back in 1984, with Celtic 4-0 up in the friendly before the game was abandoned just 15 minutes from time due to clashes between supporters of both clubs and the RUC (police). Twenty-five were hospitalised and around 47 police officers injured in what was supposed to be a game celebrating Cliftonville’s centenary.

Hopefully the game in Belfast, whenever it is held, will be all about the football on show rather than what occurs off the park and outside the stadium.

Celtic's Champions League campaign last season was above all expectations. This season fans will be expecting the Parkhead side to reach the lucrative group stages once more without the worry of no competition in the SPL again this term.

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