CELTIC supporters heading to Northern Ireland for the Champions League qualifier have been warned not to wear club colours ahead of the match in Belfast.
The Hoops face Cliftonville in the city tomorrow and, ahead of the clash, the club’s management has warned visiting fans to be mindful of the ongoing sectarian tensions in the Northern Irish capital.
Fans have been urged not to display strips and scarves until they arrive at the Solitude stadium for the match.
It comes as loyalist demonstrators continue to fight street battles with armed police officers after being banned from marching near a nationalist community, with petrol bombs, fireworks and bricks hurled at police lines.
Original fixtures had the first match in Glasgow with the second leg in Belfast – which would have meant Celtic avoiding tensions surrounding the 12 July parades in Belfast.
But the Northern Irish champions asked for the dates to be reversed to secure a television deal and guarantee a maximum crowd.
David Begley, director at Cliftonville FC, urged travelling Celtic fans to exercise caution.
He told The Scotsman: “Belfast city centre is a very welcoming place, but people in Northern Ireland are very sensitive about colours, not just this week.
“As a result, it’s probably best to avoid wearing colours into the city centre tomorrow.”
He said Celtic supporters can expect a warm welcome from Cliftonville fans. The club has strong ties to the nationalist community and many also support Celtic – but he said fans should remain aware of the recent riots.
Fans have also been urged to take taxis or buses to the stadium, two miles from the centre in north-west Belfast, to avoid wandering into loyalist areas.
Mr Begley said: “I would say to all fans to make your way up
to Cliftonville Road from the city centre. There are lots of friendly pubs here and indeed our own bar, the Cliftonville Social Club. By doing that you avoid difficulties. It can be tricky, as 100 yards in the wrong direction and you could be in the wrong place.”
Police have also sought to allay any fears of violence on the night of the match. More than 400 extra officers have been drafted in.
Supporter groups last night said they were confident Wednesday’s match would create a good and trouble-free atmosphere.
Kevin Graham, from the Affiliation of Registered Celtic Supporters Clubs, said: “This Champion’s League fixture could be Cliftonville’s biggest match in their history, so it should be a good atmosphere on the night.”
Fans have also been reminded that drinking on the streets is prohibited and likely to be strictly enforced by the police.