NEIL LENNON has welcomed the return of the controversial Green Brigade fans group to Celtic Park and expressed his hope they remain as part of the match-day make-up of the club.
Around 200 supporters gathered behind a Green Brigade banner in Section 118 of the East Stand for yesterday’s Scottish Premiership game against St Johnstone. Their appearance came just two months after Celtic took action to disperse the Green Brigade from their established location in Section 111 at the opposite corner of the same stand.
Celtic were responding to a series of incidents involving the Green Brigade, which came to a head when seats were vandalised and smoke bombs and flares were let off during a league game against Motherwell at Fir Park in early December.
The club provisionally suspended 128 fans identified as being allegedly involved in the trouble. They also decided to move 250 supporters from Section 111, offering them a choice of relocation to another part of the stadium or a refund on their season tickets. In the same week, Celtic were fined £42,000 by Uefa for a banner depicting Bobby Sands and William Wallace displayed by the Green Brigade at their Champions League tie against AC Milan.
The Green Brigade yesterday occupied a whole section of seats in an area of the stadium not assigned to season-ticket holders and a club spokesman said: “They were not banned. They bought individual match tickets for the game.”
The group maintained a level of noise throughout an otherwise low-key 3-0 win for Celtic, which maintained their unbeaten league record this season.
Celtic manager Lennon instructed the players to salute them at the end of the match and praised their contribution afterwards. He said: “Whoever they were, and I don’t know if they were the official Green Brigade or not – I can’t thank them enough. They made a hell of a difference to the atmosphere today and I would think that the players would have thrived on it.
“I was delighted to hear that noise again. You can tell just by the rhythm of the game that they added to it. So long as everyone works within the rules of the club, then we welcome that colour, energy and noise.”
Lennon was pleased with Celtic’s performance, in which Anthony Stokes grabbed a hat-trick, as they showed no after-effects of their Scottish Cup elimination at home to Aberdeen the previous weekend.
“It was the response I was looking for,” said Lennon. “I thought we were fantastic from start to finish. There were great contributions from all the players. I thought Nir Biton was outstanding and I thought Leigh Griffiths on his full home debut gave us real energy and spark.
“Kris Commons looked back to his best, so did Adam Matthews, and Stokesy got the goals that his performances over the past month have deserved. It’s going to make my weekend a lot better than last weekend.
“Anthony always has goals in him but the way he has been playing in the past month or so, I’ve been very pleased with his all-round game. I thought his first goal today was a piece of individual brilliance.
“Leigh’s arrival helps Anthony. Leigh was the energy bunny. He was everywhere. As the game grew, he got more and more confident and he was very unlucky to have a goal chalked off for offside.
“Stokesy has been looking for someone to play with at times. He had a great relationship with with Gary Hooper so we’re hoping he will form a good bond with Leigh too.
“The general flow to us today, the way we defended and our energy levels were all there. We also keep the clean sheet record going, the unbeaten record.
“At the start of the year we wanted to really improve on our points total and our goals against total and we are doing that.”