Celtic should not be punished for ‘minority’ - Lawwell

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CELTIC chief executive Peter Lawwell has dismissed renewed calls for Scottish football to adopt Uefa’s strict liability policy to deal with clubs whose fans are involved in offensive behaviour at games.

Lawwell has defended the reputation of Celtic fans following the club’s latest fine for crowd disturbances. He said isolated incidents were slurring Celtic’s good name while insisting the club were doing everything in their power to root out individuals who continue to cause problems.

Picture: John Devlin

Picture: John Devlin

Last month the Scottish champions were fined £7,300 by Uefa after crowd trouble against Dinamo Zagreb in December, bringing their total fines from European football’s governing body to more than £100,000 in three years.

Celtic are set to be hit with a further fine following the lighting of two flares in the San Siro stadium at last week’s Europa League clash with Internazionale.

“It is concerning because it allows Celtic’s name to be slurred,” said Lawwell. “But there is a context that is missed here. You cannot look at two people and condemn a football club.”

Lawwell was to-the-point when asked whether Scottish football should use the same standard as Uefa to deal with crowd misconduct, leaving clubs open to sanctions ranging from fines to points deductions.

The Scottish Football Association sought to introduce the principle of strict liability two years ago but were frustrated following a vote by the member clubs. The Scottish Professional Football League only require clubs to prove they have taken preventive measures to discourage instances of offensive behaviour, such as sectarian singing.

“It is a very complex subject,” said Lawwell. “It would have to be considered carefully. But my view is no. It can be seen to go against justice rather than support it. We as a club would be against it. We do everything we possibly can.”

Lawwell cited the Europa League clash with Udinese in December 2013 as an example of the club being thwarted in their attempt to ensure nothing happened that would warrant a fine from Uefa. Despite the club having organised their own stewards to patrol the away area, the unveiling of an offensive banner and the setting off of fireworks saw the club handed a £21,000 fine.

“We had 12 travel stewards with everyone vetted and then that banner came up before the game,” said Lawwell. “Our stewards went in to take it down and one was assaulted.

“The guys get reported to the police and are taken away, yet we are fined €40,000, so how much more can we do than we did on that night? But it’s strict liability and, as a club, we are being punished for something we have not perpetrated and did everything to defend. That’s not fair.”

The club have already voiced their concern about the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act, introduced in 2012, because it needlessly criminalised fans.

He stressed that Celtic have always condemned sectarianism. The club later issued a tweet “for clarification” that Lawwell is “proud” of the club’s Irish roots, he was just seeking to distance Celtic from “the small minority and their chants we’d rather were not here”.

“I do not accept that Irish republicanism is anywhere in Celtic history,” said Lawwell. “I do not recognise Celtic being associated with sectarianism, I do not recognise Celtic being associated with Irish republicanism. This is a club that since 1888 has welcomed everyone and has been diverse and open to all.”

“People who promote proscribed terrorist organisations will not be welcome at Celtic Park – that has been the case forever and will always be the case,” he added.

But Lawwell defended the reputation of Celtic fans, the majority of whom, he said, “are a credit to the club”. He is confident that the club’s bid to include a safe standing area at Celtic Park will soon be sanctioned by Glasgow city council.

“That is with Glasgow city council at the moment,” he said. “We are awaiting a response. We have had a positive dialogue. It is taking a long time because I think that is because we are the first, people are being more careful. Hopefully we will get there in coming months.”

“Our supporters are magnificent,” he added. “Clearly there are very isolated incidents when a small minority of people embarrass the club. There is no material difficulty with Celtic supporters – in fact we are held in the highest regard throughout Europe, by clubs and associations. Whoever comes to Celtic Park, whether it is Manchester United, Barcelona or AC Milan, say this is the best.”

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