Peter Lawwell has warned that Celtic could be forced to sanction their away support if fan misbehaviour continues after revealing that the club has had to shell out over €500,000 in fines to Uefa.
Manager Neil Lennon pointed out that such a sum could have been used to buy a new player.
Lawwell, the club’s chief executive, has already taken the decision to close a section of Celtic Park for tonight’s Europa League clash against Rennes.
And speaking at the Celtic agm, Lawwell stated that “challenges” are being presented over fan behaviour with “societal issues in terms of drug abuse and alcohol abuse manifesting themselves at the football”.
The first 14 rows of the standing section that normally houses the Green Brigade ultras group will be shut this evening in response to the latest penalty from Uefa for “illicit chanting” and “illicit banners” during the win over Lazio five weeks ago. Celtic have had 20 charges levelled against them by European football’s governing body in the past decade. A 21st sanction is expected at a disciplinary hearing on 12 December for the “use of pyrotechnics” by Celtic supporters during the victory over Lazio in Rome earlier this month.
Lawwell said the situation cannot be allowed to continue and pointed to the sanction imposed by Uefa this week on Feyenoord who were banned from selling tickets to their supporters for the club’s away game at Porto today.
“[For away games] I think we have to look at it on a game by game basis to understand what the difficulties are in terms of identifying people,” Lawwell said. “It’s not our stadium, people aren’t in the same seats. Regrettably, we’ve taken action, and if things don’t improve in away games, then I again regret that we are going to have to take action.
“We are all proud of the reputation our supporters have around the world as a club, and I’m sure the supporters are as well. Unfortunately, there is a small minority that we have at the moment who are a challenge in terms of safety in the stadium, and also in terms of protecting the reputation of our magnificent club.
“It’s a difficult challenge, and there are societal changes. People are coming to Celtic Park who are in some way showing their frustrations in terms of their life, and there are societal issues in terms of drug abuse and alcohol abuse manifesting themselves at the football.
“Safety is everything here. We built the standing section for safety, and we have to keep our people safe first and foremost. We also have to protect our reputation. For the vast majority of the time there, it is colour, energy, atmosphere, youth, and it is fantastic. There are times though when a small minority let us down.
“The unfortunately concerning thing for us is that they don’t seem to believe they are doing anything wrong. So, in terms of overcrowding, pyrotechnics, abusive banners, abusive singing, alcohol in the stadium, these are things which just cannot go on. Those things are against crowd regulations and against the rules of the competition. We have to keep to the rules of the competition.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had to take the step of closing the first 14 rows in the standing section. The reputational thing is important for me. You see a banner, or you hear a song and your heart just sinks. Because that’s not who we are.
“It gives our enemies the opportunity to class us as the same as other clubs, and portray us as two sides of the same coin, when we are not. We are different. It gives our opponents the opportunity to class us as the same, and therefore it besmirches our reputation.
“Over the years, in terms of Uefa, we’ve actually been fined over half a million euros now, and that can’t go on. We’ve had to take that action on the basis of what might happen if we don’t. We saw that Feyenoord fans have now been banned from travelling abroad, and that would affect all our fans in terms of European travel, and they have been fined another €50,000. So, we’ve had to take action in order to prevent further possible restrictive action from Uefa. Overall, we’ve got a responsibility first for safety, and second to protect the reputation of the club, and I think our supporters have that as well.”
Lennon said that the price to be paid for the actions of a certain section of the support could also be a footballing one. “It’s fair to say we could have bought a player for the amount of money [paid out in fines]. It’s £500,000 and it’s all going to Uefa,” said Lennon. “The club have taken this action now. We’re hoping it will be a deterrent for that sort of behaviour but not for them coming into the ground.”