Celtic manager Neil Lennon insists he has a “duty of care” to ensure his players are protected from any racist abuse from Lazio fans tonight.
Lennon is hopeful the dark backdrop to the Europa League fixture at Celtic Park will not overshadow what he says should be a “celebration of football” against the Italian club.
Lazio were fined more than £17,000 by Uefa for racist chanting during their previous Group E game against Rennes and have been ordered to partially close the Stadio Olimpico in Rome for their next home fixture which is against Celtic in a fortnight.
Around 300 of Lazio’s notorious Ultras fan group, known as the Irriducibili, are expected in Glasgow, where they will be monitored by a special operations unit of the Italian police in conjunction with Police Scotland officers.
Lazio have been blighted by several acts of racist, fascist and antisemitic conduct among their support in recent years. Lennon is fully aware of their reputation and won’t flinch from urging his team to follow Uefa protocol and stop playing during the match if any of his players are the target of discriminatory chants.
“I don’t know how many Lazio fans are coming or whether there is an agenda there,” said Lennon.
“Obviously they’ve had their own problems but we’re hoping this is going to be a celebration of football between two great clubs. I’m aware of the reputation the of Lazio fans and we’re hoping that doesn’t rear its head at the game.
“Lazio are not exclusive to it. There are clubs with a history of it but all of a sudden we’re seeing a lot of it, even in England now, with an underbelly there that’s bursting out when we thought we’d cleaned it all up. But the authorities are doing all they can to eradicate it and they should.
“I have no time for racism at all, and it’s the same with my staff and everyone around the club. We have a duty of care to the players. They’re my players and they’re human beings. If they are getting abused and are emotionally upset by idiots in the crowd, and we’re not dealing with it, I have to protect my players and defend them. And that’s exactly what I’ll do.
“We always have a meeting with Uefa on the morning of the game, so I imagine we’ll get the complete protocol from them should something like that arise. We will follow that protocol.
“Racism of any sort is just distasteful. I just hope we’re talking about the football at the end of the day, and a great footballing night.
“I’ve had amazing experiences in Italy and against Italian teams. I played in the old Delle Alpi in Turin, then the San Siro in Milan, before Juventus’ new stadium where the atmosphere was incredible. I have nothing but respect for Italian teams.”