Celtic have urged their supporters not to bring flags and banners relating to the conflict between Israel and Palestine to tonight’s Champions League match against Atletico Madrid.
The club issued the plea on the day of the meeting with the Spaniards after the Green Brigade fans’ group encouraged supporters to “courageously fly the flag for Palestine” amid a conflict that has claimed thousands of lives.
In a statement, the club said: “The club recognises that our supporters hold personal views to which everyone is entitled. As a club open to all, we all belong at Celtic Park.
“Celtic Park is where we come to support our football club. Recognising this, respecting the gravity of the tragedy unfolding and its impact on communities in Scotland and across the world, and in line with other clubs, leagues and associations, we ask that banners, flags and symbols relating to the conflict and those countries involved in it are not displayed at Celtic Park at this time.”
Celtic fan group the Green Brigade have been involved in a dispute with the club over the flying of Palestine flags, something for which Celtic were sanctioned by Uefa in 2016. The ultras believe that by preventing them from distributing flags inside the stadium, Celtic are clamping down on free expression and gestures of solidarity. The club say the Green Brigade can distribute flags outside Celtic Park, and the fan group have encourages fans to pick up flags in their thousands. Celtic have recently suspended the Green Brigade’s ticket allocation for away games, which has contributed to a souring of relations. The club have been fined by Uefa for the group’s pre-match pyrotechnics and there are worries that more serious punishments could follow.
On the pitch, Celtic’s hopes of Champions League progression were always going to rest on their home results, and after losing to Lazio at Parkhead last time out they badly need some sort of result against Atletico Madrid tonight.
Defeat would not bring mathematical confirmation of Celtic’s elimination, but would leave them as rank outsiders with trips to Rome and Madrid to follow.
A 1-0 win over Rangers in the first Old Firm game of the season proved the springboard for a strong run of domestic form, during which Brendan Rodgers’ team have opened up a seven-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership. Celtic have scored 15 goals in their last five league games, and were able to substitute Reo Hatate, Callum McGregor and Daizen Maeda early against Hearts on Sunday with the Atletico game in mind.
Atletico are not quite the force they once were under Diego Simeone but have made a strong start to the season. They are three points off the top of La Liga with a game in hand, and know that one or both of city rivals Real or Barcelona will drop points in this Saturday’s Clasico. Only Barcelona have a better expected goal difference than Atletico, so their performances suggest they should be considered one of the strongest teams in Spain. It is a 5-3-2 these days rather than the 4-4-2 of old, with Alvaro Morata and Antoine Griezmann partners up front. Koke and Saul Niguez continue to feature in midfield, while Simeone has been using Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel in the middle of a back three.