Celtic is facing a UEFA disciplinary hearing next week after their supporters displayed politically sensitive banners featuring the images of hunger striker Bobby Sands and Scottish hero William Wallace before the Champions League match against AC Milan at Parkhead last week – and manager Neil Lennon is none too pleased about it.
Celtic’s Green Brigade unfurled the banners and a set of lyrics in protest at changes to Scottish law regarding what they can say and sing at games.
Lennon has admitted that his “heart sank” when he first saw the banners on the night that his team bowed out of Europe for another season after the 3-0 home defeat.
And the club could be fined over the words on the banners which read: “The terrorist or the dreamer, the savage or the brave, depends whose vote you’re trying to catch or whose face you’re trying to save.”
Reports in Scotland say the banners are related to the Green Brigade’s ongoing protest at the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act which they claim deems “expressions of Irish identity, culture and politics” illegal.
UEFA has announced that its control and disciplinary body would deal with the case next week after confirming proceedings had been opened for “an incident of a non-sporting nature (illicit banner).”
Ulsterman Lennon has issued his own criticism of the action taken by the club’s supporters before the Milan game.
“I quite like going out before the game and soaking up the atmosphere because you never know when you have that opportunity again,” Lennon said.
“It is not guaranteed you will play Champions League every year, and my heart sank a little bit I have to say. I think there were a lot of other areas of the stadium where the supporters were scratching their heads and trying to understand the reasoning behind it.
“Since then we know the reasons behind it, but it certainly wasn’t the time or place for a display like that. It should have been a celebration rather than people having a grumble about something.
“When I came in here I tried to bring the club together again and I think we have done that, certainly with the performances over the last three or four years, so it is disappointing that some people want to bring cracks to the club.”
The Hoops won’t even play Europa League football this season after the 3-0 defeat to Milan, with Lennon asked to reflect on another disappointing season in Europe before Sunday’s Cup win over Hearts.
“What is success for us in the Champions League? It is only three times in 14 years that we qualified for the last 16 and a lot of managers had a lot more money than me and didn’t do it,” Lennon said.
“We have to be careful about throwing money at things. We have to make sure we have a club that can compete every year in the Champions League.
“If we can make the last 16, fantastic, but it takes a lot of money to do that. We have qualified and that was the most important thing.”
Lennon was happier with events on the field on Sunday as his team hammered Hearts 7-0 in the Scottish Cup at Tynecastle thanks to a Kris Commons hat trick, two from Scott Brown and goals from Joe Ledley and Mikael Lustig.
Celtic led 5-0 at the break and Lennon said, “If you are looking for Utopia then that first half was probably it. All five goals were breathtaking and the performance itself was the best I’ve seen certainly in my time as manager and that’s what we have been looking for, for a few months now.”