Northern Ireland

Funding bid for Celtic fanzone for Linfield game withdrawn

Scott Sinclair celebrates with Celtic teammates after scoring against Linfield Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Celtic rejected their ticket allocation for their clash with Linfield over fears for supporters' safety

A bid for council money to help fund a fanzone for Celtic supporters to watch their side's Champions League qualifier against Linfield has been withdrawn.

Belfast City Council had approved an application for funding for the facility at the Devenish Complex pub.

The plan was criticised by some politicians, with one saying it was a "gross misuse of ratepayer money".

Organiser Féile an Phobail has said it has pulled its bid as it does not want to "be used as a political football".

Celtic, the Scottish champions, chose to turn down their allocation of tickets for Friday's match against last season's Irish Premiership winners at Belfast's Windsor Park.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Hundreds of Celtic fans gathered at the fanzone at the Devenish Complex for the game

The Glasgow club cited concerns over its supporters' safety.

Celtic won the game with a 2-0 scoreline, but it was marred by a series of missile-throwing incidents.

The fanzone was proposed by Féile an Phobail in conjunction with the Devenish Complex and was backed at a council meeting.

In a letter on Friday, the Féile an Phobail director Kevin Gamble informed Belfast City Council that he was withdrawing the application for funding.

Mr Gamble said the funding was to be used to "reduce tension" surrounding the match and "encourage people without tickets to stay away from Windsor Park".

Image caption The Celtic fanzone was set up in the car park of the Devenish Complex in south Belfast

But he wrote: "We have since reviewed the need for this funding and after consultation with our stakeholders and with the support of local businesses we no longer require additional funding to deliver the fanzone.

"Féile will not be used as a political football despite attempts by some in the media and those politically opposed to the community values Féile upholds."

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) councillor Graham Craig tweeted that he was "pleased to hear" that the application had been cancelled.

Sinn Féin's Matt Garrett said he was disappointed that some unionist councillors opposed the fanzone, accusing them of a "lack of broad-mindedness".

"Unionist councillors are falling over themselves to criticise and close down a positive initiative aimed at diffusing tensions and ensuring that this football match passes peacefully," the councillor added.

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