Northern Ireland

Linfield and Celtic fans enjoy historic Champions League occasion

Linfield's Paul Smyth runs past Celtic players Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption The match between the champions of Northern Ireland and Scotland was a highly anticipated one

It was a historic occasion at Windsor Park - a Champions League clash between the green of Celtic and the blue of Linfield.

In the end, Brendan Rodgers' Hoops - the Scottish champions - ran out 2-0 winners in Belfast.

But before the match a spirit of compromise broke out despite the rivalry between the clubs.

However there could be a potential fine for Linfield for a thrown bottle that almost struck Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths.

A number of small scuffles broke out in the crowd after the final whistle and police in riot gear came onto the pitch to keep the peace.

A 25-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of disorderly behaviour. Celtic had not taken up their ticket allocation for the match amid security concerns.

Image caption Linfield fans were queuing outside the gates of Windsor Park long before kick off

But rather than close their eyes and hope Celtic fans would not break the ticket ban imposed on them, Linfield set aside an entrance gate and a stand for them.

It meant the two sets of supporters went into the stadium at gates almost half-a-mile apart and they were not sitting beside each other inside the stadium.

It worked well.

Indeed, the only Blues fan who went into the wrong gate was well-known Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) politician Jim Wells.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Some Celtic fans obtained tickets even though the club expressed fears for their safety

He saw the funny side, as did the stewards.

The special arrangements for Celtic fans were a triumph of pragmatism.

There was some tension in the air as a small group of loyalists - no more than a dozen - tried to get past police lines and confront the Celtic supporters.

As they conceded defeat, one shouted "we'll get them later".

Image caption The DUP's Jim Wells mistakenly tried to get in by the Celtic entrance but he saw the funny side

It was confirmation, if it were needed, that the police will have to remain vigilant this evening long after the final whistle.

The match itself was a tightly-fought affair, albeit dominated by Celtic.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Blues fans unveiled a banner that they had made specifically for the game

Linfield fans queued long before kick off to make sure they got into the ground in good time.

The first man in the queue had a personal connection to the game - Frank Burns's son is Linfield attacker Aaron Burns.

"This game means a lot to me," he said.

"Hopefully Linfield will hold them to a 1-1 draw, or 2-1 - sneaky wee win."

Image caption Frank Burns, the father of Linfield playe Aaron, was one of the first fans waiting at the gates

Frank said Aaron wasn't nervous before the game but that the players were a little disappointed more Celtic fans would not be in Windsor Park.

Close by in the queue, a woman told me that she had queued for over two hours to get her ticket.

"We want to beat them, it's massive," she said.

"This is something you may never, ever see again.

Image caption PUP councillor Billy Hutchinson said he hoped it would be a good day at Windsor Park

"I don't mind Celtic, they're a good team - but they've no opposition at all in Scotland."

Another fan making their way into Windsor Park was Billy Hutchinson, a Progressive Unionist Party councillor at Belfast City Council.

"We would like to get through to the next round but that'll be difficult, we're only a semi-pro team," he said.

"But it's great to be here."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Linfield could face a sanction from Uefa after a bottle was thrown at Leigh Griffiths

He added that Friday's bumper crowd reflected the high-profile nature of the match.

"Lots of Linfield fans have turned out today," he said.

"They're not the fans I would see on a normal match day, they don't come every week.

"But what I hope is that we have a good day, that the atmosphere's good and we keep it to football."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Windsor Park was half full for the game after Celtic refused their ticket allocation
Image copyright PACEMAKER
Image caption A number of small scuffles broke out in the crowd after the final whistle and police in riot gear came onto the pitch to keep the peace

Over at the entrance for Celtic supporters, one fan made his way inside after travelling from Glasgow - and he wasn't telling us where he got his ticket.

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Media captionLinfield's David Healy praises 'exceptional' Celtic

"It'll be tense but it'll be a good atmosphere," he said.

A Celtic fan from Ardglass in County Down also expected a positive atmosphere and said there was respect between the two sets of fans.

"It think there is, of course there is - it's a football game, that's all it is.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Hoops take a two-goal lead back to Glasgow after a tighter first leg then many predicted

"I don't think there'll be any fighting or arguing or anything like that - I think it'll be a normal football game."

And a prediction?

"4-0 to Celtic."

It was a tighter scoreline at the end of 90 minutes, but there's still another 90 minutes left to play with both sides heading to Celtic Park in Glasgow for the second leg next Wednesday.

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