Fines cost us a new player, says Lennon
NEIL LENNON has claimed Celtic could have signed a new player with the £420,000 in fines paid to UEFA for fan misbehaviour. Celtic’s Green Brigade ultras will be banned from Parkhead for tonight’s Europa League clash with Rennes as chief executive Peter Lawwell told shareholders at the club’s agm yesterday of the need to take voluntary action to offset the fear of UEFA closing down a section of the stadium for a future European game. Fined for a third time this season, and the 19th time since
2007, Lawwell revealed that penalties now exceed €500,000 following the latest sanction from the governing body. And he admitted that his ‘heart just sinks’ after every incident of pyrotechnics, abusive banners or abusive singing. Insisting the row between club and the Green Brigade shouldn’t detract from the positivity around the Premiership leaders, manager Lennon admitted the situation is ‘not ideal’.
‘There are rules and regulations the club has to adhere to — health and safety and so on,’ he said. ‘We’re all hoping this will be a short-term thing. There will be a little bit of a void there but the players can’t think about that and I don’t want any negativity surrounding this game. We’ve had a great campaign, we want it to finish strongly and we want the Green Brigade back ASAP but in the right manner.’ Supporting Lawwell’s claim that the fines for illicit pyrotechnics and banners can’t go on, the Celtic boss admitted: ‘It’s fair to say we could have bought a player for that amount of money. It’s 500,000 and it’s all going to UEFA.
‘The club have taken this action now. We’re hoping it will be a deterrent for that sort of behaviour but not for them coming into the ground.’ Facing calls at the agm to crack down on the Green Brigade after the ultras group released a lengthy statement defending their actions, Lawwell said: ‘We are all proud of the reputation
our supporters have around the world as a club, and I’m sure the supporters are as well. ‘Unfortunately, there is a small minority that we have at the moment who are a challenge in terms of safety in the stadium, and also in terms of protecting the reputation of our club. ‘Safety is everything here. We built the standing section for safety and we have to keep our people safe. We also have to protect our reputation.
‘Over there, for the vast majority of the time, it is colour, energy, atmosphere, youth and it is fantastic. There are times, though, when a small minority let us down. ‘The concerning thing for us is that they don’t seem to believe they are doing anything wrong. ‘So, in terms of overcrowding, pyrotechnics, abusive banners, abusive singing, alcohol in the stadium, these are things which cannot go on. ‘Those things are against crowd regulations and against the rules of the competition. We have to keep to the rules of the competition.
‘Unfortunately, we’ve had to take the step of closing the first 14 rows in the standing section. The reputational thing is important for me. You see a banner, or you hear a song and your heart just sinks. Because that’s not who we are. ‘It gives our enemies the opportunity to class us as the same as other clubs, and portray us as two sides of the same coin, when we are not. ‘Over the years, in terms of UEFA, we’ve actually been fined over half a million Euros now, and that can’t go on. So, we’ve had to take action in order to prevent further possible restrictive action from UEFA.’ Lawwell’s pay and bonuses of £3.55m also attracted criticism from one shareholder, but chairman Ian Bankier and Lennon leapt to his defence.
‘I’ve been in football for a long time as a player, coach and manager,’ said Lennon. ‘Peter is the best and sometimes you have to pay for the best. ‘He makes unpopular decisions with supporters at times and with managers at times, but he does it for the best for the club, whether it be in the present time or the future. ‘I echo what the chairman said in that we are lucky to have him.’