Barry Johnston has warned Linfield players they will step into a “cauldron of heat and noise” at Parkhead on Wednesday night.
The former Cliftonville ace and his Reds team-mates wrestled with Neil Lennon’s Celtic at the famous stadium in July, 2013 and Hoops fan Johnston remembers it as one of the best nights of his career.
The atmosphere was electric that night in Glasgow but Linfield will be walking into a much more hostile environment with the majority of the 60,000 crowd hoping Brendan Rodgers’ Invincibles show David Healy and his men no mercy.
Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths had coins and at least one bottle hurled at him as he attempted to take a corner in the second half of the Champions League qualifier at Windsor Park on Friday night. Blues fans reacted angrily after Griffiths made a 5-1 gesture with his hands – referencing a thumping Old Firm victory over Rangers at Ibrox – and then tying a Celtic scarf to the goalpost after the final whistle.
But the missile throwing incidents will see Linfield suffer punishment from Uefa and the Blues have urged their supporters not to harm the club’s image in Glasgow this week.
When Cliftonville arrived in Scotland the Hoops were already 3-0 up from the first leg and Efe Ambrose’s powerful 16th-minute header broke the Reds’ resistance but it took until the 70th minute for their pressure to bring a second through a close-range Georgios Samaras header.
“I’ll never forget the game at Parkhead, it was one of the best days of my life,” said Johnston who is coaching the Reds’ under-18 side.
“The Celtic v Linfield is as close to an Old Firm game as you can get without Rangers being involved.
“Parkhead will be jam-packed and it will be an intimidating atmosphere. When Celtic played us it wasn’t a friendly but this is at another level and it will be a real cauldron of heat and noise. You can feel the vibrations move below your feet and I can remember turning to Rayn Catney and saying ‘this is nuts’.
“When missile throwing happens it’s disappointing but Linfield have worked hard to eradicate that sort of behaviour and the people involved are not regular supporters. Leigh Griffiths was getting a bit of stick and he gave it back and it’s just unfortunate the spotlight was taken away from the game as Linfield’s discipline and fitness was incredible.
“I think David (Healy) will use his experience as a former Rangers player to help the players adjust but it’s a once in a lifetime experience for the lads and for someone like Jamie Mulgrew, who is a big Rangers fan, he will never forget the experience. It will be one of the best days in their careers.
“I tortured photographers to get pictures of me and my family there and I managed to get Scott Brown’s jersey.
“Neil Lennon had a really good Celtic team but they were more direct than this side. The Brendan Rodgers’ team is a lot more dynamic and mobile, playing with speed and pace.”
Johnston is disappointed more Celtic fans were unable to attend the first leg at Windsor – about 200 were housed in the Kop Stand – but he doesn’t expect Linfield supporters to run into any trouble in Glasgow.
“I am surprised Celtic fans were not at the game in significant numbers as Cliftonville supporters have been able to go there with no trouble and I feel sorry for the Irish fans who have to travel to watch Celtic and missed out here but perhaps the club were worried about trouble,” he added.
“I can’t see there being any trouble in Glasgow, I’ve been to a few Old Firm games and they are well policed with little hassle.”