Unfortunately, the main talking point was not a very polished and professional performance from Celtic but a disgraceful scene involving the Linfield fans and Leigh Griffiths.
Like everyone else watching on TV, I was shocked as an empty Buckfast bottle whizzed past the head of the Celtic striker and on to the park. But that shock turned to anger when the Spanish referee, Alejandro Hernandez, decided to book him for picking the bottle up and showing him it.
Hernandez should not be refereeing games at any level if he cannot take into account player safety on the pitch. That was a scary incident, and the bottle, or one of the coins or lighters thrown on, could have blinded or ended Griffiths’ career.
I know Leigh made a “5-1” gesture to the supporters in that corner, but is that really an excuse to throw a bottle at his head?
Hopefully CCTV footage catches those who threw missiles at Griffiths and they are banned for life. They tarnish the decent supporters of clubs who just go to watch a game of football.
Incredibly, there are some idiots of a belief that the player deserved it and that he provoked the fans into throwing the bottle and various other objects. Utter nonsense. Some people still maintain that players should not react at all to severe abuse and provocation they receive from the stands while they perform on the park. What? I’m sorry, but that doesn’t wash with me and never has.
If a stranger came up to you in the street and started verbally abusing you or your family, you would either stick one on their chin or phone the police.
Yet, because you are a footballer, you are expected to turn a blind eye to sickening taunts about your mother, your wife or your kids just because you are on a football pitch.
Now this was always a real bugbear of mine when I was still playing, in that certain sections of supporters like to dish out some horrendous personal abuse. Trust me, it can get very naughty. But if players respond or react, and give a bit back – and a “5-1” gesture is certainly not a grossly offensive gesture – fans resort to running to a steward, or a police officer to complain, or as we saw on Friday, go overboard by deciding to throw missiles at that player.
I saw that same gesture last Christmas Eve when Rudi Skacel, who was playing for Raith Rovers, was subbed near the end of a match against Hibs at Easter Road.
I have a well-documented soft spot for Hibs, but I didn’t have any problem whatsoever with his gesture as he no doubt took some merciless abuse from the home punters while on the park that day. He gave a bit back walking off. Big deal.
If you dish it out, you need to be able to take it back. It has to work both ways, within reason of course. When I was a player, a bit of banter with the crowd was part of the game. I really enjoyed it, in that, yes, I would get some serious abuse from opposition fans, but on the very rare occasion I scored a goal, I couldn’t wait to give them it back.
“What was that you were shouting? Well, have a bit of that!” was my attitude. They never had much to say after that.
A case in point was at Tannadice one day, when I decided to slide slowly down a pole behind the goal, bang in front of the Dundee United fans, after scoring a late winner for Hibs. There was a reason for that celebration.
This was directly linked with a well-publicised misdemeanour I had been involved in the week before, one that had taken place in what might be described as a gentleman’s establishment in Edinburgh. It should be part and parcel of football and a bit of light-hearted fun, but some take it too far.
For all that I have no problem with Griffiths’ 5-1 gesture, the same can’t be said of his decision to run up and tie a scarf to a goalpost at the end of the match. That is trying to antagonise people and is actually, in my eyes, disrespectful. He didn’t have to do that and he should cut it out. Celtic did the job. Just leave it at that.
I hope those who threw missiles are caught and an example is made of them, Behavious like that has no place in football.