BRENDAN RODGERS has an affinity with Celtic stretching back to his childhood days.
So there was never any chance the Hoops boss was going to stand back and let his club be used as a political football.
Rodgers has all the time in the world for the Green Bridgade. He loves the noise and colour they generate at Celtic Park.
Yet his heart sank when he realised that the self-styled Ultras had depicted him as an IRA sniper during last week’s Linfield match.
For Rodgers, that was totally unacceptable, and he backed the Celtic board’s decision to ban the Green Brigade for two games after a Uefa charge.
Rodgers has urged the controversial group to leave politics at the front door.
He said: “I have been fortunate enough to be around British football at some big clubs and the top stadiums in my career.
“I can categorically say the atmosphere inside Celtic Park, not just from that section, is the best you will witness. The noise, the raw passion… everything.
“What the guys in the corner add is energy and youthfulness, which is amazing. Celtic have worked tirelessly over the years to become the first club in Britain to put in a standing section again.
“And 99.9 per cent of the time, the Green Brigade, along with the rest of the fans, give us this incredible support.
“But the political element is NOT acceptable. There are forums and platforms for that outside of football. Take that somewhere else.
“It’s not for inside Celtic Park. It’s not what the values are, it’s not about the ethos of what Celtic is, and it’s certainly not what I am about as a manager.
“The message is: ‘Just stick to football and supporting the team that you love’.
“I have huge admiration for them in terms of the support they give. But my honest feeling is I’m not with it.
“I’m very much aligned with the thinking of the board and the people who run Celtic, and the people who have to pay the fines.
“Celtic is a football club — nothing else. My opinion on it is totally aligned with the board.
“Celtic is known for its heritage and its charitable work, and football work.
“That’s what it’s all about, why it was started in 1888 and how it is to this present day.
“Celtic is not an arena for any supporters to come into and display any sort of political element. It is based around football.”
Rodgers grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles in the 1980s.
For the Green Bridgade to depict him in that fashion was taking a liberty.
Nobody will convince the Hoops boss banners of that nature, or flares, have any place inside a football stadium.
Rodgers added: “I was obviously saddened by what I’d seen. There isn’t a need for it.
“Some supporters might say: ‘Listen, no. There is a political element to football, and there is a basis there to tell a story’.
“They might do it other countries around Europe where this Ultra factor goes beyond football. But the governance factor in Britain is different.
“One of the big things for me is also the safety element.
“If you are putting flares up there in a ground, then you open yourselves to these things.
“People say: ‘It won’t happen’, but it can.
“My message is they are absolutely brilliant in their support and enthusiasm.
“These guys wake up in the morning and their first thought is Celtic. They think about it morning until night.
“They think of the great ways they can support Celtic, all the other banners and symbols they put out. The work is so admirable, and then they bring a great energy.
“But we don’t need to go down the other route.
“We are very much one club, we are in a great moment in our history as a club, and we hopefully have a real exciting moment moving forward.
“We want all the supporters to be in on that. We don’t want to be putting anyone out.
“But when there is maybe a risk for people and their safety at a football game, then the board have to look at it and be serious about it.”
The Green Brigade’s actions, the Uefa charge and subsequent ban has led to mixed views within the Celtic support.
The majority have backed the club’s stance, but there is an element claiming the punishment did not fit the crime.
Some have even declared Rodgers a TRAITOR for his stance.
Rodgers said: “I tend not to overthink it, but it has been front page and back page for a week.
“But the ambiance, energy and positivity around the club is very good and we want to maintain that.
“We have 55,000-odd other supporters who give us incredible backing, and other guys add to that with their energy, that’s what we want.”
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