Rival fans mingle in the sun on match day

West Belfast turns green, white and red for big game

Cliftonville and Celtic fans enjoy the pre-match entertainment in The Rock Bar Cliftonville and Celtic fans enjoy the pre-match entertainment in The Rock Bar
By Ciara Quinn

West Belfast was a sea of green and white and red yesterday  as Celtic and Cliftonville partied side-by-side ahead of the big Champions League game at Solitude.

Indeed you were just as likely to hear a Glaswegian accent as a Belfast brogue as fans mixed in searing heat and visitors to the city from across Ireland, Scotland and beyond visited some of West Belfast’s best known attractions and most popular  local hostelries.

The atmosphere on the Falls Road was electric from early morning and many of  those who had caught the ferry crossing from Scotland made a beeline for the Belfast Celtic Museum in the Park Centre.

Hundreds of signatures filled the visitor book yesterday as fans stopped there to have pictures taken  and to admire the treasure trove of fascinating memorabilia.

Charlie Tully Jnr, son of Celtic legend ‘Cheeky’ Charlie Tully said it was great to see such an atmosphere on the road.

“People just get caught up in it all, Cliftonville Football Club have had such a great relationship with Celtic over the years and when the draw was made it was great to see that wee bit of financial security for them,” he said.

“It is fantastic to see a draw like this have the effect it has had that so many of us can see today.”

Gary Doonin, who travelled over from Blantyre, South Lanarkshire, with his 13-year-old son Paddy, told the Andersonstown News that he had always been interested in the history of Belfast Celtic.

“I just find it fascinating that it used to be the ground for the team and then it was a greyhound track. It’s hard to believe that I’m standing in a shopping centre,” he said.

“My father also had a greyhound stadium and the mechanical rabbit and traps actually came from here.

“Celtic’s pre-season hasn’t been great, to be honest with you, and I don’t think they will get it easy. Cliftonville will give them a hard time and I hope Celtic don’t treat the game as coming over here as a holiday.”

Éireann Go Brágh posters adorned the entrance to the West Club and with many fans enjoying a BBQ and sing-song in the sun,  Dumbarton’s Francis Hannaway told us: “I think the game will be close although I’m a Celtic fan through and through. I visited the superb museum earlier this morning and bought some mechandise. I’m here for the atmosphere, which is just brilliant. It is great to see so many people out enjoying themselves and I’m hoping for a Celtic win.”

As fans walked up the Falls Road towards the Rock Bar motorists tooted their horns and many local businesses entered into the party atmosphere.

Hundreds of Celtic and Cliftonville supporters packed into the Rock from early afternoon to mingle and sing ahead of kick-off.

Tired but happy Glasgow girl Louise Miller boarded the 4am sailing to make sure she would make the historic match.

“I think Celtic are going to have a difficult match, they have this reputation of being complacent and they could find themselves in trouble,” she said.

“Their pre-season has been terrible so far and it doesn’t bode well for tonight.

“Samaras has said he doesn’t like playing on a plastic pitch so he is already making excuses before he starts and he is pretty much the main goalscorer. I hope they just don’t think they can turn up.”

While those who had tickets made their way to Solitude in the early evening sunshine, others settled down to watch the game live on TV, with the Devenish laying on a Fan Zone boasting “the biggest screen in Belfast”.

But last word of the day went to the home side and Cliftonville fan Mo Forsythe. “I’m hoping the Reds squeak a 1-0 win and then they can park the bus at Celtic Park. I’m hoping Liam Boyce will score the goal.

“It’s a bit like David and Goliath but we shall see how it goes.”

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