Neil Lennon wants Celtic’s Europa League clash with Lazio at Parkhead on Thursday night to be “a celebration of football”.
There are some concerns around the tie after it was confirmed that the return match will be played in a partially closed stadium after the Serie A club’s fans were found guilty of racist behaviour by UEFA during the 2-1 Europa League victory over French club Rennes at Stadio Olimpico earlier this month.
The Celtic manager, in the wake of racist problems experienced by some England players in Bulgaria recently, had expressed concerns that there could “possibly” be similar problems when his side visit Rome and claimed he would encourage his players to walk off the pitch if they are ever subjected to racial abuse.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that specialist police are flying to Scotland in a bid to keep an eye on Lazio’s travelling ultras but Lennon is looking at the positives.
“I’m hoping tomorrow is a celebration of football between two great clubs,” said the Hoops boss at the pre-match press conference at Parkhead.
“In the main I think Lazio have a great support. There are always a minority who want to overshadow the game, make noise for the wrong reasons or put a stain on the game.
“I’m hoping that’s not going to be the case tomorrow night. I’m hoping at the end of the game we’re talking about the great atmosphere against two great sides playing in a great game of football.
“There is an underbelly now of racism, not just in Italy but we’re seeing it in eastern Europe as well and we want to eradicate that as quickly as possible because I have a duty of care to my players and I want them protected.
“They’re here to play football, it doesn’t matter what the colour of their skin is or what their background is. They’re here to play for Celtic and as far as we’re concerned we’re a club that’s open to everybody.”
Attacking midfielder Ryan Christie, who is eligible to play amid a two-game domestic suspension for for his red card against Livingston, backed his manager up with regards possible action in the face of any racism.
He said: “Obviously, first things first, if racial abuse becomes a part of this game then it’s up to UEFA and the referees to make a decision.
“I’d obviously have no qualms about walking off the park. I think the manager said he’d be happy for us to do it.
“I think in this day and age it’s probably going to need strong stances like that to really put a message across and try and stop it.”
Lennon, though, would much rather the game will be counted among the “great European nights” at Celtic Park.
The Scottish champions head into the game sitting top of Group E after drawing with Cluj and beating Rennes in their opening two matches.
The Hoops also beat Ross County 6-0 at Parkhead on Saturday to go back top of the Ladbrokes Premiership.
The Northern Irishman said: “I think it’s a great game for all the fans to look forward to, and certainly the players.
“We’ve made a great start to the group, we’re playing very well and off the back of a great victory at the weekend, the anticipation is building for this game.
“It’s hopefully going to be one of those great European nights here at Celtic Park.”
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