Celtic try to play down Atletico rift

Celtic have moved to avoid walking from one Europa League controversy straight into another by attempting to smooth relations with tomorrow night’s opponents, Atletico Madrid.

Shortly after their position in the group stages was confirmed by UEFA, the club issued a statement designed to move on from a tumultuous past meeting with the Spaniards.

Former Celtic captain and manager Billy McNeill last week described Atletico as “scum” in reference to his team’s elimination from the 1974 European Cup semi-finals. Atletico had three men sent off and seven booked in an infamous first leg at Parkhead, with winger Jimmy Johnstone the victim of especially brutal treatment.

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The club’s chief executive, Peter Lawwell, said: “A lot has been said about previous meetings between the clubs and we absolutely understand that passions can run very high, but regardless of what has happened historically, we now have a responsibility to ensure that Thursday evening is a celebration of football. We are in a new era and we enjoy good sporting relations between the clubs. We have full respect for Atletico Madrid, the team, and those who manage the club.

“On Thursday we hope both sets of supporters enjoy the occasion and we are sure that Celtic supporters will do what they always do and continue to uphold the great name and reputation that they have earned.”

Celtic manager Neil Lennon added: “Our fans have shown time and time again how to back their club positively, how to make new friends and enjoy some great footballing occasions. This is something which has been recognised by both UEFA and FIFA. We know our fans will want to go to Madrid on Thursday with the intention of enjoying the match.”

Celtic flew out to Madrid unsure whether Sion will carry out their plans to join them despite their expulsion from the tournament for fielding ineligible players in their play-off win over Lennon’s men. Sion secured a Swiss civil court ruling in their favour before UEFA’s appeals body upheld the organisation’s earlier decision to throw them out.