With Celtic facing Linfield on Friday, we thought we'd get a Northern Irish perspective on the game from Benjamin Roberts, author of a soon to be published book on the history of Northern Irish. Benjamin isn't a Linfield fan - lucky for him - but is well-versed on what's going on football-wise 'across the water'.
Firstly we spoke about the reaction in Belfast to the draw:
"The reaction in Belfast to the draw was generally positive, despite the security concerns most were happy for a high-profile 'British' tie as Linfield were unlikely to progress past this round whoever they faced."
Next, how important the game is currently to Linfield and how it compares to previous games in their history:
"Financially the game is huge for Linfield. Getting to this round was worth around more than half a million pound to Linfield in prize money and the gate receipts at Windsor Park (where, because it is a Champions League tie, the local price cap of £10 does not apply) means it could generate more than half a million pound in ticket sales at the 18,5000 capacity Windsor Park. Having said that, the Irish League is semi-professional and Linfield do not employ at full time players. Another couple of seasons reaching this stage of the Champions League may mean they could employ a number of professionals in a couple of years.
The game is the biggest In their modern history. Linfield did reach the quarter final of the European Cup during Celtic's Lisbon Lions season of 1967, and three years later they player Manchester City in the old Cup Winners' Cup, going out on away goals."
We then discussed matters off the field, and the situation involving Celtic refusing tickets for the game, and the reaction to this in Northern Ireland:
"In Northern Ireland the reaction to Celtic refusing tickets has been generally negative. Many local Celtic fans would have liked to have gone. Some others believe that things have moved on enough that it shouldn't be an issue, and still others simply wonder why football fans cannot be trusted to behave themselves. I tend to view these things quite pragmatically though, and knowing the history of Linfield ties with "Irish-Identified" teams I'm not surprised that Celtic came to the decision that they made."
Back to matters on the park, and how hostile the atmosphere will be at Windsor Park:
"It's important to say that Windsor Park is not as hostile as it was 25-30 years ago. Linfield began signing Irish Catholic players in the mid nineties and certain Irish League fixtures such as the one against Cliftonville can now be played in slightly more normal circumstances. However, you're still likely to hear things at Windsor Park that you wouldn't hear at any other ground in England or Scotland."
And as for what kind of team Linfield are:
"Linfield are semi-professional so the quality is not uniformly high. The Irish League is a very physical one and they will definitely have to reign in some of the harder challenges that simply won't get past a Champions League referee. In terms of players to watch out for, Linfield's goalkeeper Roy Carroll, now into his forties, used to be at Manchester United so will be used to nights like these, albeit largely on the bench. The goalscorer in Linfield's home tie with La Fiorita, Jordan Stewart, has just returned from a couple of years in England with Swindon. His grandfather, Phil Scott, was a Linfield legend in the sixties and he has a lot of potential himself."
Finally we asked Benjamin for his prediction for the game:
‘‘Linfield can only hope that they keep the score respectable. Even manager David Healy (who was once at Rangers - TJDS) accepts that his team have no chance."
Thanks very much to Benjamin for his answers. You can find his book "Gunshots & Goalposts: The Story of Northern Irish Football" on Amazon here, on the Google Play Bookstore here or you can order a paperback copy with a £1 discount using the code 'TJDS' until July 15th here and you can follow him on Twitter here.
Benjamin has kindly provided us with an extract from his book, dealing with the first Belfast Celtic game against Linfield in 1912, which you can read here.