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The fans: 'It's the drop-down competition for a reason'

A long unfulfilling season stretches ahead for the Celtic support.

Denied Champions League football and unlikely to witness a significant challenge to their side's dominance in the SPFL Premiership, meaningful matches will be noticeable largely by their absence.

The Europa League group phase will offer moments of distraction from Celtic's domestic chores but even that comes at a price, with league games switched from a Saturday to a Sunday following Thursday nights in Europe. There will be some who deem it not worth the hassle, including those who travel sizeable distances to watch their team every week.

"Not making the Champions League and having league games moved as well will undoubtedly come into the thinking of those fans who travel long distances to games," said Neville Carolan, secretary of the Association of Irish Celtic Supporters Clubs. "It affects travel plans and the logistics of arranging everything. It could mean not getting home until midnight on a Sunday compared to a Saturday which isn't great if people have work the next day.

"There will also be some who will have already planned ahead and made travel arrangements and those will be up in the air too. It's far from ideal.

"I don't expect there will be the same keenness to travel over for Europa League games. It is the drop-down competition for a reason. It doesn't have that same appeal."

The feeling of disaffection among the Celtic support in general was evident at full-time on Wednesday when a couple of hundred stayed behind following the loss to Maribor to protest. The board of directors carried the brunt of their unhappiness after, in the eyes of some fans, failing to invest sufficiently in the team, but there has been criticism too for manager Ronny Deila and his players.

"All three areas of the club have come in for some stick," added Carolan. "I think supporters would have liked a bit more investment in the team. Over the last couple of years we've lost the spine of it. If you look back to the squad that beat Barcelona a few years ago we've lost the goalkeeper [Fraser Forster], and also Victor Wanyama, Gary Hooper, Kelvin Wilson and others. Against Maribor the other night there was a lot of inexperience there and even in the way the team was set up it didn't look like the sort of formation that you would expect to see from Celtic in a home European tie.

"You could say there was a risk in appointing Deila but then you look at Manchester United and Louis van Gaal and the result they had the other night just to show experience isn't everything.

"All the fans are frustrated at going out as we felt Maribor were there for the taking. The protest after the game was maybe a sign of that boiling over. There's frustration at the lack of quality investment in the squad. We've had a few loan deals here and there but it's hardly the sort of thing to inspire the fans."

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