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Spiers on Sport: Imagine if Celtic had 'done a Legia'…

Had it been Celtic who had been bounced out of Europe on a Bartosz Bereszynski-style admin glitch - having beaten Legia Warsaw 6-1 over two games - I'm guessing the club's response would have gone something like this.

Peter Lawwell, the Celtic CEO, would have been apoplectic with the injustice of it. So, too, the club's supporters. And the Scottish media would have been urged in the strongest terms to try to overturn this affront to decency and fairness.

Lawwell, once he composed himself of his fury, might have written to Legia in words not dissimilar to the following:

My Dear Legia

These are hectic times in football, when we are all striving for fraternity and fair play. In this spirit, and in the name of sporting integrity given my club's 6-1 aggregate win over you in the recent Champions League qualifier, I urge you to forfeit your place in the next round of the tournament, and thus send out a message to the football world that, ultimately, fair play and success are rewarded. I am sure you will see the moral right in what I am saying.

Yours,

Peter Lawwell

In fact, Celtic would have gone into overdrive to overturn such an unfair turn of events. I can almost hear the squealing and indignation had the boot been on the other foot in this otherwise black comedy.

Celtic lawyers sent to Nyon, to the Court of Arbitration, the lot. The SFA getting dragged into it. This would have been nothing less than a moral crusade.

Let's not hide the fact: Legia were negligent. They made a mess of a simple - and pretty dull - piece of administration in Bereszynski's eligibility. The rules are there and Legia broke the rules.

I would have been staggered had Uefa announced today that, having considered all the evidence, they had decided to reinstate Legia on account of compassion or some sort of 'now don't do it again' ruling. You cannot govern sport by introducing rules and then ignoring them.

That said, it is little wonder that Legia's fanbase and the Polish media have introduced their campaigning 6-1 placards and 'Let Football Win' hashtag. Purely in terms of football, this is an affront to fairness, given the way Legia thoroughly humbled Celtic over two legs.

The cruelty of it on Legia's part is rubbed in due to the paltry three or four minutes Bereszynski actually played as a substitute over the entire 180 minutes of the tie. The punishment so great, the crime so puny.

Should Celtic consider the "honourable thing" and allow Legia to proceed in the tournament, at their own expense? There is a moral case for saying they should - of course there is - but they most certainly won't.

Scarcely a football club in the world would do such a thing. Morality is one thing, and ordinarily, Celtic might love to enact such a principle. But money is something else and there is lots of it - potentially up to £20 million - at stake to Celtic on this

As Fergus McCann once jokingly quoted in a separate context: "Principles? I can't afford 'em."

The luck Celtic have enjoyed over all this has been unbelievable. Ronny Deila has had an uncomfortable start to his career as Neil Lennon's successor, and his team's wretched play over two legs against Legia warranted no reward whatsoever.

And yet, Deila and Celtic now face Maribor over two legs to determine whether, against all the odds, they can enjoy a 2014-15 Champions League ride. It has beggared belief.

Having enjoyed all this slice of good fortune, Celtic had better brace themselves for much crowing and schadenfreude should they eventually come a cropper, either against Maribor, or in the Champions League proper. The club's detractors will now be pining for them to fail.

And at some point in the future, for sure, Celtic will face a situation where they will be on the receiving end - Legia-style - and will feel the blunt boot of "the rules".

When that day comes, I hope the Parkhead club will have the decency to rein in their protests, and take their medicine.

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