THE dispute between the Old Firm, with Rangers refusing Celtic's supporters entry to Ibrox, has spilled over into a youth match which will be played at Ibrox this evening forcing Celtic to make the strongest possible protest to the Scottish Football Association.
Rangers, who claim Celtic's fans have been causing damage to their stadium over the past 10 years, are refusing to allow opposition supporters into seated areas during tonight's BP Scottish Youth Cup semi-final tie, a decision which has disappointed and angered the directors at Parkhead.
Rangers are demanding more than #7000 compensation from Celtic, claiming their fans caused damage to seating in the Broamloan Stand, and when the Old Firm meet at Ibrox on Saturday, April 30, there will be no Celtic fans in attendance.
However, Celtic's directors felt that the dispute would have been set aside this evening, when they say their supporters will be mainly family groups wishing to do no more than watch youngsters play in the under-18 cup competition. But despite negotiations, faxes, and approaches to the SFA, under whose auspices the BP cup is run, Celtic have been told they can use the east standing enclosure in front of the main stand.
Only if more fans than that area can accommodate -- 3462 -- turn up will Rangers allow part of the stand to be opened up to Celtic's fans.
Naturally, Celtic believe Rangers are extending the ban imposed for major games and came close to withdrawing from the tournament, but decided to play on because it would have been unfair on their own younger players, who will be trying to win a place in the final against Airdrie.
''However, we feel we must protest over the manner in which our supporters are to be treated at Ibrox for this match,'' said director Dominic Kean. ''After all, the youth cup is a time when we should be celebrating the good things in football, and should have nothing to do with the game's politics. People, families, want to go and watch their own playing a game.''
Jim Farry, chief executive of the SFA, said that, under the circumstances, there would be a degree of sympathy for Celtic within the association and added: ''Two heads need to be knocked together, one at Ibrox and the other at Celtic Park. Someone should be doing the knocking, and soon.''
Relations between the clubs could be improved at the weekend when Brian Dempsey returns from the US.