HAVING to play matches behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic will be an unusual experience for the Celtic team when competitive football finally resumes at some point later this year.

Neil Lennon’s men are accustomed to taking to the field in front of full houses both at home and abroad and their large and vocal support always gives them a crucial edge.

Yet, for Leigh Griffiths, a high-profile player and prolific scorer who is invariably singled out for abuse by opposition fans, there will be a definite upside.

“It’ll be strange going to some stadiums away from home like Ibrox or Tannadice or wherever and not getting any stick,” he said. “It’ll be weird. I’ll be feeling quite good!”

Griffiths, who managed to put a difficult year that had been bedevilled by injuries and off-field issues behind him and rediscover his best form before football was suspended back in March, will be happy to be back in action regardless of the circumstances.

“I’ve been watching the Bundesliga and it is weird,” he said. “But, listen, there have been some really good games and I think everyone is just looking forward to getting matches back onto the TV.

“For us, it’s just about getting back to pre-season and, when the time comes around, we’ll see where we are in terms of the government and what their issues are at the time. It’s the guidance and as long as everyone complies, sport will come back quicker than if they don’t.”

Griffiths continued: “The quicker the fans get back to enjoy their teams playing football, the better. The game is all about the fans and, regardless of whether it is a home game or an away game, you want people there.

“When we have away games, there are often more Celtic fans there than there are for the home team. We want them back, but we need to comply with the government and we know our fans will be behind us, even if they are not inside the stadium and they are watching on the TV.”

The 2020/21 season will be another huge one for Celtic – they have the chance to complete the quadruple treble and then become the first side in history to win 10 consecutive titles next term – and Griffiths is certain they will be fully focused despite the absence of supporters inside grounds. 

“We’ll find our ways to deal with whatever happens,” he said. “We’ll go back next week into training and we’ll have a massive meeting about how big next season is and everyone will know.

“The fans are excited for it and so are the players. We know it is going to be tough and teams will want to stop us, especially Rangers. But it is just about what we do and we’ll concentrate on our own game.

“If you see practice matches at training, it’s usually 11 vs 11 with coaches standing at the side of the pitch, so it’s not going to be totally unusual. Of course it will be different without fans. But for us it is just going to be about going out and playing the games.

“It’s about getting three points or getting through to the next round of a competition. That’ll be the outlook and that’ll be the focus. We’ll look forward to each and, hopefully at the end of the season, we’ll be history makers again.”

Griffiths has kept himself in shape during the shutdown by following the training programme given to every player by the Celtic backroom team closely and admits he has high hopes for the forthcoming campaign.

The 29-year-old’s chances of playing at the highest level again were written off by some during the extended sabbatical he took from the game last year to deal with personal issues.

He proved his doubters emphatically wrong in 2020 after recovering from an injury and slotted home eight goals, including a hat-trick against St Mirren in his last outing before lockdown, in 13 appearances.

Having missed so much football he is determined to make up for lost time going forward and revealed that Celtic captain Scott Brown, who is set to turn 35 this month, is his inspiration. 

“I can’t wait to get going again,” he said. “We’ve had programmes to keep us ticking over and pre-season is going to be tough.

“You never, ever get three months off as a squad, but I wouldn’t actually say we’ve had three months off because we have all been cracking on with our own training ourselves.

“I gave myself two weeks in the middle, but straight away I didn’t feel the way I wanted to and decided to get straight back at it. But you don’t actually realise how long we’ve been off, so there might be some cobwebs.”

Griffiths added: “I feel as though I can keep going so long as I keep myself injury free. As long as I don’t sustain any bad injuries, I feel as though I have a long, long time to go and, hopefully, it’s at Celtic.

“People talk about Broony and as if he’d had a bad season and his legs had gone and that a change of manager revitalised him and he hasn’t looked back since. 

“For me, it was just getting my head straight and working on stuff that was causing me problems to try and come back and be as fit as I could be because you need to be really fit to play in this Celtic team.

“Being match fit is okay, but you need to be available for every training session to be available for selection. 

“It was tough at the start. I need to be training nearly every day. If I have a sustained period of time out, my fitness levels drop considerably. It’s easier to lose fitness than gain it and it was just trying to get back.

“I was one of only a couple who completed the whole of last pre-season and did every single session. I want to do that again this summer and make sure I am available to the manager from the start.”