Celtic fan apologises for vile 'I hope you die in your sleep' abuse of ex-Rangers striker Nacho Novo at Belfast airport

Celtic fan apologises for vile 'I hope you die in your sleep' abuse of ex-Rangers striker Nacho Novo at Belfast airport

A CELTIC fan who filmed himself subjecting Rangers legend Nacho Novo to "vile sectarian abuse" at Belfast International Airport has expressed his deep regret over the incident.

Novo, 39, travelled to the city on Saturday to attend a cross-community event held by East Belfast FC's academy when he was confronted by Hoops fans at arrivals.

The Spaniard, who also played for Glentoran and is a frequent visitor to Northern Ireland, initially laughed off the abuse from one supporter who sang "I hope you die in your sleep Nacho Novo".

However, in a second clip taken shortly later outside the airport, Novo is seen approaching the man and asking why he "disrespected" him, saying he had done nothing to deserve the abuse and that he "was not scared of him".

It comes after former striker Novo, who spent six years with Celtic's arch-rivals in Glasgow, suffered a suspected heart attack earlier this year after playing for Rangers Legends at a tournament in Berlin.

Last night, the Celtic fan involved offered an apology to Novo for his "indefensible behaviour" - which saw both Celtic and Rangers fans condemn the incident after it sparked a social media storm.

In a statement via the Belfast Telegraph, the man said: "I had been over to watch football and had returned on the same day and I was the worse for drink.

"That is not an excuse but it is true. I’ve let myself down".

He added: "Since the incident went viral, I’ve had an insight into the effects of abusive behaviour.

"Threats have been made online and I can appreciate how upsetting the original incident was."

Posting on Twitter after the incident, Novo wrote: "Arrived at Belfast International Airport tonight to support the local community for all sides of the divide.

"As soon as I walked out of the airport I was surrounded by Celtic supporters that hurled abuse and tried to attack myself. I would like thank genuine Celtic supporter."

In a statement to BBC Northern Ireland, East Belfast FC - who hosted Novo for their academy's prize-giving day for players aged 11-12 on Saturday - condemned the "vile sectarian abuse" featured in the videos.

A spokesman said: "We are disgusted and angry that Nacho was subjected to a barrage of vile sectarian abuse.

"Not only does such behaviour have no place in sport, but it has no place within society."

The club called on the PSNI to investigate the incident.

They added: "Our young players had a fantastic day with Nacho as part of our exciting academy development plans.

"The progressive and inclusive work of East Belfast FC stands in stark contrast with the kind of narrow sectarianism perpetuated by the individual that launched a vicious tirade against Nacho, and worse still broadcasted his sectarian behaviour online."