WHEN Ryan Christie’s friend sent him a screen shot of a story that revealed he had been cited by the SFA compliance officer for an incident in the Rangers game back in December he had no recollection of, he thought it was a practical joke as first.

The judicial panel hearing at Hampden last month, which Christie attended via video link from Celtic’s training camp in Dubai, proved to be no laughing matter.

“It was very strange,” he said at Lennoxtown last week as he spoke publicly for the first time about an episode one tabloid newspaper dubbed “Gooliegate”.

“I’ve heard guys talking about going into these things before to fight decisions, but it was never something I had been part of. It was so serious, it felt like I was in a proper court case, like I was going away to jail.”

Christie was, to the anger and bewilderment of everyone at Parkhead and many more in Scottish football, found guilty of violent conduct for grabbing the testicles of opposition striker Alfredo Morelos.

He didn’t receive a custodial sentence, but the two match ban the playmaker, who was recovering from surgery on a groin injury he suffered during the derby defeat, was handed was difficult to accept. He still finds it all perplexing.

“When I first heard about it I thought it was a wind-up,” he said. “I couldn't even remember the incident. I said that to the panel during the hearing. I didn't even realise where I had grabbed at the time.

“As soon as the game was done, it wasn't even a thought. Maybe 10 seconds after that tackle it was out of my head. It wasn't until I watched the footage back that I even realised my hand had gone there.

“He (Morelos) took the ball past me. It was an obviously a foul, but as soon as a player goes past you, your first reaction is to try to get your body, or something, between them and the ball. It just so happened my hand went there. It was all very strange when I got called back up. I didn't believe it at first.

“Obviously it was pretty bizarre to me. I've had plenty of people from across the football map get in touch and express their feelings about it as well.”

The warm weather break in the Middle East which the Scottish champions went on during the winter shutdown proved, due to the ban he was hit with and the fact he was unable to participate in any sessions, to be a disheartening experience.

“It was a wee groin thing,” he said. “I just felt the pain, saw the doc and he told me we had to go to the hospital straight away,” he said. “It was all a bit panicky. I was gutted with the way the game had gone anyway, so the last thing I needed was being rushed to the hospital and going straight under the knife.

“I had to go straight in after the match and get an operation. It was quite handy how quickly we got it done, because we got the winter break, and the trip to Dubai to let it heal without any games. I’m not saying the suspension was a good thing, but it meant I couldn't play in those games anyway so technically I didn't miss out on much.

“It's nice to be back after the break, the injury and obviously the suspension. I couldn't do anything in Dubai with the injury which was a bit frustrating, but I'm finally back and ready to kick on.”

Christie has been unable to reclaim his place in the Celtic starting line-up since returning to full fitness due to the form of his team mates.

Neil Lennon’s side have won all eight of their games, scoring 27 goals and conceding just three in the process, and pulled away from their city rivals in the Ladbrokes Premiership since play restarted after the winter shutdown.

The player is keen to put it all behind him and help the Parkhead club in their bids to progress in the Europa League, win a record-equalling ninth consecutive Premiership retain the William Hill Scottish Cup and complete a fourth straight treble.

“It's frustrating when you're on the sidelines and desperate to be a part of it,” he said. “It goes without saying you want the boys to do well and keep the run going, but you want to be part of it too. So it was good to come on and get the goal against Hearts this week and feel a bit more part of it again.”

Christie, along with many of his team mates, looked jaded in the 2-1 defeat to Rangers at the end of December. He had a penalty saved and failed to perform to his usual high level. The Scotland internationalist, though, feels his time out has revitalised him. He is itching to get back involved.

“It didn't do any harm,” he said. “Obviously I've got a job to get back in the team now. But I feel as fresh as ever. I've almost had another pre-season and I'm ready to get going again.

“We played a lot of games, and especially December, and towards the end of the month you're warming up for games thinking ‘I don't feel anywhere near 100 per cent here’. So when the break comes, you feel you need it.

“I’m confident I can get back to where I was. You need to keep working hard. It’ll always be the same at Celtic, when you drop out it's hard to come straight back in, you need to work your way there then do your thing when you get the chance.

“I hope I've still got a big part to play between now and the end of the season because there are so many big games, domestically and in Europe as well.”

The first leg of the treble treble winners’ Europa League last 32 double header against Copenhagen will take place in Denmark on Thursday evening and Christie is confident, after memorable wins over Cluj, Lazio and Rennes in the group stages, they can do well and progress

“I can’t wait,” he said. “It will be a really big tie.We were excited when the draw was made and we then put it to the side for a while. It has kind of crept up on us, but everybody is excited to go over there and hopefully get a good result to take back to Celtic Park. Everyone is desperate to play in those matches.

“Hopefully we can go further. We’ve said since the start of the season that we feel we have a point to prove in this competition. The gaffer has touched upon how Celtic needs to be thought of as a European giant of a club and for that to happen you need to have good runs.

“That’s what we are looking to do and go one further than last season. It was frustrating against Valencia last season because although we kind of held our own in the second game we let ourselves down in the first. We want to do better this time.”