Belfast Telegraph

Celtic boss Neil Lennon stays focused on his job as bomb probe police warn other key figures

By Anne Madden

Celtic boss Neil Lennon was back on the job last night at Rugby Park in Ayrshire despite being targeted by parcel bombers.

Security around the Celtic boss and players was said to have been “stepped up”, though no details were given.

Lennon was visibly moved by the emotional welcome he was given by the visiting fans.

However, the former Northern Ireland international from Lurgan also appeared defiant and focused on his job as Celtic had a comfortable 4-0 win against Kilmarnock in last night’s Scottish Premier League clash.

However, off-pitch the 39-year-old manager, who has been dogged by numerous death threats, was bound to be troubled by the latest attempt on his life.

Scottish police are working with the PSNI to hunt down the parcel bombers who targeted the Celtic boss, his lawyer Paul McBride and Celtic-supporting Labour MSP Trish Godman.

They have also warned everyone connected with the club to be on alert.

Police have stopped short of labelling the attempted bombings as having a sectarian motive, though that remains a strong line of inquiry as there is an undercurrent of sectarianism in Scotland and in football, particularly between Celtic and Old Firm rivals Glasgow Rangers.

They have also warned other high-profile figures to be on their guard, including Peter Kearney, the spokesman for Scotland’s most senior Catholic cleric, Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

He claimed last year that there was “deep, wide and vicious” anti-Catholic feeling in Scotland.

Lennon was attacked in the street in Glasgow in 2008, and has had bullets sent to him in the post, while threatening graffiti directed at him has appeared in Northern Ireland.

Websites calling for his death have also been set up.

In 1980 a pitch battle at Hampden Park between Celtic and Rangers supporters led to a blanket ban on alcohol at all Scottish grounds.

Rangers have recently incurred the wrath of UEFA over alleged sectarian singing, and there are fears that the scourge of sectarianism may again be bubbling to the surface.

Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell has appealed to supporters to stay calm and only respond through support for Lennon.

“Neil Lennon is a football manager who simply wants to carry out this role to the best of his professional ability,” he said.

Mr Lawwell called for “this horrific ongoing campaign” against the football manager and other Celtic personnel to end.

“Celtic, from our inception, has been a club open to all,” he said.

“We enjoy friendship and respect throughout the world yet, here in Scotland, we are caught up in these vile events.”

There was widespread condemnation of the bombers from politicians, police and senior football figures last night.

Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers issued a joint statement last night condemning the attacks.

First Minister Peter Robinson described the attacks as “disgusting and cowardly”.

“The people who carried them out do not represent wider society, they are a small minority consumed by bigotry and hatred who have nothing to offer but misery and pain,” he said.

Martin McGuinness added that “genuine soccer fans want nothing to do with the attacks”.

Earlier Prime Minister David Cameron said “the full force of the law should come crashing down” on whoever is responsible for sending the bombs.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond described the bombs as “disgraceful” and said the cabinet sub-committee had met to ensure the police investigation had “every possible support”.

UEFA president Michel Platini expressed his concern about the attacks, saying “religion and politics” have no place in football.

Rangers chief executive Martin Bain said the club was “utterly appalled” by events.

“Such behaviour is to be condemned out of hand,” he said. “These acts have no place in society and no place in football.”

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