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Neil Lennon: Thug who attacked me during Celtic match deserved a much tougher punishment

By Claire McNeilly

Published 20/11/2015

Then Celtic manager Neil Lennon is attacked by a fan during a match against Hearts at Tynecastle Stadium, Edinburgh, in May 2011
Then Celtic manager Neil Lennon is attacked by a fan during a match against Hearts at Tynecastle Stadium, Edinburgh, in May 2011

Neil Lennon believes the thug who attacked him on the touchline during a Celtic match got off far too lightly.

The former Northern Ireland captain added that he was shocked the Scottish courts ruled that the unprovoked attack by John Wilson at Edinburgh club Hearts' Tynecastle stadium in May 2011 was not motivated by sectarianism.

In September 2011, Wilson was cleared of assaulting former Hoops manager Lennon after an Edinburgh Sheriff Court jury found that the case against him was "not proven".

Instead, Wilson, who denied his actions were aggravated by religious prejudice against Lurgan-born Catholic Lennon, was found guilty of breach of the peace and served four months of an eight-month sentence.

He was, however, immediately released because he had been in custody since the day after the incident and had already completed more than half his sentence.

Speaking in detail about the incident for the first time, 44-year-old Lennon - who was subjected to several sectarian assaults and death threats during his time in Glasgow - said: "After the Tynecastle attack, I thought, 'There's got to be an outcry, there's got to be something done now'.

"Was there enough done? No, I don't think that there was. Basically, the four months that he [Wilson] was inside, they [the prosecution] said he had done his time by being in custody, so there was no more time to do. But the whole world saw what happened."

Lennon, who is now manager of struggling Championship club Bolton Wanderers, added he felt let down by certain sections of the media following the Tynecastle incident, which happened on live television and was later broadcast globally.

"Could they [the media] have done more about it?" Lennon asked. "It seemed to get to the point where the attitude was, 'It's Neil Lennon, he brings it on himself'. All that kind of nonsense.

"It was imbalanced and secular to the environment we found ourselves in.

"For instance, when I was sent the bullets in the post, you then had this, 'He brings it on himself' attitude in the press, and that I was an aggressive type.

"But Paddy McCourt and Niall McGinn [two Northern Ireland internationals playing for Celtic at the same time] got bullets in the post too.

"So what was the real reason behind it? We know what the real reason was. We were Irish Catholics working for Celtic and playing for Northern Ireland."

Lennon, whose comments appear in the updated paperback version of Celtic: Keeping the Faith, by Richard Purden, added: "Everyone refers to Scotland's shame [over Tynecastle], but not a lot of people did a lot about it."

Wilson, who had three previous convictions for breach of the peace prior to the altercation with Lennon, sent a letter to the Ulsterman apologising for his actions during the SPL match.

He also denied calling him a "Fenian b*****d" prior to confronting him on the touchline.

Lennon retired from international football in August 2002 after a death threat before he was due to captain Northern Ireland in a friendly against Cyprus.

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