Belfast Telegraph

Why Celtic boss Neil Lennon's charity work kicks his critics into touch

By Gail Walker

It's an understatement to say that Celtic manager Neil Lennon is not everyone's cup of tea. And it's also true that many of the negative attitudes towards him are just plain Neanderthal, based on sectarianism at worst or thick-headed sporting prejudice at best.

Scottish football still exerts a powerful influence in Northern Ireland and it's well known that the respective 'cultures' represented by Celtic and Rangers can have far-reaching impact upon the less sophisticated among their supporters. Last year's bullets and bombs saga was horrific and two thugs are currently awaiting sentence for their part in the attacks.

But it's also fair to say that, where his job is concerned, Neil is not one of nature's diplomats. Always solid, abrasive and bullish as a player, he brought those qualities to his role as manager of Celtic and has taken his fair share of flak for his touchline behaviour. Unsurprisingly, though, that's not the whole story. Neil's gesture last week in joining Sir Ian Botham for part of his charity walk in Glasgow for research into blood cancers was part of the Ulsterman's frequently unsung role as a civic figure. His good friend Stiliyan Petrov, now captain of Aston Villa and former Celtic player, was recently diagnosed with leukaemia and Lennon's participation in the Botham walk will help raise the profile of the disease. It's a responsible thing to do, using the celebrity of his role at Celtic to further good causes. Still, the sight of Neil Lennon with a Botham bib bearing the legend 'Beefy's Great British Walk', might take some in Northern Ireland by surprise and, because he's one of us, it won't have gone unrecognised by Neil himself.

Some might think it's petty even to notice such things. Others might say it just shows what can happen when people leave these shores for other, bigger cultures (though Neil's recent experiences in Scotland make that argument less convincing).

I prefer to see it as another one of those small deliberate gestures which help make things better for us all. It's about pulling on the bib and focusing on the bigger picture.

Well done, Neil.

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