Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football Scottish

How does outspoken Neil Lennon deal with the silence of a sinister enemy?

By John Laverty

There are tens of thousands of people who want to kill Neil Lennon. You could fill a football stadium with them.

And for these people, their hatred for the Lurgan man is very real. The murderous intent isn’t, though; it’s implied, theatrical — and rather fleeting.

It rarely lasts longer than 90 minutes or so, then evaporates into the post-Old Firm ether.

Spleens fully vented, Lenny-baiting exercised to the extreme. Let’s hold those feelings until the next big fitba game.

But there are people out there who really do want to do the Celtic football manager harm.

Death threats? He gets those all the time.

It’s been nine years since the first really scary one, prior to a Nothern Ireland game, which, effectively, brought the curtain down on the midfield battler’s international career.

The writing had been on the wall — figuratively — when he’d been jeered by a section of his own fans a year earlier, shortly after signing for Celtic.

It has been on the wall — literally — ever since with the likes of ‘Lennon RIP’ and ‘You’re dead, Lennon’ daubed on many a gable either side of the Irish Sea.

His father Gerry even drove past a loyalist bonfire near Banbridge which had an effigy of his son in a Celtic shirt on top of it.

We have been told, rather blithely, that 39-year-old Lenny “laughs off” these things.

He wasn’t laughing, however, when a thug headbutted him on a Glasgow street in 2003, or five years later in the same city when he was knocked unconscious in an assault so vicious that some Scottish politicians ended up calling for the assailant to face an attempted murder charge.

And those bullets — and now those parcel bombs — are very real indeed, and no laughing matter.

The late Celtic legend Tommy Burns once said that, when you play for an Old Firm club, one half of Glasgow thinks it owns you and the other half hates your guts.

That’s especially true of a certain Neil Francis Lennon who, frankly, has given the blue half plenty to hate over the past decade by wearing his ‘Celtic-ness’ as a badge of honour.

His unseemly touchline spat with Rangers assistant manager Ally McCoist during that notorious night-time Old Firm game last month will have done little to endear him to Gers fans.

And many Northern Ireland followers will never forgive him for publicly supporting the idea of an all-Ireland football team; that, and not the fact that he’d just signed for Celtic, was what prompted those Windsor Park jeers back in 2001.

Scotland, like Northern Ireland, was never a place that needed much blue touch paper when it came to igniting sectarianism. A recent BBC Radio Five Live survey revealed that 13% of Scots said they had been subjected to sectarian abuse at some time in their lives.

It also revealed that Catholics were four times more likely to be attacked than Protestants.

Lennon said recently: “I’m a nationalist and a Catholic, but I’ve never rubbed it in people’s faces. Then, suddenly, I’m tarred with this tag — a kind of IRA-pumpin’ footballer. But I wouldn’t have played for Northern Ireland if that was the case . . .”

A frank and honest assessment — but you try reading that out, word for word, in certain Clydeside hostelries and see how far you get.

Lennon has often been accused of ‘talking when he should be listening’ and there are many referees in Scotland who have found themselves on the wrong end of an ear-bashing from Lenny.

None of this comes even close, however, to justifying physical assults or the mailing of potentially lethal devices.

As everyone in football knows, Neil Lennon does not scare easily. It’s difficult, however, not to imagine he’s more than a little concerned by these recent, sinister developments, especially when neither the culprits nor the exact motives can be identified.

Lenny can cope with the black and white — or, rather, the green and blue — world of ‘know thine enemy.’

This is, unacceptably, different.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph