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Neil Lennon is no quitter but this time it goes beyond him

Jim Gracey on how Celtic boss will respond to latest threat now the danger level and risk to others has risen

Bombs and bullets were never far away, growing up in Lurgan in the worst of times. How ironic they never affected the young, unknown Neil Lennon who carried on playing football on the streets of the nationalist Taghnevan estate while mayhem often reigned around.

Now, at the peak of his fame and success, the terror and tribalism he thought he'd risen above and left behind have returned to haunt him.

I've known Neil since he was a raw, 16-year-old kid, trying to make his way as an apprentice at a much less cash-rich and fashionable Manchester City than they are now.

And he has always been a fighter, overcoming adversity every step of the way to become a top player and now manager.

Doubts over his ability to even carve a career in professional football; a crippling back injury that threatened to wreck his dreams, dark bouts of depression, upheaval in his private life, and now this.

Bullets in the post, while frightening and intimidating, pose no physical threat. But a parcel bomb capable of causing injury?

That's taken the vicious and insidious campaign against his person to a level never before seen in British football.

It has moved from downright nasty and unpleasant to sinister, the latest twist amounting to terrorism.

If there was ambivalance before, a tendency to regard the hounding of Lennon as a manifestion of the prejudices of the worst types steeped in historic Old Firm bigotry, an exercise in publicity-seeking from which no real harm would come — and even that is to ignore the strain placed on Lennon and his family — then it is time to think again.

Those responsible require a response from the law in proportion to their actions . . . they are no different to the fanatics posing a threat in the name of a different religion. They need to be taken as seriously and similar security resources applied to tracking them down.

You can go to jail for as much as joking about a bomb at an airport... a real one in the post demands likewise.

But what of Neil Lennon? Can he handle it? How will he handle it? The Lenny I know would never shirk from a fight or a threat to his own person. He'd meet it head-on, as fiery red-heads of his ilk tend to do, with no thought for himself.

But these are unseen enemies he cannot confront.

And when the safety of family and friends is also endangered, he will consider that a different matter entirely.

It would go against every Neil Lennon grain to back down; to walk away from his dream job, at the behest of shadowy cowards not fit to lace his boots and who most certainly would not tackle him face to face.

What Lenny will look for is not so much a guarantee of his own safety but that those closest to him are not also at risk.

His decisions and future as Celtic manager hinge on the answers. All those who know and respect Lenny will vouch that he isn't the type to be cowed.

They will hope he carries on, not least to see his managerial ambitions fulfilled, and so that those who resort to threats and terror do not win, a mindset of which we are all too familiar.

It’s a convenient attitude to accept when you are not in the firing line. When your nearest and dearest become the collateral damage, no job is worth the candle.

That is what the Neil Lennon I know is now weighing up.

Belfast Telegraph

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