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Comment: Neil Lennon is wrong to play religious card amid Tynsecastle coin storm

By Julian Taylor in the Sunday Life

Over the last few days we’ve been privy to the many sided reality that is Neil Lennon.

Depending on various points of view — and he is someone who divides opinion — the Northern Irishman is a figure who is either roundly abused and victimised due to his religion and identity, or a grudgeful man-child with a predilection for inciting aggravation at football matches.

During the dying embers of Wednesday night’s scoreless Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle, Hibernian manager Lennon noised up the Hearts fans when the hosts had a goal disallowed, before being hit by a coin from the main stand.

It was a shocking thing to witness, and Lennon is entitled to feel hurt and angry at what happened. No player or manager should have to put up with this disgraceful behaviour.

Nevertheless, Lennon’s need to crank matters up a notch, as he did during a Friday press conference, is puzzling. Apparently this all stems from what he insists is a big, ongoing sectarian problem in Scottish football.

It’s odd to see where Lennon is coming from, considering that sectarianism is very much a minor feature in Edinburgh derbies, certainly compared to its Glasgow counterpart.

Are we really to believe the moron who hurled a coin towards the Hibs dugout during moments of late drama was doing so out of religious bigotry, as opposed to fundamental club hostilities and a brain devoid of thought? Of course not. But it didn’t stop Lennon from using the assault as a platform for his views.

No-one is saying that the subject of sectarianism in the Scottish game should not be continually addressed but, in my opinion, it is generally nowhere near as bad as it once was. Lennon, clearly, would disagree. However, in small pockets where sectarian behaviour is rife, mainly within sections of Old Firm fan bases, it is pretty unsavoury and, as such, Lennon’s claim that it can be worse than it is at home has some substance to it.

In the Edinburgh context, basic tribalism is the driving force. On what was a depressing night, Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal was punched by a so-called Hibs fan and both assistant referees were struck by missiles. In this environment, Lennon chose to act like a highly-strung supporter, rather than a manager who should act with more decorum and responsibility.

That the ex-Celt was culpable of exuberant behaviour is beyond dispute. There wasn’t anything particularly offensive about Lennon’s derby night antics other than suggesting they were probably undignified. He certainly didn’t deserve to be struck with a coin. Or physically attacked, as he was on a previous visit to Tynecastle.

Lennon was just caught up in the moment putting the attention on himself. Man United boss Jose Mourinho, another strutting ego, does this all the time. Sadly, perhaps Scottish football has, proportionally, more idiots in the stands.

Still, Lennon is wrong to apportion the events of midweek as part of what he believes is some lingering campaign against him, especially when clubs are doing all they can to eradicate sectarian behaviour, as shown by the Hearts-Hibs joint statement in the aftermath.

Lennon also needs to consider the meaning of racism too. And where was this effigy of him outside Tynecastle that he claims?

Moreover, where this all tends to slip up was his admission that he is now apparently ‘considering’ his Hibs future following the ugly events at Tynecastle. It would be an ill-advised move to leave a club where Lennon has done well up to now, constructing a team which plays fine attacking football. Where would this leave his career path?

Because, crucially, if Brendan Rodgers decides to vacate the Celtic hot seat sooner rather than later, then Lennon, in the current climate, would be a leading candidate to replace him. Privately, his ego must be tempted for another crack at Celts and a slice of unfinished business. So I think we can assume Lennon will be staying at Easter Road.

For what feels like the umpteenth time since Wednesday night, everyone is condemning the dreadful scenes and what happened to Lennon. And we can be confident the coin thrower will be identified and punished. As will Zlamal’s assailant.

However, what many people with a sizeable ego fail to understand is that not everything is, or should be, always about them.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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