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Home » Sport » Football

Lennon fits bill for Scotland’s hate mob

There is a clip doing the rounds of the jovial Scottish comedian Kevin Bridges speaking at Celtic's recent end-of-season awards do. "A big hand for Lenny," says Bridges. "I wasn't sure he was here tonight... just when I showed up and saw five armed response units and a fighter jet..."

There is something to be said for making a joke out of a grim situation, but there is no black comedy to be found in the crazed people who continue to stalk Neil Lennon with so much hatred you can almost smell the pent-up fury seeping from their pores.

The latest fruitcake in leisurewear - a sort of martyr to mindless mob culture - decided to unfurl himself when Celtic potted their second goal against Heart of Midlothian on the way to a conclusive, but largely immaterial, 3-0 win at Tynecastle in the Scottish Premier League on a rancid Wednesday evening.

Lennon was naturally rejoicing in the moment when it all got too much for one home fan, who arrived unmarked in the technical area to attack the Celtic manager. There seems to be some debate as to whether or not Lennon got a couple of kicks of his own away. Good for him if he did. In this day and age, it is a little wonder that the assailant is not filing for criminal injuries against the Celtic manager.

The cowardly mob of hate who stalk Neil Lennon in public, on the internet, through the letter box and now inside football stadiums need to be smoked out of their caves by the authorities. The vast majority of decent citizens in Scotland must be getting pretty fed up with this unnatural fascination with Lennon. Why can't they let this man be?

Why can't people of all religious denominations, of different creeds and cultures, live together in harmony in Scotland? Diversity is what makes a country great. Sadly, there is a warped minority in Scotland who continue to hark back to useless wars from centuries ago. They will not let this lie.

These people are the dregs of society, and hellbent on ruining the country for those who pursue a healthy and tolerant setting for their loved ones. Lennon suffers from bouts of depression in his personal life. He has seen all this before, but how much more can a young man with a young family take? Perish the thought, but what if the lone raider had been carrying a blade? All of this hostility could yet provide a tragic ending if people do not come to their senses. 

Lennon is under 24-hour police protection, has been sent bullets from Northern Ireland and a live parcel bomb. His lawyer and a politician who wore a Celtic strip in the Scottish Parliament were also sent a package. The bomber is still out there. 

Three years after he was kicked stupid in a Glasgow street, he is assaulted in an Edinburgh football stadium while trying to go about his business before the glare of thousands. Death threats are commonplace in Lennon's life. He retired from international football in 2002 after receiving them in his homeland.

He deserves so much better than this, but he is not going to see it in 'modern' Scotland, a country that is struggling badly to rid itself of the stain of bigotry, sectarianism and an air of increasing aggressiveness. "We hate Neil Lennon, and we don't care," is the shout from the mob. 

The latest incident involving Lennon represents more than just an attack on a football manager. It symbolises an attack on a culture, a people, a race and a religion. It represents an attack on a high-profile Roman Catholic, a Northern Irishman living in Scotland who happens to make his living out of managing a club in Glasgow that was founded by an Irish priest to help the poor in the Glasgow's East End over a century ago.

More importantly, it is as an attack on decent, civilised society.

Lennon was like a Christian in the lion's den at Tynecastle. In a sense, the episode at Tynecastle outlined the fact that this problem is not confined to Glasgow. Rangers get singled out for their loathing of Lennon when most sensible thinkers know that Lennon is subjected to this type of behaviour across Scotland from the hamlets of Ayrshire to the villages of the Lothians. 

Hearts should be hammered for failing to protect Lennon. They know that there is an element of their supporter base who will always be at odds with Celtic. This is particularly prevalent when Lennon is in the visiting technical area. Having come across him once or twice on my travels, I have always found Lennon to be nothing other than courteous.

Any decent human being has to feel for this man. Osama Bin Laden would have felt safer in Scottish football throughout this ghastly season. 

Those who continue to trot out the line that he brings it upon himself are as much a part of the problem as the solution. Lennon may have the ability to irritate, but he provokes no more reaction than Sir Alex Ferguson, who has managed to survive 25 years at Manchester United - a club comparable to Celtic in terms of history, demands and supporter base - without threats of physical violence. 

Lennon has become much, much more than a pantomime villain in a sporting context. He is loathed for who he is, who he works for and what he stands for. It used to be said that Roman Catholics voted for the Labour Party, but it seems that a number of Catholics in the central belt have finally trusted Alex Salmond's Scottish National Party.

It is time for the re-elected First Minister, a Hearts fan of all things, to send a clear message that racism and bigotry against fellow Scots will not be tolerated. Actions not words are going to solve this problem.

If Lennon is forced to leave his job because of a fear for his own life, what does that tell us about Scottish society? Celtic would have to consider their position and future role in Scotland.

If a club cannot appoint a man for fear of him being hounded out of the job because of what he represents, then what is the point of being part of such a league? Lennon may not be manager of the year, but he deserves a greater accolade: he is a man of the year for the resolve he has displayed in these dark times.


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