15 May ~ For the second time in a month, Scottish football is making headlines around the world. Unfortunately, the first time was because “viable” explosive devices were posted to Celtic manager Neil Lennon and high-profile Celtic fans. The second occurred when Lennon was assaulted by a Hearts fan on the Tynecastle pitch on Wednesday night, as if in a deliberate attempt to prove that this level of football hatred is not unique to the west coast, and that, in terms of football, Scotland is not a civilised country.
In WSC 291 I documented the abuse Lennon has endured so far in Scotland (assaults, death threats, bullets in the post, hoax bombs). With the benefit of hindsight, maybe I should have waited a month. Also this week, Lennon has received another bullet in the post and seven people have been arrested on firearms offences outside Celtic’s training ground.
Has any other football figure in the world ever had to put up with such a sustained, serious and dangerous level of threats? From London to San Jose, the press are unanimous in what they see as unacceptable abuse of a football manager trying to do his job. Meanwhile, in the Scottish media, far too many articles on the threats to Lennon this season have featured attacks on Lennon’s behavior and insinuations that he’s bringing it on himself.
It’s true that Martin O’Neill – also an Irish Catholic – never received similar abuse while managing Celtic. But of what exactly does Lennon stand accused? He argued and swore at the officials at Tynecastle earlier this season. He’s complained about specific refereeing decisions that have gone against Celtic. He argued back to Ally McCoist when McCoist whispered something in his ear. He’s kicked some water bottles. And he cupped his ears at Rangers fans who were chanting “What’s it like to live in fear?” at him.
In short, he’s acted like many other football managers. And every one of these events has been blown up in the Scottish press, with the juiciest images and the most extensive possible coverage. A picture of him arguing with McCoist was by far the most common one used to illustrate a game in which three Rangers players were sent off – defender Madjid Bougherra grappled with the referee, striker El Hadji Diouf barged into the Celtic physio and McCoist had to be prevented from invading the Celtic dugout. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that large sections of the Scottish press have an agenda against Lennon. And harder still to escape the conclusion that too many idiots see this as legitimisation of their own hatred.
There are plenty of high-profile managers outside Scotland who are more controversial than the Celtic boss. Would Alex Ferguson or Jose Mourinho receive the same abuse in Scotland? I suspect not. What if they were Irish and Catholic, and managed Celtic? I don’t know. The only people who do know are those responsible for the death threats, assaults, bullets and bombs. Mark Poole