THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

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

Comments (9)
Comment by Jobi1 2011-05-15 09:01:01

You're quite right in that there are other managers out there who sometimes behave in a similar way to Lennon, however I think one of his problems is that as he only relatively recently finished playing, most of us can remember his on-field style too, which was also barely controlled violence to put it politely. His attitude and behaviour comes across as being in a constant state of aggression, always looking for a confrontation, and unfortunately there are many people out there willing to oblige him. That's the difference I would say between him and O'Neill - yes the latter was prone to say the odd daft thing and was often less than complimentary about referees, but he came across as quite a likeable, intelligent guy. Lennon I'm afraid comes across as a walking ASBO.

Of course none of the violence and threats against him can be condoned in any way, it's absolutely absurd and unacceptable the level it has now reached. However I don't think you can completely dismiss the effect that his own behaviour has on others. Aggression breeds aggression unfortunately, and while he still continues to behave the way he does, these problems will most probably continue.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2011-05-15 10:43:20

"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".

Absolutely spot-on - if only you'd changed it to "agenda against common sense breaking out" you'd have answered your own question. The agenda against Lennon by the media is the same agenda they've been perpetrating against any chance of relative peace between the Old Firm for the last 30 years. With so many hysterics involved on both sides it's not too difficult to ratchet it all up a notch on the back of one squabble or verbal dig at an opponent. Next thing you know the nutters who've never heard of Marshall McLuhan are taking it all at face value and sending out death threats. Copy will get copy as The Scottish Play puts it ...

The Sunday Herald Sports editorial today asks us to ignore the Lennon caricature and see the man - something I personally have never found very difficult to do (if we want to be cynical about it, which will probably make my claim more believable in an Old Firm context, I've always known the wee guy WANTS my hatred because it distracts from the game he's usually losing when he starts his "lets' trash the joint" antics) - but I also do the same when the Celtic support are singing IRA songs or are stood behind Allan McGregor , taking great delightin singing "who's the rapist in the red". This is not reciprocated when the Rangers support are singing equally ridiculous songs of hate and threat.

When Lennon left the pitch at Ibrox cupping his ears, one idiot reported him to the police. Rather than this illuminating the fact 40,000 Rangers fans HADN'T taken it that seriously, Peter Lawell/John Reid chose to jump on the one banger who had. When a few dozen Celtic fans disrespected a minutes silence at Ibrox in January, I chose to see it as meaning 7,900 Celtic fans HAD respected it ... and that a few hundred Ranges fans were so "incensed", in a very plastic way, that they too had disrupted the silence.

These are just small examples of turns in the road which both sides consistently fail to take. I would say the difference is that the threats on Lennon, which are obviously far more serious than orchestrated coughing through a minute's silence and as completely disgusting as they are cowardly, DO come from random nutters - like the guys who've attacked Fernando Ricksen, Andy Goram and Hugh Dallas on the pitch, even the guys who, back in the day, twice attacked Gordon Strachan the player or a Rapid Vienna player at Old Trafford - whereas Celtic's agenda against anyone and everyone who might be painted as responsible for cheating them out of trophies is actually club policy.

Martin O'Neill, I'd say, was the START of what Lennon is now enduring the nadir of. "I don't know how the Celtic support will react if we lose at Ibrox today - I know the SFA would never make Rangers play an Old Firm game straight after a UEFA Cup semi-final" (no, they didn't, Martin - they made us play TWO old Firm games, both at Parkhead, EITHER SIDE of our UEFA Cup semi but the main thing is, Celtic won them all so the implied riot was avoided).

Basically, we've had a decade of Lawell, Reid, O'Neill and co spinning any on-field set-backs or problems to look like they're part of a sectarian agenda. Hey - Rangers din't sign a Catholic, knowingly, for 80 years so there SHOULD be some pay-back for that and no-one's denying there is sectarianism out there (I know Catholic and Protestant children, already SO bitter they won't even go to the same school as each other) - but when it's now 22 years since we signed our first Catholic player and have had a Catholic manager and captain and thought nothing of it, there's maybe something equally sinister in the Celtic boardroom's apparent INCREASED determination to find sectarianism in other places and to then go to town on it. They're just politicians, man. Playing us all.

Surprise, surprise - after the years of them protecting their jobs by using the oldest tool in the Parkhead boardroom armoury, the conspiracy agenda (Something a devout West of Scotland Catholic like Tommy Burns never stooped to) - it has eventually come back to bite us all on the arse.

Lennon isn't just being attacked by mad "huns" - he's also been hung out to dry by a Celtic board which knew this horror show was coming, as half of Scottish football did when Lennon was appointed, but which knows martyrdom would be the greatest PR in the world to set against their previous failures to overtake a parlous Rangers. Win or lose the League today, it will still be all about Neil Lennon. That's not just correct and proper - it's also very, very handy.

Comment by lostcause 2011-05-15 11:55:56

The author is spot on here, the underlying reason Neil Lennon has been subject to the abuse, attacks, threats and murder attempts while at Celtic is first and foremost because he is identified as being a successful, confident Irish catholic.

Much progress has been made in tackling and overcoming anti Irish racism and anti catholic bigotry in Scotland over the past 20 years however it still exists, be that in the songs and chants from rangers, hearts, motherwell and other scottish clubs fans, in the calling for Celtic to resign from Scotland and go and play in the league of Ireland from former hearts chairman and labour MP, MSP and now Lord Foulkes or in the more subtle, 'he should keep his head down', 'he brings it on himself', etc attitude so prevalent in the scottish media.

Until the Scottish government, the police and lamentable 'anti-sectarian' organisations realise this, then their efforts now are doomed to the same failure of their predecessors.

Comment by Analogue Bubblebath II 2011-05-15 14:10:46

Good article, though it forgets to mention that Martin O'Neill did have one or two run-ins with the loyalist chimps who constitute part of Rangers' support base. For example, he had his garden vandalised and a Union Jack planted in it after Celtic lost the 2003 CIS Cup final to Rangers.

Alex Anderson is, as always, full of shit.

Comment by llannerch 2011-05-15 21:46:40

Protestants this....Catholics that...Yawn.

I'm curious, do any of them go to church?

Comment by JimDavis 2011-05-16 12:09:55

All this unwanted attention on Lennon the person is distracting the fact that in his time in charge his team have bottled every significant challenge that has come their way.

Last season he only had 1 important game as the league was already gone and he stuffed it up. This year he's stuffed up Europe and the league cup and then fell over in the league after doing the hard work.

Comment by TheRedMax 2011-05-16 13:28:52

Thank heavens for the Old Firm. It's only when reading the constant stream of conspiracy theories and paranoid ramblings from their followers that the rest of us who feed off the discarded scraps from their table get to enjoy a warm glow of superiority.
People of the world, don't be fooled...Rangers...Celtic...they are both cheeks of the same arse. Scottish football would be a better place without them, but I can't see the EPL taking them now, can you???

Comment by ChrisBud 2011-05-20 11:55:07

"the underlying reason Neil Lennon has been subject to the abuse, attacks, threats and murder attempts while at Celtic is first and foremost because he is identified as being a successful, confident Irish catholic."

That is quite simply not true. Quite aside from any debate about whether he is actually successful - the season to date would suggest that he is not - the last genuinely successful, confident (and intelligent) Irish catholic at the head of Celtic did not receive anything like the attention that Lennon does. Nor indeed has any other such player or manager in my living memory.

The description of Lennon as a walking Asbo is a very appropriate one. Ever since he was a player, he has looked to fan the flames rather than turn the other cheek - chatting back to idiots abusing him in his car, or giving the finger to people trying to provoke him in a bar. As a manager he has continued that with crass interviews and actions.

The original article and the apparently much-maligned Alex Anderson do both make some valid points. However, TheRedMax sums it up perfectly. Would that someone would take them!

Comment by erramacaroonbars 2011-05-28 11:30:39

"It’s hard to escape the conclusion that large sections of the Scottish press have an agenda against Lennon"?

Yeah, if you're suffering from terminal paranoia.

The bombs and the like directed at Lennon are terrible but it should never be forgotten that they are the work of a very small number of lunatics.

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