Lennon attack leaves Scottish game in gutter says ex-Celtic star Walker
Published 22:59 12/05/11 By Neil McLeman
Scotland's season of shame reaches its climax on Helicopter Sunday with the reputation of the game north of the border “in the gutter”.
And Hoops boss Neil Lennon will again be man in the middle.
The outrageous pitchside attack on the Celtic manager during Wednesday night’s victory at Hearts was yet another low point during his first full season in charge of the club.
In January he was sent bullets through the post. And yesterday two men from Ayrshire were questioned by police over parcel bombs sent to him last month.
Lennon’s Tynecastle attacker – John Clark Wilson, 26 – was yesterday banned for life by Hearts and charged with breach of the peace and assault, both aggravated by religious prejudice.
The Northern Ireland Catholic is no stranger to controversy.
As a player, he pulled out of an international in August 2002 after receiving a death threat from a paramilitary group. And he has twice been attacked in Glasgow and knocked unconscious in September 2008.
But after several years of relative calm in the tribal world of Glasgow football, the poisonous hatred shown towards Lennon has reached new heights since he took over in the East End.
Former Celtic and Bolton striker Andy Walker said: “The Scottish game is in the gutter. I don’t know how he [Lennon] copes with it all. Clearly you have to ask: ‘Why is Neil Lennon so demonised?’”
Martin O’Neill, who signed Lennon from Leicester in 2000, was a voluble Northern Irish Catholic managing Celtic, but he never attracted the same abuse.
The 39-year-old Lennon is a complex character who revealed in his 2006 autobiography a long battle against depression. Friends insist that he is intelligent and good-humoured company.
But as he showed while cupping his hands to his ears at the Rangers fans at Ibrox last month, he enjoys playing the pantomime villain. And if it is all a game to him, others do not understand the rules.
The tension has been increased this season across the board.
Celtic chairman John Reid and chief executive Peter Lawwell – who should be calming influences – have fuelled traditional paranoia about referees this season.
Rangers have been punished by UEFA for sectarian chanting by their fans. And Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov, who once claimed Scottish football was run by the mafia, hates both sides of the Old Firm equally.
Lennon was sent off during Celtic’s last visit to Tynecastle in November and the atmosphere was fuelled by his pre-match suggestion that Hearts had not tried against Rangers last weekend.
Extra stewards were hired but could not stop Wilson from climbing out of the stands, running 15 yards along the track and throwing a punch at Lennon before police intervened.
Former Celtic star John Hartson said: “He’s a little bit controversial but so is Sir Alex Ferguson, so is Arsene Wenger. It’s passion.
“You look at Jose Mourinho, who was sent off against Barcelona the other week.
“You look at the rivalry there, but the Barcelona fans are not attacking Mourinho.”
Lawwell yesterday claimed the “ongoing campaign of hatred and intimidation” against Lennon was “Scotland’s shame”.
He added: “We are the only club to be the subject of such vile, sustained and relentless attacks.”
Celtic fans now fear Lennon, who has a wife and family, will walk away after the Scottish Cup final against Motherwell on May 21.
But last night Lennon’s agent Martin Reilly said: “Neil is shaken about the whole thing, but he won’t be driven out of Scotland. He won’t throw in the towel.”
LENNON'S REIGN AT CELTIC: CONTROVERSY ALL THE WAY
March 24 2010 - Neil Lennon appointed Celtic caretaker manager following sacking of Tony Mowbray. Appointed full-time on June 9.
Oct 17 - Referee Dougie McDonald changes his mind about giving Celtic a penalty at Tannadice. Assistant referee Steven Craven resigns while McDonald is warned by SFA.
Oct 24 - Celtic write to SFA over award of penalty by referee Willie Collum to Rangers in Old Firm game.
Nov 18 - Speaking at club’s AGM, Celtic chairman John Reid calls for Dougie McDonald to resign – or be sacked. Scottish referees go on strike and McDonald retires 10 days later.
Jan 9 2011 - Packages of bullets posted in Northern Ireland sent to Lennon and player Niall McGinn.
Jan 11 - Lennon given six-match touchline ban after he is sent off in 2-0 defeat at Hearts. Later reduced to four.
March 2 - Lennon and Rangers assistant Ally McCoist separated by police after a touchline tussle following Celtic’s win in Scottish Cup replay. Three Rangers players are sent off and 34 arrests made at Celtic Park. Lennon gets four-match ban.
April 19 - Royal Mail confirm intercepting a two “viable” liquid-based parcel bombs addressed to Lennon and two high-profile Celtic fans.
April 24 - After goalless draw at Ibrox, Lennon cupped his ears to the Rangers support. In the post-match press conference, he said: “Don’t ask me about that. It’s called humour. Don’t even write about it.”
May 8 - Celtic’s win over Kilmarnock leaves them a point behind Rangers with two games to go. Lennon said: “We have two games to go and anything can happen. What we’re looking for is somebody to compete, to give Rangers a game as there’s not been much evidence of that in their two previous games.” Depleted Hearts had lost 4-0 to Rangers the day before.
May 11 - Lennon is attacked by a fan pitch-side during his side’s 2-0 win at Tynecastle.