The mere sight of Neil Lennon at the side of a football pitch has been sufficient to provoke responses so extreme that they have constituted serious risk – witness the assault by a spectator at Tynecastle in 2011 in his first spell as Celtic manager and again when he was struck on the face by
The mere sight of Neil Lennon at the side of a football pitch has been sufficient to provoke responses so extreme that they have constituted serious risk – witness the assault by a spectator at Tynecastle in 2011 in his first spell as Celtic manager and again when he was struck on the face by a coin at the same ground while in charge of Hibernian during the Edinburgh derby last Halloween.
In the aftermath of the latter incident, Lennon was visibly angered by suggestions that he “brings it on himself” by his public utterances and animated demeanour – one such critic was former Celtic defender Gary Caldwell – and he retorted with the irreproachable fact that no such violent attention was directed at him during his spells in England with Manchester City, Crewe Alexandra, Leicester City, Nottingham Forest or Wycombe.
No dispassionate observer can avoid the conclusion that the Northern Irishman has been the subject of sectarian abuse peculiar to his homeland and also parts of Scotland but, ahead of the fourth and final Old Firm derby of the season at Ibrox tomorrow, Lennon made a potent claim based on the experience of his playing days.
When asked if he got a kick from being the object of execration by the Rangers support, he said: “I’d much prefer to be playing, but do you get a kick out of it? Yeah, you do – because they fear you. That’s why you get all the abuse. If I was just a run-of-the-mill player, they would just disregard me. I think there is a certain element of fear within them when it comes to me.”
Nor did Lennon hold back on the vexatious topic of a guard of honour in recognition of Celtic’s status as Scottish champions for the eighth successive season. Rangers this week rejected the notion that they would applaud their arch-foes on to the field at Ibrox and, although Steven Gerrard described his own thoughts on the subject as “not important”, Lennon was not inclined to be emollient.