Earlier this week, Neil Lennon stepped down as manager of Celtic after a four year tenure by considerable success/silverware…. and being abused if not physically threatened off the pitch. Calling Lennon, “the bravest man in Scotland”, the Guardian’s Kevin McKenna catalogs many of the incidents in question while explaining, “Lennon is a Catholic from Northern Ireland. He has red hair and a belligerent onfield demeanour that brooks no compromise. He never backs down. And then of course, he played for Celtic FC. For some in Scotland, this was a toxic cocktail that deserved a violent response.“
On one occasion, he was kicked to the ground by two assailants outside his favourite wine bar in one of Glasgow’s most desirable neighbourhoods. Most famously, he was attacked on the pitch in Edinburgh by a supporter of Heart of Midlothian. The incident was witnessed by millions watching live on Sky TV. In what must have been a world legal first an Edinburgh jury subsequently cleared his assailant.
Three years ago, two men from Ayrshire tried to blow up Lennon and his family by sending him a parcel bomb. A judge convicted them of a lesser charge. Others had attempted to send him bullets in the post. He was forced to stop playing international football for his beloved Northern Ireland because he and his family began to receive death threats immediately following his move to Celtic.
Since 2011, he and his family have received round-the-clock police protection at home and at his children’s school. During this time, Lennon was badly let down by every major organisation in Scotland that would normally have been expected to intervene as this extraordinary campaign of personal vilification was being played out before them. Let none be in any doubt about this: Lennon was hated for his religion and for his country of origin. Too many Scottish football writers either chose to ignore what was happening or, worse, tried to justify it by saying that, by dint of his belligerent demeanour, he brought much of it upon himself. The Scottish government simply chose to look the other way while a migrant worker in Scotland was being racially abused in front of them and the Scottish Football Association refused to intervene. Indeed, on the only occasion that they did so, they hit Lennon with an extraordinary ban as punishment for reacting angrily, but not violently, to something uttered quietly by Ally McCoist, his Rangers counterpart.