Scottish football's dark day

We Scots complain that our league doesn’t get the headlines its English counterpart gets so regularly in the national media outlets – and when we do get headlines, it’s usually something negative. And so it goes again. After seeing our referees go out on strike or a manager be sent parcel bombs in the post, now we watch that same manager have to deal with a thug running into the technical area and attacking him.

How much is too much for Neil Lennon? The decent-minded are grateful he’s not only managed to keep his sanity, but that he hasn’t been harmed, physically at least. God only knows how he’s feeling mentally, but where does this madness end? The attack has been widely condemned by many within and outwith the football world, but as the threats continue – with a suspicious package, thought to contain a bullet, arriving at Celtic Park just this week – what is the end-game to all this?

Do the perpetrators simply want to scare Lennon out of Celtic, or do they want something far more sinister? The death threats suggest they do and it may come as some small relief that two men were arrested for their part in the nail-bomb that was addressed to the Celtic boss at the Lennoxtown training complex last month.

The result of that package was improved security for Lennon and his family – security  which was worryingly late as assailant John Wilson leapt over advertising hoardings at Tynecastle to lay into the Celtic manager. As many have asked, what if he was carrying a weapon, or a knife?

If the absolute worst-case scenario had unravelled in front of a watching television audience, where would that have left the game – not just in Scotland but worldwide? It brings a new dynamic to this campaign of hatred that someone managed to evade stewards and police and stand face-to-face with Lennon.

What has the man himself done to provoke such a reaction? To borrow a recent John Terry quote, Lennon isn’t “everyone’s cup of tea” – but he’s managing the team he supported as a boy growing up in Lurgan in Northern Ireland. It’s bad enough he had to quit international football as a player due to death threats; does he now have to walk out on Celtic too?

If Lennon walked out on Celtic due to the escalating campaign and concerns over his safety, no one would blame him. But by the same token, in that event we should all just give up and go home. Football is meant to be an escape from work and family commitments, but too many bring religion and sectarianism into it. It’s important to remember football is just a game.

Some say he doesn’t help himself with his conduct. I don't buy into that. How do you justify death threats and parcel bombs because someone is passionate about their football team? Maybe Lennon does play to the crowd to an extent, certainly more than his Parkhead predecessors. But then so does Jose Mourinho, wherever he’s gone.

In that respect, Lennon is no different to the Real Madrid coach and like his Portuguese counterpart, should be allowed to get on with his job. But some seem to have a problem with him being there and until that element is eradicated, Lennon has to find ever more inner strength for himself, for his family, for his players and for Celtic Football Club.

It’s disappointing that in a week filled with tributes and testimonials for an Old Firm manager who leaves his post after years of service to the club, his rival on the other side of the city can't enjoy the same sort of reverence – even if Lennon’s a comparative rookie.

This nasty affair will continue on for days and may even overshadow the culmination of whoever wins the league following this weekend’s programme of matches. But in truth, when this season’s over, we’ll be glad to see the back of it. Not least of all Neil Lennon.

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