When is it going to stop? When does this thing end? What is it going to take before this thing runs its course? Will it take Neil Lennon seriously injured? Maimed? Dead, God forbid? What will it take before a halt is called to this persecution? To this irrational hate?
What has happened to the Celtic manager – what is still happening, what continues to happen – is an outrage. Yet all too often, it seems to me and to others that the expression of that outrage is limited to ourselves, to the Celtic message boards, to our voices in the stands.
Scandalously, the rest of this country barely trembles. It barely rouses itself from apathy long enough to either notice or care. Attacks on Lennon were once front page news. They still are, but in a different way. Now the press gleefully reports that the thugs might force him out of the country.
The truth is, most other people would have walked away long ago. Attacks on this man are commonplace now, almost routine, almost an annual event. First it was assaults in the street. Then it was bombs. Then it was an actual physical attack whilst he was standing on the touchline, doing his job. I guess we should be grateful that this time it was only some spitting, some coins thrown, a badly aimed Bovril that hit a journalist instead.
It stinks that this is something we should find consolation in.
It stinks that we are pleased that it was only spitting, as if we, as well as Lennon, have got off light.
You know what? We did. All of us did, and we’re dimly aware of it on some level. Because, deep down, we know we’ve all dodged a bullet here. Deep down, in our heart of hearts, we know that if something calamitous does one day happen to Neil Lennon that it will ignite something even more dramatic, something without a name, something hateful and evil, and awful, that it will rip this country in two, that it will create the kind of divisions which might never be healed.
I often think there are people out there who want it that way. Oh I don’t mean the crazies and the sickos and the whack-jobs who inhabit the dark swamps of the net and hang out in dingy bars where you know you could pick up anything for the right price.
No, I mean people in plush rooms, in nice offices, people who wouldn’t soil their own hands or their own reputations by giving in to their own prejudices to quite that extent, but who’d happily stand on the side-lines and watch, and then make hay from the aftermath.
People like the hacks who have waited a lifetime to cover something on that magnitude, to pour their fake outrage out, to unleash their own irrational hate and fury. To act, finally, and with abandon, like the true apex hypocrites that they really are, blaming the rest of society for forces they have helped to unleash.
The truth is, and we know it for a fact, that they have done everything they can to stir the soup. Their column inches, their ludicrous radio statements, their ill-chosen – or perhaps carefully chosen, who knows how their minds work – comments about Lennon “bringing it on himself”, about how he should “learn to keep his head down”, give license to dangerous people to do diabolical things. These are not stupid people, or at least they are not that stupid. On some level they must realise this, they must understand what they’re helping to promote. Yet they still do it.
So too do the politicians, who’s own fake outrage has already been unleashed, to devastating effect, with the passage of un-necessary, restrictive and dangerous laws, which pick on easy targets instead of tackling the real problem. They made it into an issue about football fans, rather than confronting the truth; that this is an issue with its roots in wider society.
These are the people who called a summit meeting, and elevated a football match into a national scandal because Neil Lennon had the temerity to go nose to nose with the darling of the radio shows and newspaper offices. When the same man was sent bombs and bullets, and attacked in the street, they expressed half-regret and then walked on by and did nothing.
On top of this, the justice system that was supposed to protect him has failed, utterly, and in ways which defy belief. The same criminal courts which threaten to destroy the lives of dozens of young men because they sing certain songs allowed the two men responsible for those outrageous acts to escape serious charges, and sent them down, instead, for conspiracy to commit assault. With bombs.
Where were the prosecutions under the Terrorism Act, which would have been more appropriate? Lennon was not the only target; bombs were sent to the QC Paul McBride, and even to a Member of the Scottish Parliament. That is, by its very definition, an act of domestic terrorism.
Let me pose a question to you, a very simple one.
Had the manager of another Scottish club been sent bombs, had another QC, with his own involvement in football, been sent bombs, had, say, a Scottish Member of Parliament who’s constituency includes Ibrox, been sent a bomb in the post, and furthermore, had the perpetrators, and not the victims, been of Irish Catholic descent, do you think the justice system would have allowed such phony charges? Would the Crown Prosecution Service have acted so without teeth?
Of course not. The full weight of the system would have been brought to bear. As it should. And as it wasn’t in this case, a case which attracted global headlines.
Even more alarmingly, in the case of Lennon’s being attacked at Tynecastle, an assault which took place in view of the Sky cameras and was seen by every man, woman and child in the country, and by millions across Europe, a jury could not bring itself to deliver a guilty verdict.
This goes beyond football. This goes beyond anything society should accept.
Yet this society does. This country continues to tolerate this cancer at its heart. It continues to allow this man to be persecuted, and terrorised, and it seemingly will not stop until he is longer here.
And where does that leave the rest of us? It doesn’t seem to matter at all. Because the outrage one would expect, the outpouring of national revulsion, it just isn’t there. People can say that those who’re doing it are a small minority, and this is undoubtedly true.
Those people are not the ones who concern me any more than Nigel Farage concerns me with his Walter Mitty persona, and his rag-bag party of small minded bigots and deranged idiots one bad night from being sectioned. I am more afraid of those who can’t see past the good suits, to the clown costumes underneath, the people who think this guy and his circus tent freak show are the answer, and are worth voting for.
In Lennon’s case, what scares me is not the hate-filled songs, the occasional acts of violence, the whistling and the jeering, the sounds of the lynch-mob. It’s the silence of the rest. It’s the failure to condemn. It is the absence of outrage which troubles me most, that and the way some members of the press still want to blame the victim for his suffering.
When I published my first book, Fragments, in February of last year, I wanted to pay tribute to Lennon, and so I mentioned him at the end of the intro, with the words “You stood tall against the bullets, you stood fast against the bombs. As a manager, you take the criticism that goes with the job. As a man, you are an inspiration”, and I meant it then and I mean it now.
It is hard to think of a braver man in this whole country than the manager of Celtic.
He has had to be. But there comes a time when every man decides the game isn’t worth the candle, when he realises he has to put his family and his personal safety front and centre. If Lennon is driven from our club, and from our country, as the press today suggests, it will be an unrivalled disgrace, and a stain which will never be erased from the national sport.
Yet I sometimes think it’s better ending like that than in the other ways it could go.
Once upon a time, it might have been possible to dismiss that kind of talk as overly paranoid, as exaggerating the seriousness of what faces him. The bullets, the bombs, the attack on Lennon during the Hearts match, they should have dissuaded us from any such notions.
But we know that certain followers, of certain clubs, a small sub-sect of Scottish society, has all the reason it will ever need to hate Neil Lennon because of his nationality and his religion. If the hate were confined to them then it would be a less troubling matter.
We now know what we have long suspected; that the hate for Lennon is broader, and deeper, and more ingrained than that. That it takes many forms, that it inhabits many more minds than those disturbed followers “of God & Ulster” who believe this man is the enemy of their blood.
This was not those. This was supporters of Aberdeen, by Christ.
A club with no connections to, and no love of, the jackbooted thugs of the Scottish far right.
What reason could such people possibly have for hating Neil Lennon so? Some of the hacks today have gone out of their way to assure us that this was not the anti-Irish, anti-Catholic hatred which has seen Lennon targeted by the fanatics. So what was it?
It was common, garden variety, irrational hate. The media should recognise it. They’ve helped to foster it. One article, published today, dismisses in its headline the anti-Irish sentiment as being part of this, but then goes on to list what are, in the writers opinion of course, the reasons why Lennon has it coming anyway. It’s a flagrantly disgusting, shameless piece for which the writer should be ashamed.
Well, when a guy “brings it on himself”, do you need to be exclusively Loyalist to hate him? Or is this a party where anyone can join in? To get into this lynch-mob do you need to come with your burning cross and your white robes, or can you show up in your club colours, whatever they might be?
I return again to the “explanation” pushed by the press, the one that gives license to the haters, that gives them permission to hate, that Lennon is an abrasive personality, a man who’s reaping what he has sowed, who, in a manner of speaking, is getting what he deserves.
If this isn’t stirring up hate, I don’t know what to call it.
The game in Scotland has been full of “abrasive personalities” and none were subject to this. Lennon was a “difficult player” on the park, but so too was Strachan, was McCall, was Butcher.
None of those three men, all managers now, who all ply their trade here, who visit different grounds week in week out, have ever been sent bullets, have ever been sent bombs, have ever been attacked on the touchline as they did their jobs.
The media which condemned Lennon for his “touchline behaviour” offered none of that criticism to other coaches who’s touchline antics show passion or commitment. They have allowed character assassination on a hitherto unseen scale to go on, even insofar as they have ignored or excused stunning acts of hypocrisy. They allowed former Scottish National Coach Craig Brown, a man who history has conveniently forgotten was once allowed to sing sectarian songs down a telephone, (and he kept his job afterwards to) to lambast Lennon for conduct unbecoming just a few weeks before he, himself, was involved in a touchline altercation where he physically attacked someone.
The press reaction to that? A few humorous pieces, and then a coat of whitewash. Contrast it with Lennon’s nose-to-nose five second flare up with McCoist, and the treatment it received in our gallant sporting press. This is not simply one rule for one man and a different rule for another. The judgement heaped on Lennon and the lack thereof heaped on Brown speaks volumes as to the level at which these people play their little games. Blame the victim. Make him the aggressor. Lay the blame at his door … and wait until the next lunatic acts according to the subtext.
What happened at Tynecastle this weekend was a national scandal, and the real scandal is not that it happened but that nothing but the usual happened after it. The Celtic fan sites erupted. Aberdeen FC apologised, the SPFL released a statement, certain members of the press blamed Lennon himself, and the rest of the country didn’t give a damn.
If Lennon leaves Scotland, I will understand and sympathise, and part of me will mourn that it came to this. Yet part of me will be relieved that it didn’t come to something much darker. And I know who I will hold accountable for it, either way.
What a shocking indictment on them, and their so-called professions, that is.
Hack journalists who stir up hate, cowardly politicians who ignore it … you are the real national disgrace.
You are the true oppressors of Neil Lennon.
Wherever he goes, whatever he does, he will be in our hearts, and in our thoughts.
As will you. Never forget that. Because we won’t.
[calameo code=00138299326478c1e7cc6 width=550 height=356 view=book mode=viewer]