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Celtic manager blames public image for abuse and attacks

CELTIC manager Neil Lennon has claimed he suffers physical and verbal abuse because he is wrongly seen as "confrontational" and "a street-fighter" by the public.

TOUCHLINE: Lennon was attacked at Hearts game in  2011.
TOUCHLINE: Lennon was attacked at Hearts game in 2011.

Lennon had coins and a drink thrown at him when he sat close to Aberdeen supporters at a game last weekend, sparking a police investigation. It is the latest in a series of incidents since he first joined Celtic as a player in 2000 before becoming manager in 2010.

He retired from international football with Northern Ireland after receiving a death threat before a fixture, was sent a bullet and parcel bombs in 2011, and has been attacked in Glasgow in 2008 and on the touchline in a game against Hearts in 2011.

"I have been feeling aggrieved," he said yesterday. "Especially at the way I've been portrayed by some people and the way I think I'm treated. I think there's a total imbalance to the way I'm treated and the way other people, personalities in the game or celebrities in the game, are treated.

"I'm 'confrontational', 'controversial', 'a street-fighter', 'looks after himself', blah, blah, blah. Rubbish. Absolute rubbish. I'm sitting there at the game last week, a coin whizzes past, could've hit me in the eye. Am I big enough to take that? Yes, but should I take it. No."

Lennon said that as a Northern Irish Catholic at Celtic there was clearly a sectarian motivation for some of the previous incidents, but he claimed last week's was instead down to excessive drinking by the Aberdeen fans who threw things.

"Certainly, my troubles in Northern Ireland didn't start until after I signed for Celtic," he said. "And certainly I had no things happen to me off the field in 14 years playing in England. So, again, that's the association with being at Celtic. And there's no question, over the years there's been a huge sectarian element to what went on.

"I'm not saying last week was sectarian. It wasn't. I don't recall any sectarian abuse being aimed at me. The only thing that was aimed at me was coin and drinks."

Former Celtic manager Martin O'Neill had a similar background to Lennon but didn't attract the same controversy. "But he didn't play in games," said Lennon. "This is the other thing, I look at some of the comments made by some: 'Lennon was a thug on the pitch'. But I wasn't a thug.

"Look at my disciplinary record, look at my games, I never elbowed anyone, never two-footed anyone, never did anything, never cheated in a game. So this thug persona is nonsense. It makes me angry.

"I don't go looking for it, that's for sure. This 'street-fighter' thing, I can stand up for myself but I don't go looking for it. I don't fight in the streets. I don't go around pubs looking for trouble. This portrayal is wrong. And I want it stopped because it's not doing me any favours.

"People try and portray me as arrogant. They say I'm ­confrontational when I'm standing up for myself. But you would expect somebody in my position to do that, just like every other manager.

"I'm not criticising referees this year, although I've had plenty to criticise them for in terms of decisions. I don't have confrontations with the fourth official whereas I see plenty of other managers non-stop at fourth officials. But there are no pictures of them squaring up to officials, no pictures of them abusing officials, no real talk of it. Whenever I do it, it's a flashpoint, it's talked about for days on end. Maybe it's because I'm the manager of Celtic.

"For over a year I've been staying away from flashpoints and controversy. It doesn't work, so I'm not going to bother. I deal with it because I love the job."

Celtic's Chief Executive Peter Lawwell said the actions against Lennon were "totally and utterly unacceptable".

Mr Lawwell added: "Neil has had to put up with things that no manager in Scottish football has had to contend with. The fact that he has stayed for four years is testament to his love of the club."

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