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That Neil Lennon needs a bodyguard is a grotesque reflection on Scottish football

NEIL Lennon's comments last night, when he admitted a time may come when he has had enough of the abuse he gets in Scottish football, really should send a chill through the game in this country.

Heightened security appears to never be far away from the Celtic manager. Picture: SNS
Heightened security appears to never be far away from the Celtic manager. Picture: SNS

If the day ever comes when the Celtic manager leaves the Scottish Professional Football League and suggests that he has been hounded out, it will do permanent, irreparable damage to Scottish football. How primitive must we be if a football man cannot go to his work without getting pelted with stuff, maybe even spat on?

It is almost two years since one notorious idiot broke out of the stands at Tynecastle and attacked Lennon on the touchline. Since then he has been permanently accompanied on match days by his personal bodyguard. The sight of 'big Kevin' a few feet away from him at all times, keeping an eye out, has become so familiar and routine that it is only now and again you stop to realise anew how grotesque it is that he should need protection at all.

When Celtic are at home, or somewhere such as Perth, Inverness or Dingwall, it can seem like Kevin has the easiest gig in the country. And then along comes an episode like Saturday's and it becomes painfully clear that the big fella is not indispensable quite yet.

And so the appalling list of episodes is refreshed and updated. Thankfully no physical harm was done by the handful of Aberdeen louts who chucked stuff at him, but all these incidents will doubtless take a psychological toll.

"I thought we were passed all this," Lennon said last night. It was a small but revealing line. If he thought he was able to relax, and maybe go about his working life with the same freedom as the rest of us, that was snatched away. He was endangered, dragged back on to the front pages, and robbed of the precious peace of mind he might slowly have been recovering since the last incident some time ago.

Why Lennon? He is a hated figure for many rival football supporters, that much is painfully obvious. Lennon himself said he suspected excessive drinking was a factor and, significantly, said he did not think the motivation was sectarian. There have been claims of anti-Irish racism without the slightest evidence of that being a part of what happened at Tynecastle.

Aberdeen have a long-established problem with a small number of hooligans and troublemakers easily inflamed by any contact with Celtic or Rangers figures (Ally McCoist would have been equally vulnerable had he been in Lennon's seat on Saturday). There has never been any issue with Irishness. Anyone claiming otherwise might want to have a look at an Aberdeen team currently in danger of being carried shoulder high down Union Street: Willo Flood, Irish; Joe Shaughnessy, Irish; Jonny Hayes, Irish; Niall McGinn, Northern Irish; Adam Rooney, Irish.

Those responsible at Tynecastle surely will be identified and dealt with by the police and the club. They shamed Aberdeen on an otherwise great day for the club, and they once again made Lennon a victim in a way that should embarrass us all.

And Another Thing

Back to the football: nine months ago Lennon sat with a few of us at Parkhead and said Leigh Griffiths was not good enough to get in his Celtic team.

The same applied to some other men who were having their days in the sun back then: McGinn, Michael Higdon and Andrew Shinnie. In truth, it was easy to tell that Lennon's view of the quartet was not the real point of his complaint about their inclusion on the shortlist for the SPFA Scotland player of the year award, he just wanted to protest about the exclusion of everyone from his Celtic squad which had reached the last 16 in Europe, beaten Barcelona, and was about to complete a league and cup double.

Griffiths now has Lennon's endorsement, but it is thousands of others around Parkhead that he has to win over. There has been a poor reaction to the Wolverhampton Wanderers man being signed for around £800,000, but not for the first time we may soon learn that the most opinionated internet critics do not reflect the broader attitude of the mainstream support. There have been ripples of controversy over this, but no more than that. There will be plenty of Celtic supporters cheering when he makes his debut.

Griffiths has acted like a bit of an idiot at times and his catalogue of "controversies" demonstrates a damaging impulsiveness (he would be wise to end his habit of "up yours" gestures to his own supporters when they displease him). He has been no stranger to police attention.

Yet the two most common complaints about his arrival are that the deal "lacks ambition" and that Griffiths "won't make the difference in the Champions League".

The former point demonstrates that familiarity breeds contempt: people have seen Griffiths playing for what they perceive to be lesser clubs. Are Celtic so grand that an exciting, young, Scotland-proven goalscorer and reigning player of the year is not good enough for them?

As for not making the difference in Europe, the same description could be applied to the entire set of players who finished bottom of this season's group, yet are rightly being lauded for their domestic form.

Besides, how can Griffiths not be deemed good enough when Parkhead resounds to enthusiastic chants about Amido Balde?

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Football

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