IN the updated paperback version of Celtic: Keeping the Faith, author Richard Purden speaks to a number of figures from all walks of life about what the club means to them. Here is an edited extract from a chapter with the former Celtic manager, Neil Lennon.

THE Celtic story in the 21st century is unimaginable without Neil Lennon. His effectiveness both in a green and white hooped shirt and as the club’s gaffer is associated with stirring displays, high promise and campaigns exuding confidence and unity. In the best Celtic way it was all wrapped in emotion and sentiment. The arrival of the player with cropped bleach blond hair strengthened an already gladiatorial side under Martin O’Neill and he would prove to be one of his mentor’s most valuable assets as an enforcing presence in midfield.

As a manager he built a consistent reputation for sourcing talent and with great vision and energy he built one of the most convincing Celtic sides since the exit of Martin O’Neill. Today I find him at Bolton’s training ground in the northwest of England. He is less eminent in these parts than in Scotland but is perhaps the better for it. Today he affirms a calm and reflective presence.

He no longer has to field questions about wider problems in Scottish society or discuss political issues. There are no physical attacks in football stadia from the fans of rival clubs or parcel bombs sent through the post. He doesn’t get attacked or receive sectarian abuse in the street. But neither is he a spokesman for a large and significant community.

At Bolton he doesn’t retain the emblematic status that he did at Celtic. On his days away from the game he plays golf, spends time with family or turns the pages of a history book. Without the extraordinary and grave concerns outside of football to think about any longer you can only imagine where the 44 year old will travel from here in sporting terms. What is clear is that Celtic will always be in the milieu. Significantly he never saw his role as a spokesman for matters beyond football as an obstacle: “It was important for me as the manager to front-up these questions and not shy away from that because I knew the history of the club. I was aware of what was going on socially within Glasgow and the environment whether it be sectarian, political or football matters. The Celtic support saw me as the leader to front-up on these issues because I had been in the framework of the club for 14 years as player, coach and manager. I think they could trust me to lead from the front in that aspect. I didn’t always want to do it because I got into some areas that were pretty unfamiliar for me. Coming down here and just talking about the football side of things, it’s far more secure and reassuring because I’m not going into waters that are unfamiliar.”

One of Lennon’s many attacks was broadcast live to millions around the globe on television. Yet even in light of the evidence the assailant was only convicted with a lesser charge of breach of the peace, the sectarian element found to be not proven. Speaking today Lennon said: “From what I was told the prosecution made a booboo - they charged him with assault and charged him with a sectarian attack aggravated by racial and religious prejudice and the evidence was that there was no evidence of a sectarian attack. Then they said he had done his time by being in custody so there was no more time to do. Basically the four months he was inside - they felt that was enough. But the whole world saw what happened. It wasn’t the first time, I remember looking at the death threat story [before a Northern Ireland match against Cyprus] on the news and thinking they are actually talking about me. It’s a bit surreal so after the attack at Tynecastle I thought: “there’s got to be an outcry, there’s got to be something done now.” Was there enough done? No, I don’t think there was.

“Did I feel let down? Yes as a player and manager I felt let down by certain quarters of the media and I know Martin (O’Neill) did. Could they have done more about it? It seemed to get to the point where the attitude was: “It’s Neil Lennon; he brings it on himself,” all that kind of crap. It was imbalanced and secular to the environment we found ourselves in. For instance when I was sent the bullets in the post, you then had this “he brings it on himself” attitude in the press and that I was an aggressive type. But Paddy McCourt and Niall McGinn got bullets in the post too. So what was the real reason behind it? We know what the real reason was, we were Irish Catholics working for Celtic and playing for Northern Ireland. Everyone refers to Scotland’s Shame but not a lot of people did a lot about it.”

Lennon also convinced many that he was something of a diviner when it came to sourcing unknown quantities and turning them into superstars. In Gary Hooper Celtic found their first real talisman since Henrik Larsson. “He was unknown when we got him from Scunthorpe, we developed him and he turned out to be one of the best Celtic players of the last 25 years. It didn’t surprise me that when he got into that position he would score, he’s a natural. We got him for £1.5 million and sold him for £6 million - we did something right there. When you look at it - Victor Wanyama, Joe Ledley, Fraser Forster, Ki Sung-yueng they are all thriving in the environment of the Premier League. That gives us a huge amount of pride because we were the ones that developed them into the players that they have become. That was a strategy at the club which we followed, a good recruitment policy with figures like John Park in the background.”

Lennon secured the services of Wanyama’s commanding presence for £800,000 and sold him for £12.5 million to Southampton. There were suggestions of more dominant English clubs coming in for the Kenyan and a £25 million price tag was slapped on his head, nevertheless it was an extraordinary piece of business: ‘You could tell straight away once he adapted to the pace of the game in Scotland that he would be an absolute superstar. He looked very comfortable in the environment of the Champions League and particularly the performance at Celtic Park against Barcelona on the night he scored, his all round game was phenomenal against the best players in the world. We could see the power that he had, the natural physique. For a big guy his technique was fantastic.”

The notable talent of Leigh Griffiths is without question and while he has made ill-thought-out choices, it’s also fair to say the amount of puritanical aggression directed at the player in his early days at Celtic suggested a lot of first stones were being cast.

Lennon also came in for some criticism when he secured the striker’s signature: “He’s a natural goalscorer and you can’t coach that, his movement was always very good. He’s got a bit of the devil in him -you don’t want to coach that out because some players need that, it helps them play with an edge. He’s been consistent wherever he’s gone and we had no qualms about signing him. We were very happy with his contribution, we only worked with him for about five months. He’s maybe not at the level of a Hooper but is without doubt a quality finisher and one you could work with and make even better. I’ve got a lot of time for him and I’m glad things are going well now at Celtic. There was no reason for us to think otherwise, he’s a good kid.”

- Extract taken from Celtic: Keeping the Faith, by Richard Purden, out now in paperback (Freight Books, £8.99)