BELIEVE it or not, the image below accompanying this column is not the most offensive picture of this author to have graced the back of a sports section.

Back in the dim and distant past, around early 1993 or so, Motherwell were going through a bit of a tough time on the park, and manager Tommy McLean – who had delivered the Scottish Cup less than two years earlier – was getting it in the neck from the supporters.

It all came to a head one Saturday afternoon after another home defeat, with word spreading in the days beforehand that a protest would be held outside the Main Stand at Fir Park should the match not go the way of the struggling Steelmen.

I had been well warned to stay away, by penalty of a solid week’s grounding without Super Nintendo privileges, so the stakes were pretty high.

Fuelled by youthful bravado though, me and a few pals raced round after the match to join in with the chants of ‘McLean Must Go’, looking over both shoulders before flinging in the odd craft sweary word too. Then, a quick dash up the road to make up time and in the house just as dinner was being put on the table. The perfect crime.

That was until my old man returned from the shop the next morning with the Sunday Mail tucked under his arm, the back page resplendent with a nice big photo of the protest. There I was, front and centre, flicking the vickys at no one in particular except, apparently, the photographer.

Let’s just say that in those less enlightened times, access to Mariokart was then the least of my worries. It was 1997 before I could sit comfortably again.

The point is that supporter protests aren’t necessarily the most sophisticated of gatherings. There will be those there fuelled by anger at the direction of their club, sure, but there will also be those present who are either just going along with the mob, or just going along for a laugh. These days, there are also those who just go along to film it on their phones.

So it is we come to the scenes outside Celtic Park on Sunday night following the defeat to Ross County. Leaving aside the fact that Glasgow is currently in Tier 4 coronavirus restrictions, it was hardly a surprise to see fans venting their fury in such a manner given the way the season is going for Celtic.

Out of the Champions League at home to a Ferencvaros, out of the Europa League after humiliating defeats to a mediocre Sparta Prague. Trailing Rangers by 11 points in the league, with those two games in hand hardly looking like six points as a foregone conclusion on current form.

And then to top it all off, a 2-0 defeat to a hopelessly out of form County side at Celtic Park to lose their 35-game unbeaten streak in domestic cup competitions and crash out of the Betfred Cup.

Neil Lennon knows better than anyone that such a rap sheet - never mind the fact his side have won just two of their last 10 matches before last night’s trip to the San Siro - would be more than enough for many a Celtic manager to be shown the door. He has said as much.

That he is still in position owes much to the regard that majority shareholder Dermot Desmond and chief executive Peter Lawwell hold Lennon in, and the loyalty they feel to him.

Lennon was keen to stress that their decision to stand by their manager would not have been influenced by the protestors outside Celtic Park. That these men, who appointed him as manager in the Hampden showers after a Scottish Cup triumph, don’t forget, are not prone to knee-jerk decisions. Ahem.

Whether their call to stick with Lennon was a ‘get it up ye’ to the protesting fans or not, only they will know. The real difficulty for both Desmond and Lawwell will come though if Lennon doesn’t manage to inspire a turnaround, for in that case, the longer they stand behind him, the more likely the wider fanbase will feel they are thumbing their noses in their direction.

It is easy after all to label those who assault police and throw steel barriers as entitled reactionaries, and to disregard their opinions forthwith. But what about the fans who have shelled out hundreds or indeed thousands of pounds for season tickets that guarantee them only a seat on their own couch?

The Celtic board’s loyalty to Lennon is laudable, but it will really be tested should those fans threaten to withdraw that reliable revenue on the back of spectacularly botching the opportunity to win a tenth title in a row.

Lennon may have thought that this season would define his Celtic legacy. If he was the man to start and end the run of 10 titles, then what a way to cement his already feted status in the club’s history.

Should Celtic fall at the last hurdle though, it now appears that it will be the men upstairs whose legacy will be tarnished by association.

Not only will they be accused of costing the team a chance of recovering their season by obstinately sticking by Lennon, but of squandering the huge financial advantage they enjoyed over Rangers going into this campaign. Their failure to capitalise on that advantage and allow Rangers to come up on their slipstream to win the league would be unforgivable in the eyes of the fans.

So, while it may look as if they have played it safe by sticking with Lennon, they have in fact laid their entire Celtic legacies on the line. It is a huge gamble, and time will tell if Lennon can beat the odds which now increasingly looked stacked against him.

By the way, Motherwell did stick with McLean in the end, despite my sage advice. They finished third the next season, above Celtic, and just four points behind champions Rangers.

Such an outcome wouldn’t represent success for Celtic this season of course, but it does show that not bowing to the mob needn't only be about stubbornness. It can also bring success.