Slán abhaile Bainisteoir

The rumours about the departure of Neil Lennon from Celtic had been swirling around for weeks, but  quite frankly I didn’t believe them.

However the troublesome thing about rumours is some of them turn out to be true!

With Neil Lennon gone the only manager in Scottish football with a professionally trained body guard has left the stage.

There will come a point when this period of Scottish history is written and analysed by historians and sociologists.

When that happens there should be some scrutiny in the lived experience of Neil Francis Lennon.

In his fourteen years in Scotland he was abused, assaulted, threatened and vilified.

Too often permission slips were written for the klan by many in the mainstream media.

His ‘playing style’ was used to explain why every time he touched the ball in the Martin O’Neill Celtic team a cacophony of boos and chants  rang round almost every stadium in Scotland.

Martin O’Neil himself bided his time and waited until he was in a press conference with journalists from outside of Scotland.

He let the assembled press corps know that Neil Lennon had to endure sustained racist and sectarian abuse in the domestic arena.

Neil Lennon played association football like an ex-GAA player who knew that without the ball the opposition couldn’t hurt you.

Mentally quick and physically tough he owned the midfield in front of his defence.

His contribution to the cause was only really apparent when he was absent from the starting line-up.

Once in the dugout he learned on the job while coping with a level of personal security unparalleled in British sport.

He inherited two high earners who were clearly underperforming.

During Lennon’s tenure at Celtic Scott Brown and Georgios Samaras improved hugely and some credit must go to the Lurgan man for that.

Football managers, especially at the top level have a shelf life.

They are usually sacked after some abject failure.

Lennon leaves Celtic having delivered three league titles in a row.

When his Hoops team moved up the gears they were brilliant to watch and in one magical night in November 2012 he engineered the defeat of Barcelona at Celtic Park.

The business model that Celtic works to means that they find try to hidden gems of football talent and polish these rough diamonds into precious assets in the globalised football market.

Celtic is a shop window for aspiring talent on the European stage.

This has meant that Lennon builds a team to see it sold off to generate revenue to keep the show on the road.

However I am sure that Lennon would have wanted to retain the services Hooper and Wanyama.

Moreover, on more than one occasion I was not sure that Lennon was fully in the loop when players were sourced and purchased by the club.

The last time I was in his company was last year at the Aviva stadium in Dublin.

It was a PR event to publicise a pre-season friendly against Liverpool.

The media had been running with the story that Celtic might be interested in Amido Baldé.

Lennon denied any knowledge to the room and I believed him.

Three days later the big striker was at Lennoxtown.

Ironically when the teams met in the August it was Baldé who scored the only goal.

Since then the Portuguese player has figured little and is seen by many as a bad buy.

Regular readers of my column in the Alternative View will know that I have long harboured doubts that Lennon might not have the final say in some transfer dealings at Celtic.

If that is the reason Lennon has left then his replacement must be made aware of the situation that the club CEO is ,in effect, a Director of Football in everything but name.

In the analysis of why Lennon left and who is to replace him we should not lose sight of the reality of his life in Scotland as a player and manager of Celtic.

That for me is much more important than whether or not he approved of the signing of Mo Bangura!

There are plenty in the mainstream media and wider society who would rather the victimisation of Lennon over a 14 year period was not examined.

In 2011 Lennon received a bullet in the post.  For the uninitiated this is Ulster Loyalist etiquette to inform you that you are on a hit list.

Clearly Ulster’s defenders did not approve of the Lurgan man’s managerial style either!

Of course it wasn’t just about Lennon, Paddy McCourt and Niall McGinn, both playing for Celtic at the time, also received bullets at the same time.

These lads are both from the North of Ireland and from a nationalist background.

During his time in Scotland several men were sent to prison for assaulting and targeting Neil Lennon.

Two of them, Trevor Muirhead and Neil McKenzie, were imprisoned for sending a ‘letter bomb’ to the Celtic manager.

Throughout his time at Celtic the reportage of these events in Scotland, especially from the Sports Desks, tried to excise the ethnic from any analysis.

Perhaps it was too uncomfortable, to close to home for many of the Scottish media.

However, if anyone wants to analyse why Neil Lennon was the only manager in Scottish football with a personal security detail for him and his family then they will have to ask some tough questions about the best small country in the world.

The Neil Lennon I know professionally was always engaging and courteous.

Socially he was excellent company with a very distinctive self-deprecating sense of humour.

Anytime we met outside of the professional arena of a presser it took both of us less than two minutes to focus on the Gah.

The fortunes of his beloved Armagh and why Mayo keeps breaking my heart!

This intelligent and insightful man has every right to have a low opinion of Scotland, but he doesn’t.

Quite simply Neil Lennon is a better person that those who were consumed with hatred for the cipher Lennon they had created in their tormented minds.

As I wrote in ‘Minority Reporter’, “Neil Lennon didn’t ask to become a hate figure for people who only have hate to keep them warm at night”.

However, he did indeed become a hate figure and that should tell us far more about the sub-culture that incubated that hatred than about the man himself.

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