Why does Neil Lennon inspire so much hatred from opposition fans at every ground in Scotland? Why does every kick of the ball, every tackle, every minor incident, that this particular Celtic player is involved in, provoke such fury? Is it, as some in the media have argued, because he happens to be a particularly robust midfield player? And what is it about Lennon in particular that encourages such little sympathy or understanding from the Scottish press when he appears to be the victim of racial and sectarian abuse from the stands? Is it because he’s ‘an arrogant wee so-and-so’ as one newspaper hack described him recently on his BBC Scotland radio phone-in show? Or does this unprecedented level of bile against one footballer actually reveal a more sinister, darker secret about the Scottish psyche?
The recent furore over Martin O’Neill’s public show of support for the player could not in any sense be described as a legitimate public debate about the nature of the abuse suffered by Lennon. It has amounted to little more than a demonstration of the political ignorance of the very same sports press corps that wrings its hands with anger and indignation about ‘sectarianism’ before and after every Celtic v rangers match. A press which whilst claiming to revile the ‘poisonous atmosphere’ of an “Old Firm” game also appears to revel in it.
In the days following the match it was only Graham Spiers of The Herald - alone among the Scottish press-pack - who was prepared to offer a defence of Martin O’Neill’s right to speak out ‘against the racial and sectarian abuse’ of one of his players. He argued that O’Neill should be applauded rather than vilified.
The denial of the true nature and extent of anti-Catholicism in Scotland culminates in a cover-up in which our politicians, churchmen, police and press are complicit. It is an institutionalised racism that covers its back by means of a sustained campaign to outlaw the culture and politics of an entire community.
Our songs, our pubs and even our right to describe ourselves as ‘Irish-Scots’ or ‘Scots-Irish’ are denounced as ‘sectarian’ by every politician & political party in Scotland’s parliament and local councils, from the far-right to the far-left.
It has long been the contention of this magazine that the use of the word ‘sectarianism’ in this context is in itself a term employed to deliberately obscure the true nature of the anti-Irish/anti-Catholic beast that manifests itself at every level of society. Resistance is necessary because our cultural and political heritage - along with our community’s right to exist - is under attack.
Following an Executive Committee Meeting of the Celtic
Supporters Association, we would like to express our full backing for Martin
O’Neill with regards to his factually correct comments concerning sectarian and
racist abuse received by both himself and Neil Lennon at the recent Old Firm
game at Ibrox.
Whilst others have buried their head in the sand and chose to deny the obvious massive sectarian and racist cancer within Ibrox Park, we at the Celtic Supporters Association are happy to recognise our responsibilities and we are willing to engage in debate with representatives of the Scottish Executive, Celtic, Rangers, the SFA, UEFA and the European Union if need be in an effort to admit to our failings in Scottish Football and get together to make a serious effort in ridding our game of sectarianism and racism.
In a week where Spanish fans were correctly vilified for the disgraceful racist abuse of England players, once again the Scottish media, who have a massive role to play, have shown double standards and hypocrisy in their reporting of the Old Firm game. Imagine if Sven Goran Eriksson had led his coloured players to the away fans at the end of the game in Madrid? He would have been portrayed as a national hero. Martin O’Neill leads Neil Lennon out of harms way to salute the Celtic fans in defeat and he is vilified. Only in this country could the victim be seen as the villain.
The time has come for all involved to get round the table and discuss our differences whilst at the same time respecting each other’s traditions. Never before has this happened and that is part of the problem. Whilst accepting that we are not perfect and recognising that we have issues which we have to deal with on a lesser scale, is there really a need in the year 2004 for Rangers fans to scream vile sectarian abuse at Irish and/or Catholic players and fans? If Martin O’Neill and Neil Lennon were coloured, the condemnation of racism would be overwhelming. Why then is it more acceptable in Scottish society to abuse Irish Catholics than it is to abuse coloured players? We appeal to the many decent Rangers fans, of which we know there are plenty, to break their silence before the problem escalates any further, something which we would never condone.
Sectarianism is Scotland’s cancer and after the recent events at Ibrox we have reached a watershed in our national sport. Do we continue to ignore the problem and hope it goes away or do we tackle it head on?
We urge Celtic Football Club to respond to the SFA’s statement and make official our complaint of the sectarian and racist abuse received by Martin O’Neill and Neil Lennon at Ibrox as the first step.
We also urge all concerned to join us around the table and thrash out a solution to the evils in our game, once and for all.
General Secretary of the Celtic Supporters Association
30th November 2004
MEDIA RELEASE FROM
‘Following distorted and unbalanced accounts of events at Ibrox on Saturday 20th November, and after receiving numerous complaints from Rangers supporters concerning the conduct of Martin O’Neill and Neil Lennon, the Trust has secured the services of an independent lip-reading expert to analyse the comments clearly shouted at home fans at the end of the match.
‘Regrettably, our worst fears have been confirmed, as the lady concerned, who is often called as an expert witness as a forensic lipreader in the English courts, has confirmed that Neil Lennon clearly shouted the phrase “Orange B******s!” at the home support, as well as other abuse directed towards the Rangers bench.
‘At a time when both The Scottish Executive, and the media seem determined to stamp out religious bigotry from Scottish society, the fact that such a high profile Celtic player shouted such obscenities at the home fans at the end of an eventful match, after other colleagues had also lost their discipline, and particularly in full view of a large live television audience certainly warrants further investigation.
‘The Trust finds it difficult to understand why this incident, witnessed by so many people at the game, and even more on television, has been ignored by the media and now believes that an investigation by the Police, possible reference to the Procurator Fiscal, certainly an unequivocal condemnation from Nil by Mouth, an investigation by the Press Complaints Commission into unbalanced reporting of the whole affair, a charge by the SFA of bringing the game into disrepute, and, most importantly, a full apology from the culprit are all appropriate actions following such misconduct.’
Hilarious and Pythonesque...
Graham Spiers of The Herald highlights the absurdity of the Rangers Supporters Trust's position
ONE of the hilarious controversies of recent days has concerned the rather unusual business of the Rangers Supporters Trust (RST) – a pressure group of supporters I ordinarily admire – and their hiring of a lip-reader to smoke out Celtic's Neil Lennon.
You may sense something slightly daft going on here, and I fear you might be right.
There's been more than a few verbal rammies going on recently involving Rangers, Celtic and the bigotry debate. And, alas, wherever there is the Old Firm and controversy these days, poor Lennon is never far away.
The context of the RST and their lip-reader is a mite peculiar. You may recall
the dog's abuse – racial, sectarian, whatever you wish to call it – which
Lennon received at Ibrox recently. You might also recall Martin O'Neill's
arm-around-the-shoulder treatment of Lennon as the two of them left the field
following Rangers' 2-0 win.
Personally, I watched Lennon enter the Ibrox tunnel with O'Neill very carefully that day. I did say to him in Barcelona the following week that I feared he had abused my own cherished Reformed tradition with some sort of verbal outburst aimed at some Rangers supporters as he left the pitch.
Well, the RST decided to take matters into their own hands. They wanted to know precisely what Lennon shouted at Ibrox, and duly hired their professional lip-reader.
The result is quite shocking. The lip-reader decreed that Lennon quite clearly
shouted three words towards the progressive, ecumenical denizens of the Ibrox
east enclosure. And these two words, allegedly, were "orange
I presume I don't need to refer any neutrals to the hilarious, Pythonesque quality of all this. Just for a moment, picture the scene of that seething enclosure near the Ibrox tunnel. The bile, the sheer venom and opprobrium being showered upon a player like Lennon would make most civilised human beings balk.
Yet football supporters are the masters of two-tier morality. When Lennon, foolishly, decided to retort, why, you had people who had been busy bellowing their abuse for 90 minutes suddenly turning into wounded ballet-critics at the dreadful rudeness – yes, rudeness! – of these footballers.
It's the sort of script which someone like John Cleese would have a field day with.
I must say, personally, I am convinced Lennon shouted those dreadful, despicable words. Imagine him sullying a beautiful atmosphere like that. I just hope he wasn't looking up at the press box and at me at the time.