Desmond Kane

Latest assault on Celtic coach Neil Lennon a filthy reminder of Scotland’s social ills

Desmond Kane

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In the spotlight: Celtic manager Neil Lennon has again been attacked during a football match in Scotland.

Before he was spotted on television alongside the actor James McAvoy promoting the movie adaption of his novel Filth a couple of months ago, the last time this onlooker can recall coming across any memorable prose from Irvine Welsh was in a travel review about Chicago a few years back.

His success as a fiction writer in Scotland has given Welsh the chance to luxuriate in riches far away from the gloomy, drug-infested depiction of Edinburgh he offers up in books like Trainspotting and Filth.

Residing in Miami and Chicago, a city that I can verify from personal experience is a terrific place to visit, Welsh fraternises with a lifestyle a million miles away from the country of his birth. Leith and Muirhouse no more you might say, but his apparent affection for America does not stop him from passing opinion from afar.

Which is acceptable as long as you are not spouting the type of tosh reserved for Trainspotting’s lead psycho Frances Begbie.

Welsh is an avid user of Twitter. He could be at the heart of the action relating to Scotland even if he was buried at the bottom of Lake Michigan. As long as his mobile is waterproof and he can unearth a signal, a lot of hot air can make its way from the 'Windy City'.

After Hibernian were humped 4-0 by Celtic at Easter Road eight days ago, a clearly disgruntled Welsh decided to share his views.

"Tough one for Hibs but we were always going to find it hard against the financially/sectarian doped club with our makeshift defence," tweeted Welsh.

He later tweeted in reference to his own side Hibernian and Celtic sharing the same colours: "However we have the satisfaction of being the first to wear the proud green of beautiful Ireland, so ram that right up your sectarian holes."

Welsh's comments are unhelpful emanating from a highly perceptive writer with such a protruding public profile, but are also typical of the mindset the small-minded tend to harbour to justify their behaviour when the mood takes them.

The mood tends to take them whenever Neil Lennon raises his head above the parapet for a public outing away from Celtic Park.

The Celtic manager Lennon was in the main stand at Edinburgh's Tynecastle Stadium on Saturday for a Scottish League Cup semi-final between Aberdeen and St Johnstone.

He was there in a viewing capacity with Celtic due to face Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup, but what was supposed to be an innocuous scouting mission wound up with him being subjected to the level of abuse the RSPCA would act upon if it had happened to a dog.

When the drink is in, the wit is out. His agent's account is troubling. In the latest inexorable attack upon the Northern Irishman since he arrived at the Glasgow club, firstly as a player in 2000 then manager in 2010, Lennon was spat at, and verbally abused before coins were thrown at him from his seat in the main stand.

What makes this all the more baffling is that followers of Hearts or Rangers, two clubs with fan bases historically opposed to the Irish and Catholic roots of Celtic for various reasons, were not party to the act.

Like Welsh on Twitter, it only serves to confirm that old habits die hard. There is a culture of intolerance that goes beyond followers of Hearts or Rangers. This is a disease that belongs exclusively to Scotland.

Lennon was forced to leave the home ground of Hearts shortly after Aberdeen scored their third goal in a 4-0 win with most of the second half to play. As much to ensure the safety of those around him.

Lennon has claimed this latest attack was fuelled by drink rather than sectarianism, but it continues to be difficult to buy the theory that he is hated merely for being a feisty character. Here is a bloke who has to wash up at games with a personal bodyguard.

Would former Celtic managers Martin O'Neill, Tony Mowbray or the late Tommy Burns have been subjected to such vitriol?

He is a Roman Catholic from Northern Ireland managing one of Scotland’s most visible institutions that was founded by Irish priests to help the poor in the east end of Glasgow. In modern day Scotland, this continues to make him stick out like a sore thumb despite some claims in yesterday’s local press that anti-Irish racism was fanciful thinking.

Can’t quite buy that one, no matter how palatable it sounds. Scotland could be independent before the year is out yet there remains some who think some fellow Scots are merely visiting the country because they have Irish roots. The host community will tell you the famine (from 19th century Ireland) is over, it is time to go home. This is no joke. This is Scotland in the 21st century.

Is Scotland really mature enough for independence? The depressing case of Lennon suggests not.

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Lennon was attacked by a Hearts supporter in an SPL game in 2011.

Bullets and bombs in the post, attacked on the street, assaulted during a match at Tynecastle, verbally abused and coins tossed at him at Tynecastle. The list goes on and on.

If a literary figure like Welsh is so ignorant to make the comment that Celtic are a sectarian club, then what chance does Lennon have when he is out and about representing them?

Goodness knows how he contrived to come up with such an accusation.

In the febrile atmosphere of Scottish football, a sectarian song would be one aimed at Protestants. Celtic fans do not sing sectarian songs.

Celtic have never employed a sectarian signing policy. For what it is worth, some of the most celebrated figures in the club’s history, most notably Jock Stein and Kenny Dalglish, were Protestants. Dalglish yesterday urged the Police to flush out Lennon’s attackers.

Financially doped? Celtic are one of the best business models of a large club in world football living within its means.

The snooker player Dennis Taylor, football fan and friend of the Celtic owner Dermot Desmond recently told me: "Dermot likes to make sure Celtic is run properly, and isn't interested in taking a penny out of it. "

There is a marked difference between dislike and hate. We have reached the stage where the preachers of hate probably do not know why they really hate Lennon. It should probably be pointed out to those drunken fans who tarnished the reputation of Aberdeen with their shameful attack.

It is not because he has ginger hair. It not because he brings it upon himself. It is because he is Northern Irish, he is Catholic and he is Celtic manager. Which is like a red rag to a bull, even it seems to some Aberdeen fans.

“Hearing that Neil Lennon was pelted with stuff & forced to leave A'deen-St.Johnstone game early. Not good. (updated!),” said Welsh the other day on Twitter. No Irvine. Not good. Just like some of your tweets regarding Lennon's club.

Welsh should stick to writing fiction while avoiding fictional statements on Twitter that make him part of the problem rather than the solution.

Lennon has become as much a social experiment as a football manager. He is a statement on the ongoing embarrassment of a culture of casual bigotry and intolerance in Scotland.

It was the Bradford MP George Galloway, a figure who has written a book on Lennon's travails, who once compared him to a Malcolm X-type figure in Scottish society, a man whose background simply makes it unacceptable for him to cower in the face of those who wish him harm.

It was said when he was attacked at Tynecastle three years ago, and it should be put on record in this year of an independence referendum: Scotland will never live down the shame if Lennon is forced to leave his job due to ongoing prejudice and intolerance.

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