For a man whose critics deride him for lacking decorum, dignity and class, Neil Lennon has been doing a fair impersonation of such a figure over the past few days. Having failed to deprive Rangers of the trophy on Sunday, Celtic's much-maligned coach congratulated the Scottish champions and their manager Walter Smith on winning the Premier League by saying that "if I was going to lose to anyone in the SPL, it would be Walter".
This was followed by his condemnation yesterday of the bookends of a Celtic support who continue to feel the need to bellow out IRA songs on their travels. It must be acknowledged that the party tunes were depressingly audible during last week's match within a match in Midlothian, a moment in time that saw a haunted Hearts fan emerge from the stands like the 'Manchurian Candidate' to attack Lennon.
It is a pity others could not make as much sense when analysing the parlous situation Lennon finds himself in. There are those in public life who need to "take a look at themselves", as Lennon said in addressing Celtic's supporters on Sunday. Lord Foulkes - who was known as George during his days as a Labour MP and a former chairman of Hearts - is one such figure.
Foulkes has popped up to offer his ten pence worth on the Lennon issue in recent days. Foulkes - a man who opposed the Pope's state visit to the UK - apparently made some sort of joke suggesting the problem could be solved if Celtic moved to the Irish league. In light of recent happenings in his country, Foulkes's comments were unhelpful bordering on despicable. Adam Boulton of Sky Television apparently suggested that Lennon could help himself by making a "conciliatory gesture". Really?
Lennon could drape himself in a Union Jack and ride a white horse around Celtic Park. It would not make any difference. Wait and see if Lennon is treated any better next season. One fears this stuff is here to stay for the foreseeable future. This is a wider problem for Scotland's government to contemplate.
Whatever is said by men like Screaming Lord Foulkes on the subject, Celtic are as proud a British club as Hearts. They were the first British club to carry off the European Cup. They have Irish blood, but a Scottish heart. They are not visitors to Scotland, they are permanent residents there. They do not need to be going home. They are already home in Glasgow.
Celtic fans are entitled to celebrate their Irish heritage as a club founded by a priest from Sligo, but one fails to see what the IRA has to do with football or the club. These are no longer the days of Michael Collins. These are changed times across the water. The majority of Celtic followers would not have a problem binning the IRA chants. They have enough of a cascading songbook to be getting on with. Rod Stewart was doing the huddle at Celtic Park on Sunday.
The bile outing itself in Lennon's direction in Scotland is at odds with what is happening in Ireland. An Irish chap expressed the sense of decency misting over the Queen's visit to Dublin this week. "I'm sure she is a very nice lady. God bless her and God keep her," said the Irishman. God bless Neil Lennon and keep him, too.
On a day when Rangers were putting the finishing touches to a 54th Scottish championship, it was slightly bewildering why Walter Smith felt the need to suggest Celtic had set the tone for a poor season. Rangers had done their talking on the pitch. If we are in the business of apportioning blame, a few others should be getting sworn in.
Lennon was lied to by a Scottish football referee Dougie McDonald after a match at Tannadice in October about how he arrived at a decision. This prompted McDonald to resign. Around about the same time, the whistle was blown on the SFA's head of referee development Hugh Dallas after an offensive email about the Pope was found bouncing around his computer inside Hampden Park. This was not Celtic's doing.
Lennon got lost in a mist of machismo a few times, none more so than during the trip to Hearts in November and his tête-à-tête with Ally McCoist during a Scottish Cup match against Rangers in March. He was fined, suspended and has apologised. He has shown outbursts of inexperience in his first season as a manager, but life is a learning experience. There is not a man born who has not made errors.
It could be argued that Celtic have done the Scottish game a favour by encouraging the SFA to rewrite a rule book that was not fit for purpose, but others have played their part in contributing to a season that will hardly appeal to the great thinkers of our time.
Celtic had nothing to do with several thousand Rangers supporters wallowing in sectarian songs during the League Cup final. They had nothing to do with UEFA deciding to fine Rangers for sectarian singing in the Netherlands during a Europa League contest. They had nothing to do with bullets being forwarded in the post to Lennon, and two of their young Northern Irish players Niall McGinn and Paddy McCourt. It is no coincidence that this has gone on during Lennon's first season as Celtic manager.
There is only one true reason for this most wretched of seasons: the season of hate is underpinned by a deep-seated anti-Irish racism, an anti-Catholic sentiment and an irrational hatred of Lennon that has infected society for some time.
Foulkes's regrettable remedy confirms what most good people know: the treatment of Lennon is a form of ethnic cleansing. The intimidation of his family, the bullets and the parcel bombs are intended to drive him out of Scotland.
"Something Inside So Strong" was played at Celtic Park on Sunday, a sort of anthem of the times in Scottish society. We are in 2011, but the attacks on Lennon have left Celtic feeling the need to play a song that was written by Labi Siffre during the days of Apartheid in South Africa. That says enough about the juncture we have reached.
First Minister Alex Salmond wants five-year jail sentences doled out to these preachers of hate. He could do worse than study footage of grown men behaving badly when his own team Hearts hosted Celtic. Scotland's reputation is on the line here. Scotland's credibility as a tolerant country will now stand or fall on how it takes care of Lennon from here on in.
He has become a much more significant figure in Scotland than just a football manager. The wider world is looking in. Most of it sympathies greatly with Lennon's gruesome treatment.
Walter Smith spoke this week of his delight at escaping Scottish football. Lennon must evaluate a similar path on a daily basis. It would certainly be a welcome sight to see Walter Smith rewarded with a knighthood for his contribution to Scottish football. Certainly, if men like Baron Foulkes of Cumnock are worthy of recognition in their public service, Smith should already be polishing his brown brogues for a trip to Buck House.
- Neil Lennon
- Walter Smith