Neil Lennon gesture sparks police inquiry

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CELTIC manager Neil Lennon is at the centre of a police investigation following a gesture he made towards Rangers supporters after yesterday's Old Firm derby.

The complaint came after the Celtic boss cupped his ears in a mocking gesture to Rangers fans who were allegedly taunting him with provocative chants after yesterday's 0-0 draw at Ibrox Stadium.

Strathclyde Police put an extra 1,000 officers on the streets in a move to prevent any disorder surrounding the Old Firm clash.

The decision to boost police numbers followed concerns about rising sectarian tensions after parcel bombs were sent to the Celtic manager and high-profile fans Paul McBride, QC, and former MSP Trish Godman last week.

However, despite fears of a surge in violence, there were just nine people arrested after the game, with six arrests made in the grounds and another three immediately outside.

A police spokesperson said all arrests were for "minor offences", such as being drunk inside the stadium and breach of the peace.

They added: "We can confirm that we have received a complaint about Neil Lennon at the end of the Rangers Celtic match.

"Strathclyde Police officers were in attendance at the time and would have taken action at that time had they deemed it appropriate."

Immediately after the match, Lennon responded to questions about his gesture. He said: "Don't ask me about that, It's called humour, all right?

"Don't distract away from my team's performance. Don't even write about it. You have the photographs, I'm sure, but it's just a bit of fun. I don't want to distract from my team's performance today. They were men. Real men. Stood up to everything that Rangers threw at them and came back for more."

When asked if some fans might not see his gesture as humour, he added: "That's their problem. It's only a bit of fun. Don't ask me about it again."

Les Gray, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation who said in February that the only solution to the drunken violence sparked by every clash between Rangers and Celtic was to ban the games, added yesterday that he thought Lennon would regret his actions.

"He has been under a lot of pressure recently, but I think he will find that over the next few days he will be disappointed in himself and wish he hadn't done it," he said.

However, Mr Gray added that, with just nine arrests, he thought the fans had behaved well.

• Opinion is predictably split on Neil Lennon

• Neil Lennon can't resist gesture, but it's no laughing matter

Celtic's chief executive, Peter Lawwell, defended his manager. he said: "It is laughable that such a ludicrous complaint has been made, given the abuse Neil Lennon received throughout the match. It says more about those making the complaint than it does about Neil Lennon."

Mr Lawwell praised the behaviour of fans, adding: "On behalf of the club, I would like to applaud the manager and players for their magnificent efforts today. It's also very important that we thank our supporters, too, for the positive backing which they gave to the team.

"Clearly, it's been a difficult week for Neil and he deserves enormous praise for the way he has handled this very tough period. I know Neil has been very humbled by the support given to him by our fans during this time, and they were magnificent in the way they backed him and the team this afternoon.

"They were a credit to the Club, and their backing will be vital over the final few weeks of the season."

Martin Bain, chief executive of Rangers did not mention the Lennongesture, but said in a statement: "We are very grateful to our supporters for the way they got behind the team in a week that has been dominated by the issue of sectarianism.

"The club is hugely encouraged by the response we got from our fans and in particular by the atmosphere they generated around kick-off.

"We have been informed by the police that there were no sectarian arrests at the stadium and both the police and the SPL were happy with the crowd's behaviour at today's game."

However, some Rangers fans were less than impressed. One supporter said: "It was disgusting; he didn't need to do that.

A spokesperson for anti-sectarian charity Nil By Mouth said: "Millions of people around the world will have been captivated by an enthralling sporting occasion, and both sets of fans should be commended for expressing their vocal support in the right manner.

"Nevertheless, responsible behaviour has to be demonstrated at all times, whether it be in a football stadium, the street, pub or at home." Following a briefing after the match from Strathclyde Police, and representatives of Rangers and Celtic, First Minister Alex Salmond said overall the feedback had been positive.

But he added: "Now we have embarked on a process, there will be no let-up - we will continue until we have driven all traces of sectarianism from our beautiful game of football and from Scottish society as a whole."