Furious Neil Lennon has to watch Old Firm derby on television
NEIL Lennon has hit out at the security risks he faces in Scotland after being told he could not sit in the stand during the Old Firm derby.
The Celtic manager, who has allegedly been the victim of numerous sectarian threats since taking over at Celtic, was sent from the dugout during the match at Ibrox yesterday.
But he was told not to sit in the Directors’ Box – as is common practice at Ibrox – and instead watched the second half on TV in the press room.
He said after the game the situation “sums things up in this country”.
Seven people were arrested at the match under new laws to crack down on offensive and sectarian-related behaviour.
Strathclyde Police said a total of 17 fans were detained at Ibrox Stadium after the game. The other arrests were for drink- related offences, assault and breach of the peace.
Police had appealed for fans and officials of Celtic and Rangers to behave ahead of the match, which was described as “unique” because of Rangers’ position in administration and Celtic’s opportunity to secure the league if they won the match.
Rangers won the match 3-2 and three players – Cha Du-Ri and Victor Wanyama for Celtic and Carlos Bocanegra for Rangers – were sent off by the referee.
Lennon expressed anger after the game. He said: “I can’t sit in the stand for my own safety – which sums things up in this country. I watched the second half in the press room.
“The biggest game of the season and I can’t go out into the stand to watch my team, send down messages.”
He added: “I might as well have sat in the house and watched.
“Security advised me not to go into the stand. I would have been happy to go out, but I was told that, for my own safety, it wasn’t a good idea.”
The scenes at Ibrox yesterday – with Rangers boss Ally McCoist shaking hands with Celtic players at the end of the game – were a far cry from the incidents that prompted the Scottish Government to call an emergency summit and introduce legislation to tackle offensive behaviour.
In March last year, ugly scenes erupted, including a dug-out brawl between McCoist and Lennon, which overshadowed Celtic’s Scottish Cup victory.
Match commander Chief Superintendent Andy Bates said last week that the police operation around the game would be “business as usual”.
He said: “We’ve got a fairly significant presence on the ground across the whole of the west of Scotland. Every area will have an increase in police officers both during the game and well into the evening.”
It was the first Old Firm game since the introduction of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act 2012, which came into force on 1 March.
The law gives police and prosecutors tools to crack down on sectarian songs and abuse at and around football matches, as well as threats posted on the internet or through the mail.
The act created two offences, punishable by a range of penalties up to a maximum five years in prison and an unlimited fine.
The first targets “hateful, threatening or otherwise offensive behaviour”, expressed at and around football matches, which is likely to cause public disorder.
Two men were fined and banned from football for a year in the first conviction under the new law earlier this month.
Mr Bates said: “I believe the new legislation brings a bit of clarity to what is offensive behaviour and what fans can and can’t do at football games and we’ve spent a lot of time communicating that and I think there is more clarity now.
“In terms of policing there is little difference – if people breach the law they stand a good chance of being arrested.”
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