Neil Lennon will clinch back-to-back Scottish Premier League titles tomorrow afternoon if Celtic take at least a point from the visit of Inverness.
But getting another championship under his belt was not what was occupying the Parkhead manager’s mind at yesterday’s pre-match press conference.
Rather, it was the three-match touchline ban handed out to him by the Scottish Football Association earlier in the week that dominated the briefing, with Lennon warning the SFA that it faces a “storm” of similar misconduct charges.
The Celtic manager attended a disciplinary tribunal at Hampden Park on Thursday for allegedly breaching disciplinary rule 203. It pertains to the “failure to behave in a responsible manner as an occupant of the technical area by repeated use of offensive, insulting and abusive language” in a tirade towards St Mirren skipper Jim Goodwin during a match at St Mirren Park on 31 March.
The complaint was upheld, with the deletion of the words “repeated” and “insulting and abusive” – and while no sanction was imposed, a suspended three-game ban from last season was triggered. Lennon claimed the charge was brought up on the behalf of just two complaints, although the SFA has denied that is the case.
The Celtic manager will not appeal and thus will sit in the stand for tomorrow’s match at home to Inverness – a game which could see Celtic crowned champions after Motherwell’s win over Dundee United last night kept the ‘title race’ going for at least another day. But journalists at the club’s Lennoxtown training complex yesterday were left in little doubt as to Lennon’s feelings on the three-match suspension.
“I will take my three-game ban, that is no problem to me,” he said. “But what is coming is a storm for the SFA. This has opened up a huge can of worms.
“If you hear a manager swearing, is he going to get brought up? I have seen a lot worse. I have seen managers smash dugouts this season and managers squaring up to each other.
“I’m caught on a microphone making a sarcastic comment to a player and I’m sitting here with a three-game ban.
“I sat there for four hours and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was a complete waste of time and effort. I can’t go into detail because it is confidential but I saw panel members shaking their head in disbelief and, at the end of it, they had no sanction
“It sums up a lot of things about football in this country; petty, narrow-minded. There was a fourth-official stood six feet away and didn’t feel I did anything wrong so I still think it is bizarre that on the strength of two complaints, from a game that was televised all around Britain and which maybe had 500,000 people watching, that the SFA decided to take this on.
“Me and my staff, what are we going to do, complain about every manager using foul language from now on?
“You only need two complaints, obviously, before you are hauled up before the SFA so there is going to be a big, big queue of people outside Hampden.”
The Northern Irishman insisted that the tribunal was “put in an impossible position” then claimed he was told that SFA compliance officer Vincent Lunny was prompted to take the case on. He said: “Yes. He was asked to take it on. I am not suggesting anything, I am just going on what I was told. He was prompted, no doubt in my mind, to take the case on. Not by the two complainants but by somebody else. You don’t bring the case up on the strength of two complaints.
“You [media] should be asking Vincent Lunny or the people behind the scenes who prompted it.”
Lennon’s disgruntlement with the SFA could spill over into the international arena. The manager claimed that skipper Scott Brown would be struggling to be back in time from surgery to solve an abductor problem for the William Hill Scottish Cup final against Hibernian on 26 May. He was then asked if it was possible that the midfielder would be fit for Scotland’s World Cup qualifier against Croatia in June.
Lennon said: “I don’t have a problem with that if he is fit, although I do have a problem with doing any favours for the SFA at the minute. So I will have to think about that. He has had a really crippling season and he was putting his body through a lot of stress, particularly in the Champions League games. He is talking about training next week, he has no chance with that. We are thinking about his long-term future here, not just a quick fix. It’s pretty doubtful if he will be fit for the final.”
Lennon has received support from the man who will be in the opposite dugout tomorrow, with Inverness manager Terry Butcher insisting that the SFA were “wrong” to take action against the Celtic manager.
Butcher – who himself was cleared by the SFA of breaking a dugout window at Dundee’s Dens Park on 10 March – claims swearing and other forms of industrial language are not the sole preserve of players and coaching staff.
He said: “I better watch my language in the dugout as well. I better not punch any holes or dislodge the Perspex of the dugout like I did at Dundee either.
“My case has been dismissed because of a complete lack of evidence but not so for Neil and I feel very sorry for him.
“I don’t know anybody, apart from [Ross County’s] Derek Adams, who doesn’t swear on the sidelines. Even some of the match officials swear, because it’s appropriate at the time.”
On the suggestion that Lunny had launched his investigation on the back of just two complaints, Butcher added: “It’s now one of those situations where you don’t know who is watching you, who is listening to you,” he said. “Managers and coaches are coming under far more scrutiny than they ever did before.
“It’s unnecessarily so. It’s a passionate game, an emotional game. Within certain boundaries people should just accept that there is going to be that type of language. You should hear the language that is directed against managers on the sidelines. That’s pretty horrific.
“As soon as a manager steps out of line by saying one or two things then he gets done and I think that’s wrong.”
Butcher was involved in a flash point himself in February when he had to be dragged away from a confrontation with a supporter after a 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock at the Caledonian Stadium. He insists he will be on best behaviour from now on but claims it should be down to the match officials – and not supporters – to police the dugouts.
He said: “I don’t always swear. Sometimes I swear at my own crowd, which isn’t always good. Let’s face it, the referees and the fourth officials have the situation well under control and they don’t take any action. If they don’t take any action then I don’t see why anyone else should.”