KENNY Dalglish has backed the Celtic manager, Neil Lennon, to shrug off his latest brush with supporter abuse and entrust the authorities to convict the men who targeted him at Tynecastle last weekend and “let them suffer” in prison.
Lennon has been no stranger to threats as a high-profile Celtic player and manager and former Northern Ireland international. His agent Martin Reilly claimed he was spat on by Aberdeen fans while watching the League Cup semi-final from a seat in the stands, but Lennon himself said he did not believe there was a sectarian undertone to the incident, and attributed the abuse to fans who had over-indulged in alcohol.
On a visit to Glasgow yesterday to promote a contrastingly wholesome side of Scottish football, the McDonald’s Scottish FA Grassroots Awards, one of Celtic’s greatest-ever players said that Lennon should not lose sleep over the disgusting episode that cut short his trip to the capital on Saturday.
When it was put to him that Lennon might eventually be so sickened by being singled out for abuse by fans of rival clubs that it might drive him out of Scotland, Dalglish said: “I don’t think it will come to that, because the people who organise the security at the grounds will have the video to identify the culprits, get them in, bang them up, let them suffer. It’s in their hands more than anybody else’s.
“It’s a shame we’re talking about it,” he added. “We should let it settle and let the police get on with it and get the guys done, and then that puts everybody else off doing it.”
Dalglish, not quite as misanthropic in his media dealings as he was during his stint as Celtic’s director of football, but still very watchful under questioning, sang Lennon’s praises yesterday for the job he has done at home and abroad. The prolonged absence of Rangers from the Premiership will always be a footnote in the story of his Parkhead tenure, but Dalglish believes it should not have the power to invalidate tributes to his work.
“He’s done a fantastic job, there, fantastic. Qualifying twice for the Champions League group stages is fantastic, and I’m sure some people will try to undermine the success he’s had with Rangers not being present, but you can only beat what’s in front of you and they’ve done what they had to do,” said the 62-year-old.
“The only blip was that 1-0 defeat against Morton in the League Cup. That’s the only blip, the only thing you could say was poor. He’s changed teams umpteen times, he’s had players go out, players come in, [Victor] Wanywama has gone out for big money, reportedly £12 million to Southampton ... he’s constantly changed teams and they’re still winning, so he’s not doing too badly.”
So can Celtic finish what they have started and end this season as “Invincibles”? They are only 14 games from their objective, with 24 hurdles overcome, it was pointed out to the man who won just about everything it was possible to win during his Liverpool days. “It’s possible to go through the season undefeated because they have not lost yet and they are past the halfway mark. But the nearer you get to the finishing line, the harder it gets,” he stressed. “They have been beating everybody, not been losing goals and scoring plenty. Neil has done a fantastic job there.
“I suppose whatever they achieve in Scottish football will be undermined because Rangers aren’t as strong as what they were in years gone by. I think that’s a fair assumption but at the end of the day, Celtic can only beat what is in front of them. They have got it right at both ends. If you don’t lose any you have a great chance of staying unbeaten.”
Scottish football has changed since Dalglish was moulding himself into a deadly forward who would have few peers in Europe, let alone Britain. He insisted that there are no fewer good people working to ensure that kids get the chance to play football as there were in his heyday, but made one point that illustrated the landscape shift.
“The SPFL does not have a sponsor yet McDonald’s have been here for over ten years now working with SFA on various aspects and projects,” he said. “The grassroots one has been one of the most rewarding ones. I think both the SFA and McDonalds deserve a huge pat on the back but, more importantly, the people who spend their time and effort to ensure kids get a game of football.”
• The 2014 Scottish FA Grassroots Awards presented by McDonald’s has opened for nominations. McDonald’s Head of Scottish Football Kenny Dalglish is urging communities to nominate their grassroots heroes for one of the nine award c ategories. To nominate a football club or volunteer go to mcdonalds.co.uk/awards