Glenn Gibbons: Hypocrites need to take long look at themselves
LIKE one totalitarian state condemning another over its record on human rights, football fans are often so consumed by inappropriate outrage and indignation that they fail utterly to notice their own hypocrisy.
When, for example, the Celtic manager Neil Lennon made his ear-cupping gesture towards home supporters who had hounded him viciously throughout last Sunday's Old Firm match at Ibrox, it amounted merely to a mute recital of the old "sticks-and-stones" ditty.
He did not execute a two-footed lunge at somebody in the crowd; he did not spit on anyone. But the reaction from spectators, who are clearly more sensitive than we could have imagined, would have caused anyone to believe that he should have been locked up for his crime.
Lennon seems to have a genius for irritating opposing fans, cursed when aroused with an unfortunate snarl that gives the impression he may have been born angry. In his case, however, it does seem reasonable to ask to what extent his frustrations - and even his personality - have been influenced by his experiences since he arrived in Scotland 11 years ago.
There seems, for instance, to be no evidence of especially notorious episodes during his time in England with Crewe Alexandra and Leicester City. Nor does he appear to have had any difficulties in playing for his native Northern Ireland before his joining Celtic. It is probably legitimate to wonder, too, if parcel bombs, death threats and assaults on the streets of Glasgow could possibly have had a slightly souring effect.
The general reaction to his "retaliation" at Ibrox last week was, in any case, particularly ill-fitted to Rangers supporters, thousands of whose own toxic behaviour through the years have regularly brought their club to trial by Uefa.
The latest conviction, carrying a sentence that was markedly less savage than had been anticipated, prompted another curious response from Rangers' chief executive, Martin Bain. This contained an admission of guilt, along with a stern reminder that any repeat offending would result in severe punitive repercussions.
But it also intimated the possibility of an appeal, plus a re-directing of blame for at least part of their predicament to the watchdog organisation, Fans Against Racism in Europe (FARE), for "grassing" them to the authorities. Bain's statement seemed to suggest that, without FARE's intervention - and that this sprang from questionable motives - there would have been no case to answer.
But supporters of smaller clubs have little cause to strike a morally superior pose over those who follow the giants. As demonstrated by Wolves fans who taunted Stoke City's Matthew Etherington as he was carried off with a hamstring injury that threatens his appearance in the FA Cup final, they, too, can be fired by a self-indulgent malice.
This was not a case of the downtrodden gloating over a big-time Charlie who could miss simply the latest in a guaranteed series of great occasions, but the wounding of a player for whom the Wembley extravaganza would most likely be a career milestone. At least Wolves officials felt shame, offering their Stoke counterparts an apology on behalf of their club.
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