Attack was ‘tipping point’ in season of bombs and bullets, says Lennon

Celtic manager Neil Lennon told a court yesterday that an alleged religiously aggravated attack on him was the “tipping point” in a season that saw him being threatened with bombs and bullets.

Mr Lennon was giving evidence in the trial of John Wilson, 26, of Edinburgh, who is accused of attacking him at a Hearts v Celtic match at Tynecastle Stadium on 11 May this year.

Mr Lennon described the fixture as “a muscling game”.

Appearing at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, he said: “It was a huge game in the context of the season, with ourselves and Rangers going for the title.”

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Mr Lennon said Hearts v Celtic games are “more raucous than usual”, but this particular game “had a bit more of an edge to it”, with a lot of abuse coming from the stands.

He added: “It was just the usual abuse that you would get – or that I would get – at the majority of the away games. Some of it is personal, some of it isn’t.”

Mr Lennon then described how he had just finished celebrating Celtic’s second goal, and ran to the touchline to give instructions to his players, when he was attacked.

He added: “I felt a contact to the corner of my head and then saw a body sort of sprawled out in front of me – and it was then I realised that he had tried to get to me.

“It felt like a glancing blow to the corner of my head,” he added, pointing towards his left eyebrow.

“It all happened very quickly, and I sort of went into a defence position, crouching to avoid contact with whoever it was that was attacking me.

“He was off-balance and ended up lying in front of me.”

Mr Lennon identified Wilson, who was sitting in the dock, as his attacker. He added: “I tried to prevent him from getting up again. He was trying to defend himself.

“There was a steward, the fourth official, and [Celtic coach] Alan Thompson who had all sort of gathered around him and I got pulled back. I was going to go for him, because I wasn’t sure what he had in his hand.

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“I knew I had been attacked, so it was a split-second self-defence mechanism.

“He could have had something. I didn’t know, but he could have been carrying something.”

Mr Lennon said he did nothing to provoke the incident, other than “doing my job”.

He added: “If you would call doing my job inciting violence, then I was just doing my job.”

Mr Lennon said immediately after the attack he called his assailant “a f***ing idiot”.

However, he said he did not hear his assailant say anything as it was a noisy atmosphere and he was pulled away quickly.

Mr Lennon said the incident left him “angry after all the stuff that had happened to me previously”.

When asked to clarify what had happened to him previously, he said: “Packages have been sent in the past. A 24-hour armed guard outside my house. Police protection. My house has been refitted with new security alarms and systems and all that sort of thing.

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“I was sent viable devices in the post,” he told the court. “I was sent bullets in the post.

“Basically, this was the tipping point for me. I just felt that was the last straw, really.”

Wilson stands accused of lunging at Mr Lennon and seizing him around the neck, aggravated by religious prejudice.

He also stands accused of running on to the field of play during a designated sporting event, running at the away team dugout, shouting, swearing, making a sectarian remark, and thereby causing a breach of the peace.

Wilson’s counsel, David Nicolson, said he did not dispute the allegation that his client charged at Mr Lennon, but took issue with the alleged remarks that had been attributed to him.

He said: “I’m not disputing that Mr Wilson was shouting and swearing, and that he charged at Neil Lennon. It was really what was said that is in dispute, rather than what happened.”

The case before Sheriff Reith continues. Wilson denies the charges.