Neil Lennon: Fans abuse was drunken, not sectarian

Neil Lennon accused Aberdeen fans of throwing missiles at him but denied there had been a sectarian element. Picture: SNS
Neil Lennon accused Aberdeen fans of throwing missiles at him but denied there had been a sectarian element. Picture: SNS
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CELTIC manager Neil Lennon yesterday said the attack against him while he watched a Scottish League Cup tie was “drink-fuelled” rather than sectarian.

The 42-year-old was spat at, had coins thrown at him and was the subject of verbal abuse while sitting in stand at Tynecastle Stadium.

He was forced to leave the cup semi-final between Aberdeen and St Johnstone in Edinburgh 20 minutes before the end of the match on Saturday.

Lennon was sitting with Celtic coach Garry Parker, club physio Tim Williamson and Hearts assistant manager Billy Brown, and close to Aberdeen staff in the directors’ box, when the trouble started.

Speaking yesterday, Lennon admitted the incident had made him think about his role as Celtic manager, given it is the latest of a series of attacks on him over the last 11 years.

When asked if there would come a time where he would say enough is enough, Lennon said: “I’m sure, yeah. That’s when you’ve got to say ‘well, maybe you need to look at something else in your life if you can’t go to a game and enjoy it when you’re out working.’

“I wasn’t really shaken up afterwards but I felt for my staff as well and they felt for me.

“There may have been a lot of people who weren’t aware of what was going on because we weren’t making a huge song and dance about it. But the stewards were aware.”

Speaking before his team took on St Mirren at Parkhead yesterday, Lennon said the abuse was “unacceptable” and branded the actions as “unsavoury, unnecessary and uncalled for”.

The Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) yesterday apologised to Lennon and issued a statement saying the incident had been “utterly unacceptable”.

The manager said: “I don’t want to take anything away from what was a great day for Aberdeen. I don’t think that’s fair.

“I can’t apportion any blame to them, it was just a section of their supporters who probably had far too much to drink and wanted to single me out.

“I don’t think it was sectarian. It was drink-fuelled and yes, it is unacceptable.”

He added: “You get the usual abuse, which is fine. You can get over that. But then I was aware of a coin flying past my head and it actually hit an Aberdeen member of staff on the back. He handed the coin to the steward.”

Lennon, who is from Northern Ireland, said stewards moved him to just in front of the press box at half time.

He said: “When Aberdeen scored the third goal, a drink of some sorts came flying over my head. It missed me and landed in the press box, hitting a couple of journalists.

Witnesses said Lennon had withstood nearly an hour of verbal abuse before leaving the stadium.

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster said: “We understand the Celtic manager Neil Lennon was the subject of abusive treatment by a minority of fans during yesterday’s game.

“Given this occurred at one of our games, we’d like to apologise to Neil Lennon for this utterly unacceptable behaviour.”

Police Scotland last night said they had received no complaints about the incidents.

In May 2011, a Hearts fan ran on to the Tynecastle pitch and shouted and swore at Lennon. The fan was later found guilty of a breach of the peace.

Two men were jailed for five years in 2012 for sending Lennon parcel bombs.