Neil Lennon forced to leave stadium over fan abuse

Celtic manager Neil Lennon watches the match at Tynecastle in Edinburgh yesterday between Aberdeen and St Johnstone. Picture: Contributed
Celtic manager Neil Lennon watches the match at Tynecastle in Edinburgh yesterday between Aberdeen and St Johnstone. Picture: Contributed
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CELTIC manager Neil Lennon was forced to leave a Scottish football stadium tonight after fans pelted him with coins and plastic cups.

Lennon, 42, was seated in the main stand at Tynecastle at the Scottish League Cup semi-final between Aberdeen and St Johnstone. The manager, who was sitting near Aberdeen fans, left the stadium 20 minutes before the end of the match.

Eyewitnesses who were seated near the manager told Scotland on Sunday that Lennon withstood almost an hour of verbal abuse. One said: “After listening to the abuse for some time, fans started throwing plastic cups and coins at him.”

It is understood that Tynecastle stewards then moved Lennon closer to the pitch, but projectiles continued to be thrown at him.

Lennon then left the Edinburgh stadium and did not return. He had been watching the match along with Celtic first team coach Garry Parker and Billy Brown, assistant manager at Hearts.

The Celtic manager’s representative, Martin Reilly, said: “From the moment he took his seat, Neil was spat on, verbally abused, had coins thrown at him and eventually he had to leave. This is the second time that something has happened to Neil at Tynecastle, so there is obviously something wrong with the security.

“The last time it was on the pitch, and now he’s not even safe to sit in the stand. It’s absolutely unbelievable. This wouldn’t happen at any other stadium in Scotland.”

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

A spokesman for Celtic said: “Clearly it is totally unacceptable for the manager of Celtic to be treated in this way. The manager has complimented the way in which the situation was handled by stewarding staff at Tynecastle.

“We have an excellent relationship with Aberdeen FC and we are sure they will look into this matter.”

Police Scotland said they had yet to receive any formal complaints over the incident.

A Scottish Professional Football League spokesman said: “We are aware of the matter, but have not received any official complaint from Celtic so cannot comment at this time.”

Hearts security teams were last night investigating the incident and are understood to be checking CCTV for footage.

Fans spoke of their anger over the incident during a phone-in on BBC Radio Scotland’s Sportsound.

During the match, which Aberdeen won 4-0, play was held up briefly as two young supporters ran on to the park and got to the technical area before being apprehended by police and stewards.

A spokesman for Aberdeen FC said: “…it would appear that a tiny minority within the Main Stand behaved in a manner that is completely unacceptable and has absolutely no place in football and we would urge anyone who has any information as to the identity of those responsible to get in touch with the club in order that appropriate action can be taken.”

Lennon received death threats as long ago as 2002, before he was due to captain Northern Ireland for the first time.

Raised as a Catholic, he had reportedly said he wanted to play for a united Irish team, but never represented his country again after the threats.

He was the victim of an assault in the West End of Glasgow in 2008, before the Royal Mail intercepted packages addressed to him containing bullets last January. Two months later, he was among three high-profile figures associated with Celtic who were sent parcel bombs in the post.

Police and prosecutors were given additional powers to crack down on sectarian songs and abuse at football matches in 2012. Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said last year: “We have made clear that bigotry and religious hatred have no place in modern Scotland and we will stamp on it wherever and whenever it occurs.”