Celtic boss Neil Lennon doesn’t believe sectarianism will ever go away
The subject of anti-social behaviour at football matches has been a frequent topic this season, with players, managers and officials being struck by missiles thrown from the stands, supporters encroaching on to the playing field in order to assault players and the air being fouled by sectarian songs and chants.
On the eve of the third derby of the season at Parkhead, Lennon, inset, was asked whether he could envisage a match between the Glasgow giants without anthems hailing the IRA or the fascistic Billy Boys, he shook his head.
“I don’t know if that day will ever come,” said Lennon, who has been on the receiving end of more abuse from fans than most.
“It’s a facet of the game; the rivalry is always going to be there and that element, it’s been going on for more than 100 years.
“Why would I think it would change over the next 100? It [change] has got to come from the home, first and foremost.”
Isn’t that a depressing thought? “Yeah; it’s just a dark side of what’s a brilliant fixture.
For the second time in the current campaign, Rangers have been provided with only 800 tickets for the 60,000-capacity stadium, a direct result of chairman Dave King electing to announce last year that he would reduce Celtic’s allocation for matches at Ibrox by 90 per cent.
Lennon, though, hopes that there will be a rethink for next season, arguing that watching the fixture on television is a less appealing prospect for neutrals at home and abroad as a consequence of King’s decision.
“Whether it’s what people would perceive to be a good idea or not, I don’t know,” he said. “I used to enjoy us having a big away support at Ibrox and I’m sure the Rangers players say the same about Celtic Park. It diminishes the occasion a little bit. Maybe the powers that be will look at it again and change it. But listen, it’s my first one since 2012, I’m just trying to concentrate on winning the game.”
Steven Gerrard expects his Rangers players to have more belief and less fear going to Celtic Park after ending a 12-game run without victory over their arch rivals in December. Gerrard admitted his team sat off Celtic too much when they lost 1-0 at Parkhead in September. But he is optimistic his players will be more positive after they beat Celtic 1-0 at Ibrox in December.
“The last time we visited Celtic Park it was on the back of a Europa League game on the Thursday night,” he said.
“We had a lot of travel, it was a big night emotionally for us to qualify with nine men, and then the Old Firm slapped us in the face within 72 hours, and it was a very difficult place. And I think that affected us.
“We also had to deal with the mental block of fearing Celtic over the years and the results that have been quite damaging.
“I think beating them at Ibrox and showing that we can, at our best, compete and go toe to toe, that should help us this time round. That doesn’t mean we are going to go there and necessarily get the result. We have to go and work for that and make sure across the park we are up for it and match them in the one v ones.
“But the players have to believe and have less fear this time going there.”