Neil Lennon says he does not believe he will be spared racial and sectarian abuse at Ibrox today as a result of the Uefa punishments meted out to Rangers for “racist behaviour (sectarian chanting)” over the past ten days.
It is 15 years since Martin O’Neill stated that Lennon, then a midfielder with the Parkhead club, suffered “racial and sectarian” abuse at the Govan ground, and as the Celtic manager prepared for the first derby of the season, he agreed that it now appears Uefa has recognised that the use of “Fenian” as an epithet in abusive or threatening chants is racially charged in being anti-Irish Catholic.
Lennon says it is “embarrassing” that an outside agency has been required to bring this issue centre-stage. The partial closures of Ibrox for Europa League games resulting from the Uefa charges cannot be replicated in domestic matches because Scottish football has rejected strict liability, meaning the clubs cannot be held responsible for the action of their supporters.
Abuse from the stands can therefore go unpunished and Lennon gave an unambiguous response when asked if he thought the Uefa sanctions would bring any change in Rangers’ supporters behaviour towards him.
“No,” he said flatly, before expanding when asked if the fixture brought “this element out”. “Yes,” he said. “It has always been that way. It was ever thus so I can’t imagine that changing overnight or in three or four days. You don’t want it sanitised completely either but you want to strike a balance of there being a red hot atmosphere without all the vitriol that goes with it.”
Lennon goes along with Steve Clarke’s take on abuse from supporters. The then Kilmarnock manager said after being decried as “a sad Fenian bastard” at a Scottish Cup tie at Ibrox in February that he had no problems with anything other than the use of the word “Fenian”. “Yes, absolutely because I take offence to the latter,” said Lennon.
Mention of the now Scotland manager led Lennon to question the different responses from Rangers to himself and Clarke suffering such sectarian abuse.
“It is embarrassing [when it takes an outside agency to come in and deal with this] but then sometimes people turn a blind eye to it or go ‘och it is only him, he can deal with it’ but at the end of the day we are human beings. I think Rangers put a statement out after Steve Clarke got the abuse but there was none forthcoming for me over the years. I find that interesting as well.
“I don’t know if this will embarrass anyone into dealing with it. I don’t have all the answers. I’ve been saying this for quite a while, I even said it when I was at Hibs last season [that the abuse was racial, in the aftermath of being hit with a coin at an Edinburgh derby]. But it’s out of my jurisdiction. I’ve a big game to navigate, a team to look after, and a responsibility to that team so I’m not getting involved in debates about what’s right or what’s wrong on the terraces or away from the game.”