Neil Lennon could face first ban over Twitter after cup fury

NEIL Lennon could become the first person to receive a ban from the Scottish Football Association for comments made on Twitter since rules governing the use of social media were tightened in the summer.

However, the Celtic manager is unlikely to find out the ramifications of his latest referee bust-up until next week due to a backlog of cases at the SFA, including two which are due to deal with past incidents involving Lennon himself.

He has three disciplinary cases pending, two of which will be heard by the SFA’s judiciary panel on Thursday and which relate to his criticism of referee Willie Collum after the Scottish Communities League Cup final defeat to Kilmarnock and his half-time dismissal by referee Calum Murray during the recent 3-2 SPL defeat by Rangers at Ibrox.

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Lennon’s heftiest punishment could lie in store for him following his fury at the end of the Scottish Cup semi-final on Sunday after referee Euan Norris had awarded Hearts a controversial last-gasp penalty when a shot from the Tynecastle side’s skipper Marius Zaliukas hit the arm of Joe Ledley before brushing the hand of Victor Wanyama.

Lennon was further enraged when the official refused Celtic a penalty in injury time when the ball had struck Hearts defender Andy Webster.

The Celtic manager marched on to the pitch at the end to remonstrate with Norris, an act which saw him accused of ‘bullying’ the official by Hugh Dallas, the former head of referee development at the SFA. “I can’t remember in 25 years of refereeing seeing a manager run that far on to a pitch to bully a referee,” Dallas said yesterday. “These pictures are going around the world and it is not good.”

Dallas himself has a controversial past after being forced to resign from his position after forwarding what was considered to be an offensive email about the Pope in 2010. Lennon did

not attend the post-match press conference, where his place was taken by coach Alan Thompson. He confirmed Lennon had been to the referee’s room in another attempt to gain an explanation from Norris. The manager then later took to Twitter. The most contentious comment was Lennon’s assertion that he believed it had become personal between him and referees. Lennon tweeted: “Referee told players he thought [Victor] Wanyama handled...feel so sorry for players and fans..I think it’s personal myself.”

He left himself open to further and perhaps more serious sanctions when he later re-tweeted a comment from Celtic supporter @DazDiCanio which suggested the club “pack our bags and get out of this league that is run by crooked #SFA officials”.

Rule 68 of the SFA’s judicial panel protocol states that: “No recognised football team official shall, in an interview, a blog, on a social networking or micro-blogging site, publicity criticise the performance of any or all match officials in such a way as to indicate bias or incompetence.”

It is expected that Lennon will find out later this week whether or not he is to face that charge. Lennon has already been written to by Vincent Lunny, the SFA’s first full-time compliance officer, demanding an explanation for his comments about referees ahead of an SPL game against St Johnstone at Celtic Park at the start of the month. Punishment for breaching rule 68 ranges from a censure to the top-end implementation of a five-match suspension. The maximum punishment for the charge is a 21-game ban.

Other Celtic players could also face scrutiny after similarly irate posts. Joe Ledley and Anthony Stokes both spoke out after the fractious encounter.

Ledley lamented: “Can’t believe the decisions made on the pitch today. Was never a pen. This sums it up, he thought it hit Victor’s arm.” Stokes was also furious, writing: “Some ridiculous decisions. It’s getting beyond a joke at this stage.” The players’ union, PFA Scotland, have a made a conscious effort to warn those involved in the game of the dangers of venting their anger on Twitter.

Former St Mirren defender Jack Ross, now communications executive at PFA Scotland, warned players and staff that they would face serious repercussions if they used the social networking site as a means to complain about officials.

“It is evident from the new Scottish FA judicial panel protocol that the Association will use a strong disciplinary approach to protect referees in particular from criticism,” said Ross.

“Players may be punished for making comment via social networks that is deemed to have brought the game into disrepute.

“The sanctions surrounding social media are particularly severe and could result in a three, four or five-game suspension with a maximum punishment of 20 games.”