Neil Lennon: Celtic told me to be ‘whiter than white’

Celtic Chief Executive Peter Lawwell
Celtic Chief Executive Peter Lawwell
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Embarking on his first job in management, the then Celtic manager, Neil Lennon, was warned that he would have to be “whiter than white”, writes Moira Gordon.

His time in England opened his eyes to a different side to the game as rumours circulated of underhand dealings and the kind of corruption that has been highlighted south of the Border these past few days thanks to a newspaper sting.

Hibernian manager Neil Lennon

Hibernian manager Neil Lennon

But Lennon says he was never tempted, thanks in part to his own attitudes and also as a consequence of some early advice from Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell, pictured.

“I would never, ever get myself in that position. One, I don’t need it; two, I couldn’t live with it; and, three, I always think it will come back and bite you at some stage in your life, whether you’re working or not.

“It’s not the reason I’m in the game. I’ve earned plenty playing, I like working, but I like working within the rules of the game, and I don’t like disrespecting the game in any way. If anyone ever tried to entice me into something, they would get short shrift.

“I learned that from Peter Lawwell, more or less from day one. He said ‘you’re the manager of Celtic and you’ve got to be whiter than white’. So I very rarely deal with agents. I speak to them about players, but, when it comes to negotiations, I leave that firmly with the people who run the club. ”

But he says that a retained love of the game, combined with the realisation that football north of the Border could not sustain the level of bungs and backhanders apparently so prevalent in the English game, means that the chances of Scottish football being caught with its pants down is less likely.

“I think, in the main, there’s still an integrity at times to the game here. People will front up in England as having the integrity, but behind the scenes are milking it. That’s my own opinion. I’ve not been aware of any of it in Scotland, I have to say. When I was down in England, for the 18 months there, I was aware of stories.

“You think some of it is rumour and hearsay, but you can hear from certain quarters here, there and everywhere about the same person doing the same thing over and over again. Ultimately, it’s going to come out.”

Referring to ‘black-market’ trading, he said that agents and club owners have to have a good look at themselves. “There’s three or four times more money in the game and the players aren’t three or four times better off but the agents are three or four times richer.

“We’re not just talking about the English game. There’s been corruption at FIFA, corruption at UEFA, match-fixing, bribes. We’ve seen it at Juventus. It’s a shame and people have turned a blind eye to it for a long time. I don’t like the entrapment side of it, but there has been a dishonesty along the way from a lot of people, and it’s coming home to bite them now.”