John Hartson: Lennon may walk away over abuse

John Hartson plays an iron shot at the launch of the John Hartson Foundation Celebrity Golf Day at Loch Lomond. Picture: SNS
John Hartson plays an iron shot at the launch of the John Hartson Foundation Celebrity Golf Day at Loch Lomond. Picture: SNS
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JOHN Hartson has revealed his concern that Celtic manager Neil Lennon will walk away from Scottish football because of the abuse he receives.

Swansea City’s managerial vacancy is the latest with which Lennon’s name has been associated.

When asked yesterday if he felt it was only a matter of time before his former team-mate moves south of the border, 
Hartson said he feared the way Lennon was targeted by Aberdeen fans at Tynecastle can only have pushed him closer to leaving.

Hartson said: “With this latest incident at Tynecastle you would wonder how much more Neil can take. He’s had threats to his life, he’s had bombs through his letterbox, he’s been physically beaten up on a public street and abused at games, as we saw last weekend.“I know he’s strong-willed and he’s a strong character because I sat next to Neil in that Celtic dressing room for five years. But you just wonder.

“He loves his job, it’s a dream job for him having captained the club and played six or seven years there. He’s at a special place where he would have to seriously consider his options before moving, because he loves his job.

“But, with all the outside animosity and problems that come up all the time – there seems to be a six-month period where it’s quiet and then something else happens again – you would wonder if Neil would have a gut full of it at some stage.”

Hartson’s concern for Lennon plays second fiddle to his admiration for him, however.

“It quite possibly would have broken weaker men by now,” he continued. “When he talks about having a 24-hour bodyguard, that’s no way to live your life.

“I’m living in a nice area of Swansea. I can take my dogs for a walk in the afternoon, I can go to my village pub and have a couple of pints, I can play darts on a Monday night with the lads and I don’t get any threats.

“I’ve got a fantastic life and Neil is just trying to get on with his. He’s very proud and privileged to be in the position that he’s in as Celtic manager but, for Neil, that comes with problems and issues all the time. You do wonder how much he can take.”

Asked what might be Lennon’s motivation for staying at Celtic – as yet, there has been no publicly-declared interest from any potential

suitors – Hartson said that the Lurgan man could be imagining himself joining the pantheon of great Celtic managers. “He might well be thinking about titles. Rangers are not going to be [challenging] for another two or three years so by then Celtic could have six titles in a row,” said the Welshman, who was at Loch Lomond to promote his charity golf day on 18 March.

“In 50 years’ time no-one will question Neil’s title wins and say ‘ah, but Rangers were out of the league at that point’. No-one will point that out if Celtic win ten in a row. Gordon Strachan won three in a row, but the books don’t add that Rangers were a poor side under Paul Le Guen and dropped Barry Ferguson as captain. Strachan goes down as a three-in-a-row manager.

“Lenny may well be thinking along those lines – he could make himself an absolute living legend along the lines of Jock Stein or Walter Smith.”