Passionate Neil Lennon hellbent on stopping three in a row

HE HAS enjoyed many unforgettable evenings at Celtic Park amidst the bedlam of 60,000 supporters, but they were all eclipsed for Neil Lennon when he walked out into an empty stadium late on Monday night.

The lengthy negotiations to make him the new Celtic manager had just been successfully completed in principle as Lennon, the childhood supporter from Lurgan who later captained them with distinction, took time out to reflect on his ascent to the most significant position at the club he adores.

"I've been down that tunnel hundreds of times before, but I've never seen the stadium as serene as it was the other night," said Lennon. "We had just concluded everything and I had stepped outside to get a breath of fresh air, because we have been in there a fair length of time.

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"It was dead still, there wasn't a soul in the ground. There was no light apart from the moonlight. I've never seen anything like it at the stadium before. It was a special moment for me, because it hadn't really sunk in at that point what had just happened. I suppose I had more of a feeling of relief that it was finally done and I was the Celtic manager.

"The fans call it paradise, and they all have their own reasons for it, and it was my paradise the other night. I was thinking of Martin O'Neill, Gordon Strachan and Mr Stein, some of the men who had gone before me as manager. I felt like I was now standing on the shoulder of giants."

Lennon has never been prone to delivering clichs or soundbites and the man who will celebrate his 39th birthday in a fortnight could be excused for waxing extra lyrical yesterday

He has been waiting for confirmation of his appointment since the end of the season, hoping the eight successive SPL victories he guided Celtic to as interim manager would outweigh the embarrassing Scottish Cup semi-final defeat suffered at the hands of Ross County.

"I knew I was a candidate, but I knew there would be other people applying for it," he said. "I was kept abreast of things that were going on. No names were mentioned, but I knew I was very much in the running from the last day of the season.

"The longer it goes on, the more you worry it might just be starting to run away from you. Even in the last few days, I was thinking 'I've come this far, surely it can't go wrong now?'. It was a big decision for the club and they had to get it right, because we can't afford to go three seasons in a row without winning the SPL.

"I was concerned about the impact of the Ross County result, of course I was. I knew it would get thrown up at me, and it has been. It's been said it was my only meaningful game and I lost it, but I disagree with that. A lot of the other games were meaningful, because we had to see off Dundee United and finish second. I knew I had to win all eight league game or I would have no chance of the job, so there was pressure in every game. They were all must-win for me, but I had that mentality as a player.

"There is a different remit for me now. I'm a fully fledged manager and that will bring its own pressures. Can I bring the right players in? Will they fit into the team the way I want them to? Do I have the right backroom staff and will I get the chemistry right there too? I've got all of that to weigh up. I'm pretty sure I can do that okay, but there are a lot of things to think about between now and the end of the season."

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Whatever reservations some Celtic supporters may have over Lennon's lack of managerial experience, there would have been universal approval among them yesterday of his passion.

"I want to bring the thunder back to Celtic Park," he said. "I just want to get the place rocking again, to have my players ready to go to war every time they run out there. I want a strong mentality, a will to win and a refusal to lose. I want to try and replicate what we had under Martin O'Neill. I want the player to expect to win when they go onto the pitch and for the fans to have that feeling of almost knowing they will win."

Having often found himself caught in the Old Firm storm both on and off the pitch during his playing career, Lennon recognises that being manager confronts him with a different kind of demands. He intends to adapt his approach to life rather than alter it, however.

"I don't want to change too much," he said. "I'm sure there will be lifestyle changes of some sort, but I don't want to change my personality too much because that's what got me here. Maybe I'll change my mode of thinking in one or two areas.

"I think I've probably experienced everything off the field in my time at Celtic, but you never know what's around the corner. I've had a good few kickings, so I'd like to think nothing would surprise me, but you never stop learning in football."

Lennon has cause to be grateful to Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell who persuaded him to remain at the club last year when, relegated to the role of development squad coach by Tony Mowbray, he was offered the manager's job at Stockport County.

"They came up here and spoke to me," he revealed, "and if it hadn't been for Peter, I might have been more bullish and gone for it. I was a bit frustrated at that point of my career, but Peter assured me there was a place for me at Celtic and that the club saw potential in me as a coach. I stayed because I knew I was staring at an opportunity of a lifetime. I'm only the 16th manager in Celtic's history and jobs like this don't come around too often. I missed the club when I left as a player, all the seasoned pros say the same. I love the club and I think I can do a job here now. I think the players feel I can do a job as well."


WILLIE MALEY (1888-1940)

Honours: 16 League Championships, 14 Scottish Cups, Glasgow Exhibition Trophy (1902), Empire Exhibition Trophy (1938)

JIMMY McSTAY (1940-45)

Honours: None (No official League during war)

JIMMY McGRORY (1945-65)

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Honours: 1 League, 2 Scottish Cups, 2 League Cups, St Mungo Cup (1951), Coronation Cup (1953)

JOCK STEIN (1965-78)

Honours: 10 Leagues, 8 Scottish Cups, 6 League Cups, 1 European Cup (1967)

BILLY McNEILL (1978-83)

Honours: 3 Leagues, 2 Scottish Cups, 1 League Cup

DAVIE HAY (1983-87)

Honours: 1 League, 1 Scottish Cup

BILLY McNEILL (1987-91)

Honours: 1 League, 1 Scottish Cup

LIAM BRADY (1991-93)

Honours: None

LOU MACARI (1993-94)

Honours: None

TOMMY BURNS (1994-97)

Honours: 1 Scottish Cup

WIM JANSEN (1997-98)

Honours: 1 League, 1 League Cup


Honours: None

JOHN BARNES (1999-2000)

Honours: None


Honours: League Cup

MARTIN O'NEILL (2000-05)

Honours: 3 Leagues, 1 League Cup, 3 Scottish Cups


Honours: 2 Leagues, 1 League Cup, 1 Scottish Cup

TONY MOWBRAY (2009-10)

Honours: None


• In pictures - Neil Lennon