Stephen Halliday: Six-game ban unfair? Try a two-year stint for size

"On matters of discipline, we have come to accept that we are treated differently. This is nothing more than we would expect from the SFA."

This juicy quote, you might rush to conclude, perhaps came from an unattributed Celtic club statement during their current spat with the powers-that-be on Hampden's sixth floor. Or maybe even from Neil Lennon himself as the Celtic manager fumes at the perceived injustice of his six-match touchline suspension.

Yet those words were, in fact, uttered some 20 years ago by a man whose conflict with the SFA was conducted with such a sense of grievance and belief he was being persecuted as to make Lennon's gripes appear trivial. It was Graeme Souness who made the barbed comment about the SFA's disciplinary procedures, the day after his Rangers side had defeated Celtic 2-1 after extra-time in the 1990-91 League Cup final.

It proved to be the last major honour Souness claimed as Rangers manager as he left the club before the end of that season to take charge at Liverpool, citing his treatment by the Scottish football authorities as one of the reasons for returning south.

The conclusion of that League Cup final had seen Souness sprint on to the Hampden pitch to join in the celebrations with his players. It was, the then SFA secretary Jim Farry immediately noted, regarded as a transgression of the two-year touchline suspension Souness was serving at the time. Yes, two years, your eyes don't deceive you.

In attempting to bring some historical perspective to the difficulties Lennon is currently experiencing as a rookie Old Firm manager in matters with those in authority, it is certainly worth considering the case of Souness who shared many of the current Celtic manager's traits.

An uncompromising character who never backed away from confrontation on or off the pitch, Souness was on first-name terms with the doorman at the SFA's Park Gardens offices, such was the regularity of his summons to face the disciplinary committee.

From day one of his Ibrox tenure, of course, Souness brought trouble upon himself when he was sent off in his first game for a crude foul on Hibs striker George McCluskey which sparked a mass on-field brawl. The three-match ban and 5,000 fine imposed by the SFA was the first entry on what would become a lengthy charge sheet. A five-match suspension was imposed when Souness made abusive remarks to referee David Syme, the content of which are unprintable, following an Old Firm defeat at Celtic Park in August 1987 which saw him sent off for a foul on Billy Stark.

It was when his playing career wound down and he concentrated almost solely on managing Rangers, however, that Souness entered into a battle of wills with the SFA which should offer some salutary insight for Lennon.

In February 1989, Souness blew a gasket on the touchline at Tannadice when Dundee United scored an equaliser against Rangers during five minutes of stoppage time added on by referee Andrew Waddell. Furiously eyeballing the startled official, Souness pointed theatrically to his own watch as he made his protest.

The SFA reacted swiftly, banning Souness from the dugout until the end of the season. Two months later, however, he wilfully defied the suspension during a Scottish Cup semi-final against St Johnstone at Celtic Park. The outcome was a 2,000 fine and his banishment extended for a year. In terms of natural justice, it makes the SFA's current automatic two-match ban appear positively benevolent.

It was still not enough to subdue Souness, however. There were occasions when he was able to circumvent the suspension by naming himself as a substitute as he remained registered as a player, but that was a luxury he was gradually unable to afford in the days of only two replacements. So in February 1990, Souness breached his restraining order again during a match against Hearts at Ibrox. STV cameras caught the Rangers manager standing in the Ibrox tunnel from where he was able to pass on instructions. This time, the SFA increased the fine to 5,000 and imposed the two-year suspension, prompting Souness to take out his wrath on STV who were promptly handed their own ban from Ibrox.

The moral of the story, one which a more mellow Souness would accept in later years, is that a manager simply cannot hope to win such a battle with the SFA. As Neil Lennon awaits his day in front of the SFA Appeals Board to contest his six-match suspension, he may care to reflect that he is not the only man who has believed he is being singled out for special treatment by the game's lawmakers.