First and foremost, Neil is hated for being an Irish Catholic, and a Northern Irish Catholic at that. When Neil plied his trade in the relative obscurity of the English East Midlands, Unionists were quite content for the token taig to don the green and white of the occupied North. Lennon would or never could be accepted by the bigots who follow the statelet, but his mere presence automatically strengthened the team. He was merely tolerated as a useful addition, constantly living on borrowed time.
This tacit understanding broke down irrevocably when he had the temerity to sign for Celtic, the antithesis of everything Protestant Ulster stands for. At the moment of signing for his childhood heroes, Neil Lennon’s life changed forever. In the eyes of the disturbed, Lennon had committed a heinous act by signing for the eternal foe.
Before he even kicked a ball in Scotland the man from Lurgan was a marked man. The primitive hatred of Lennon was rationalized by his many detractors by saying that he was ‘combative’ and ‘aggressive’, a man who always sought conflict on the field. Rather than play the sectarian card openly, his critics tried to justify their atavistic hatred of him by pointing towards fundamental flaws in his character. In recent days, I heard the luminary Richard Gough try and use an incident where Neil was kicked in the head by Alan Shearer as a means of illustrating Lennon’s deficiencies!!!
I’ll repeat that just in case you didn’t understand the warped logic that operates when trying to destroy the character of Neil Lennon. Rangers lose 1-0 to Celtic in a game which sees three Rangers players red-carded. Add to that disgraceful statistic, a series of yellow cards for other Rangers players and then you get a sense of what was really happening. Neil Lennon apparently is to blame for the violence, yet only three of his players are yellow carded and several Celtic players are assaulted on the field, narrowly escaping serious injury. And yet, it is Neil Lennon’s fault?
Richard Gough pointed towards certain flaws in Lennon’s character, insinuating that he was the sole cause of the problem. His evidence? An incident that took place in the EPL in 1998, when Neil Lennon was kicked in the head by Alan Shearer!!! This is the level of absurdity and hysteria that the Rangers’ apologists have reached. They cannot think sensibly and rationally when the name of Neil Lennon appears.
The second question regarding the hatred for Neil Lennon, is why is it so intense at this present moment? Very simple, Neil Lennon has created a winning team and a winning mentality. Much has been made of the feel good factor, call it what you will, but by accident or design Neil has made Celtic good to watch again. He is Celtic through and through and he conveys this feeling to his multi-national team. Neil also has managed to assemble a youthful, but very Celtic minded coaching staff who share his passion and vision. Celtic are young, vibrant and good to watch. The demolition of Rangers in four relatively successive games merely highlights Neil’s rapid progress. This more than anything enrages Rangers’ supporters, it was not meant to happen this way.
In their ideal scenario, Walter Smith would crush the taig pretender causing him pain and humiliation. Rangers would cruise to three-in-a-row and Walter would ride off in the sunlight basked in evening glory, while young Alistair heir apparent would kiss his ring.
Neil Lennon has the measure of Rangers and therein lies the problem. Due to a series of circumstances, the bitter rivals have met with unusual frequency since the solitary Celtic defeat at Celtic Park way back in October. The four subsequent meetings have Celtic winning three and drawing one. Rangers have never beaten Celtic this calendar year. That is the crux of the matter. Under Neil Lennon’s tutelage, Celtic have improved dramatically in a few short months, Rangers have gone backwards at an alarming rate. Their ability to crush the likes of Motherwell and St Johnstone fools nobody. In the games that really matter, they are on their knees before the ‘rookie’ manager.
There is a growing realization among even the dullest of Rangers supporters that their club is in freefall both on and off the field. It really has not gone to plan, this was Walter’s last year after all and with it, a wonderful opportunity to rub the taig’s nose in the mud.
Rangers are humiliated because a young untried manager is handing out a lesson in tactics and man-management which Smith can’t handle.
The final point is of course about the future. Rangers hate Neil Lennon and more significantly they fear him. They would never admit it publicly but he is their worst nightmare, just as the American white supremacists fear the ‘ni**er with attitude’, Rangers supporters fear the Fenian with fight.
Lennon is everything that Smith is not; bright, eloquent, resourceful and flexible. He has shown more insight and innate intelligence in six months than Smith has in his whole career. Charlie Adam who was deemed not good enough for Rangers by Walter Smith, yet somehow within months of leaving Ibrox gives commanding performances at a much higher level of football. What exactly does that say about Smith’s basic judgment? Equally, Celtic find three gems in the shape of Izaguirre, Kayal and Hooper. Add to that the resurrection of the likes of Brown, Wilson and Mulgrew and something begins to emerge about Neil’s management skills.
In the transfer market, Lennon has outsmarted Smith repeatedly. For the price of Kyle Lafferty you can get our three gems and throw in Kris Commons and still have change!
In the bigger picture Rangers have much to fear, no money, no future and Alistair Murdoch McCoist at the helm. Against him, they have the eternal enemy, a man who has shown that he has mastered his mentor with consummate ease. Fear is the key thing at Ibrox, whether it be fear of the taxman, the bank or mass player desertion in the summer, fear has gripped Rangers supporters and the club. All of these elements pale into insignificance when they contemplate the figure of Neil Lennon.
They cannot stomach this man repeatedly putting them to the sword and their worst nightmare is a period of total domination led by Neil Lennon. This would explain the sheer vitriol which is seen in the press, television and radio phone-ins. Neil Lennon has been assaulted, threatened with death and his character has been repeatedly assassinated in print and on air. Were he to be forced out in the summer due to issues of personal safety, it would say much about the state of present day Scotland.
I am glad that politicians wish to hold a summit regarding Celtic and Rangers as any fair and open debate can only work in Celtic’s favour.
Only idiots would ascribe the incidents on Wednesday evening to the behaviour of Neil Lennon, unfortunately there are many idiots in Scotland who do just that. Celtic as a club are engaged in deadly combat with those who run the game, Neil Lennon is part of the struggle. Future events will vindicate Celtic and Neil, for the time being we need as a man to get behind our manager. He deserves no less. If we lose Neil Lennon, the bigots have won.