Saturday 3 December 2016

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Published 22/05/2011 | 05:00

Celtic must bury relics of the past

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A rock has been lifted in Scottish football and what it reveals is interesting: Neil Lennon + Northern Ireland + red hair x Glasgow Celtic = unbridled venom from non-Celtic followers.

The blog sites are full of it. Had a verifiable name been attached to the hate and bile issued then most certainly a trip to the police station and the local magistrate would ensue. However, sometimes we need to hear what people actually think. The hate and bile aimed at Lennon signifies something deeper and disturbing.

When Jock Stein led Celtic to the 1967 European Cup win over the masters of catenaccio, the venerable Inter Milan, he achieved more than a football miracle. Celtic embodied the new fresh 1960s. Brash attacking football, 11 players all born within 15 miles of Glasgow central, most Catholic and some Protestants, we glowed with pride.

We were above sectarianism and cheap chants. We were also more Catholic but without the tattooed celtic crosses and rosary beads around our necks. As Celtic and Scottish football descended into the backwaters due to the television money flowing into English football, we saw a rise in the sectarian divide and a decline in the calibre of footballer on show in Scotland.

Celtic and Rangers now buy players augmenting pension pots, second and third-tier players from England. Any decent Scottish player is away and yet the chasm has grown between the followers of both teams. People say it's along a religious divide. Not really I would think. Most Catholic followers of Celtic would pay lip service to the church. A la carte being the menu of choice. Similarly with the opposition. So what has happened that Lennon has become the fulcrum and lightning rod of hate? Why in a Scotland soon to vote on independence would such anger simmer?

The Celtic I followed as a young man had a Protestant manager, Jock Stein, a huge man who eschewed religious tags. The quality street kid Kenny Dalglish was a Rangers follower and Protestant before he became a Celtic legend. In other words, Celtic were above this cesspool of ignorance.

In the last 20 years the Celtic jersey has started to be clearly defined with one section of the Northern people. I know the Rangers jersey did likewise but Celtic were different. We had the ludicrous situation where a protest took place outside Croke Park in an effort to stop 'foreign games' being played there. The irony was wasted on a few of the placard holders who wore Celtic jerseys. Celtic were no longer a soccer team to them, it had become a symbol of what being Irish meant. That's where the problem lies for Neil Lennon. Something has awoken in parts of Scotland amid the loyalists and unionist followers of Rangers.

Lennon with his background has become the target. As Celtic has retreated from glorious unbridled football and instead got caught up in conspiracy theories and devilish plots against them, somehow or other the noble work of Brother Walfrid and a thousand emigrant Irish is being undone.

Celtic need to reposition themselves. They need to acknowledge their Irish identity whilst reinforcing their Scottish ethos. Getting caught up in the Battle of the Boyne, Siege of Derry and Amhrán na bhFiann is the past. Jock Stein avoided it. Kenny Dalglish avoided it. So too did Bobby Lennox, Big Billy, Murdoch, Auld, Macari and other legends.

I hope those who have tormented Neil Lennon spend time where they belong . . . in jail. I hope Neil Lennon sees that football should be about fun, not the fall guy for Ireland's painful past. And hopefully the Scottish FA will once and for all make football a religion- and bigot-free zone.

John Cuffe

Sectarianism not the Church's fault

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Ciarán Hanna

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