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Tuesday 20 November 2018

Fans back Lennon decision to quit

Alan Erwin

DIEHARD Celtic fans in Neil Lennon's home town last night claimed he was better off without international football after sectarian hatred drove him to quit the Northern Ireland team.

Protestants and Catholics alike in Lurgan were gripped by news of the midfielder's shock decision.

In one town centre pub where Lennon is idolised, punters said enough was enough. As he ordered another pint in the Ceili House, Jim McConville (57), insisted Lennon was not the main loser. "You can't blame the boy for quitting," he said.

"I would tell him to stick Northern Ireland. It's a bigger loss to them than it is to him."

Across the bar, former amateur boxer Rocky Quinn (52), denounced football chiefs for not following his sport's efforts to keep sectarianism at bay. He said: "Religion never counted in boxing and it shouldn't in football."

A quiet fury had also settled on those inside Lurgan's Glasgow Celtic Supporters Club.

Drinkers surrounded by memorabilia of the club's past triumphs had little else on their minds other than the fate of their favourite. But they were keeping tight-lipped.

"People in here don't want to be annoyed about Neil Lennon," said the barman. "They just want to drink in peace."

In the town's Catholic Kilwilkie estate, Patricia Creaney (49), said:

"All the young ones round here looked up to Neil and it's a disgrace what happened to him," she said. "He's a lovely boy, my niece used to go out with him and he's just right to never play for them again."

Across in the community centre, play group leader Cathy Ryder could not understand why Lennon had been picked out.

He used to play for Lurgan's predominantly Protestant Irish League team Glenavon , she pointed out. Mrs Ryder added: "It's disgusting because he's a footballer and religion shouldn't come into it. But any death threat has to be taken seriously and I back his decision."

But in loyalist areas of both Lurgan and Belfast, there was less backing for Lennon's action.

In Belfast, Winston Rea, treasurer and founding member of the 1st Shankill Northern Ireland Supporters' Club said he was disgusted but believed the player had over-reacted.

Mr Rea stressed how many Northern Ireland fans have worked tirelessly along with the Irish Football Association to end the sectarian insults after Lennon was booed at Windsor Park 18 months ago.

"The sectarian chanting had ended completely," he said. "The call was clearly made by an idiot and I'm sure if Neil Lennon asked the security forces to assess the strength of that threat they would probably tell him it was so weak it would hardly register."

Back in Lurgan there was anger in the fiercely loyalist Mournview Estate at the treatment of the LVF.

Sammy Wilkinson (82), said: "It's not right blaming the LVF because there was no code word used."

Standing under a mural to the terror organisation, the retired security guard added: "The LVF has been picked upon just because it's been in the news."

The fear that gripped the LVF stronghold was emphasised by Brian Rowntree as he bought a newspaper to read the latest on Lennon. He said: "It's a disgrace, but you don't speak out of turn around here."

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