After what happened to Neil Lennon on Wednesday night, a lot of people revised their stance on our manager, in an effort to escape guilt by association with those who shouted obscenities at him and even threw the coins. Others haven’t bothered, because they don’t even mind the charge. They doubled down.
Lennon, they say, is his own worst enemy.
A worse enemy, presumably, than those who have physically assaulted him or sent him bullets in the post or scrawled his name on walls with threats to hang him or worse. Yes, Lennon is more harmful to himself than those people – including those who sent bombs to his home – will ever be.
It boggles the mind.
There are people who have an association with this blog – regular readers, based in England – who cannot believe some of what is on here.
They view Scottish football at a remove. That’s not their fault, and frankly I am glad for them in being well out of it. The game here is toxic, tainted, corrupted, rotten. The atmosphere can veer into the realms of pure poison and it does not take much.
Football fans, just like we are, they exist outside the bubble and to truly understand the bubble you have to live in it, to experience it. They don’t, and so their bafflement can be understood. I sometimes wish I didn’t understand any of it either.
As such, they cannot believe that so much of what appears on here is about the governors of the game, and how dreadful they are. They don’t get why this blog and others are so hypercritical of the media. Even explaining what Alex Thomson of Channel 4 called “succulent lamb journalism” doesn’t quite cut it. They never had to read a piece of excreta from Kris Boyd, pure ignorance, spreading rumour and innuendo for his own purposes.
Even if they did, they would never understand the context of it.
This is why they cannot understand the number of pieces on Sevco that are written.
They cannot comprehend why this blog and others touch on subjects which, on the surface of it, have nothing to do with the game.
And I’ll answer it for them now; we do it because the media won’t. Because the media here thinks that the best way to solve a problem is to ignore it. We do it because when they do cover issues here they tend to spin them in whatever way sells the most papers or appeals to those who are feeding them their lines to take.
Things work a little differently up here.
The game is different.
Scotland is a small country, and Glasgow, where my club can be found and where Ibrox is not that far away, is a small city.
There are things that are simply too big and too important to ignore.
In any other part of the football world some of the subjects we write about would have exactly nothing to do with the game.
You have to get it the way we do.
To get it at all you have to be immersed in it, every single day.
You need to have watched it for years, and in a way become desensitised to it all. I try not to get like that. I try to stay angry when anger is called for, but it wears you out. Anger makes you sick. You can’t be like this, 24 hours a day; you’d go off your nut.
Yet there are times when anger is the appropriate response, whether outsiders understand it or not. Indeed, there are times when it is the only response you can give, just to stay sane.
Let’s take the Sevco situation in 2012 for a moment, as if you were explaining it to someone who knew the basics of it but didn’t fully appreciate what the facts meant.
Back then, a club that got into financial trouble because for years it had been buying players and paying wages it could not afford, was liquidated.
The bits were bought and glued together and the governing bodies tried to slip them into the place where the dead club had been; what happened next poisoned the sport up here in ways that are impossible to explain to those not part of it.
Two lies were born; the Survival Lie – the concept that Rangers escaped liquidation and that they are the club that plays at Ibrox – and the Victim Lie.
The second follows on automatically from the first; if the club that plays at Ibrox is Rangers then the SFA and the SPFL and all the clubs broke their own rules and “relegated” the club illegally, costing them tens of millions of pounds and forcing them, at the worst moment in their history, to rebuild their whole shattered club from the bottom tier.
Imagine that had actually happened.
Imagine it happened to our club.
How angry would we be? How disgusted? How furious?
You have to understand what Rangers was – Murray called it “the second biggest institution in Scotland after the church” – and the mind-set of their support to get that the Survival and Victim lies could not have been taken on board by fans more susceptible to them, or less likely to react to them in a rational manner.
And then bear this in mind; this all came about in a place where the game was already awash in the twin inflammatory ingredients of politics and religion, two subjects which, themselves, have sparked wars and caused massacres and divided nations and even continents. Football, politics, religion. Three subjects you don’t discuss at dinner parties … Scottish football has it all, and an epochal sporting scandal – where justice was never done – on top of it.
Anyone writing about football in this country and who is not writing about those things, even if it’s to lament them, is not doing their job right.
The people I’m talking about must be looking at Scottish football right now in absolute disbelief and perhaps even disgust. They will be even more shocked when I write that people up here are barely surprised. Horrified and perhaps even a little ashamed of the national sport, but not surprised.
Because this has been going on for years, and when I say “this” I mean, of course, the Neil Lennon saga.
They may be aware of it, but I bet they don’t understand it.
Here’s a little insight; in the Categories section of this site there is a box that predates my time with the blog.
I have ticked that box more times than I am comfortable with; it reads “Demonization of Neil Lennon.”
Neil Lennon has been living with this for more years than I’ve been writing about football.
Neil Lennon is the intersection of all Scottish football’s grubby little secrets. You can understand them by understanding what has happened to him, and what continues to happen to him. You can get to the bottom of it all simply by comprehending his struggle.
The politician George Galloway wrote a book about Lennon’s struggles up here and the bile he has been subjected to. That book should be essential reading for everyone who seeks a fuller picture of what Scottish football lives with, but has been ignoring for too long.
Rivers of bias, bigotry and sectarianism run beneath our sport like lava. Sometimes they bubble up to the surface. This is the only country where a club which spent its way to death can be painted as victims whilst a man like Neil Lennon is blamed for the hatred that he is surrounded by.
Yeah, I get angry. Because anger is called for.
I cannot think of the plight of Neil Lennon without anger, because what happened the other night was not surprising to me at all, it was the all-too predictable consequence of the continuing demonization of that man. And the people responsible for that can be found in a lot of places, but most notably in our media.
It was people in the press who were first out of the starting gate the other night with the idea that Lennon “brings this stuff on himself.”
I know exactly what they mean when they say that, whatever they tell themselves.
It’s got nothing to do with his attitude, his aggression, his personality. Scottish football is filled with little men with a chip on their shoulder. They don’t get death threats. They don’t get attacked on the touchline. They don’t have people sending them bullets and eventually live bombs. I defy anyone to tell me of another footballer in Europe who draws that kind of spite.
Think about that for a moment; not Ronaldo, not Messi, not Muller, not Hazard, not Pogba, not anybody. Even those “one man teams” who utterly ruin the dreams of rival fans on a regular basis, even they do not get that kind of unwavering, unblinking hateful attention. Not only is someone like Cristiano Ronaldo the worst nightmare of any opposing fan, but he’s so full of himself and strutting that he virtually invites dislike.
He does not invite hatred, not on Lennon’s level.
Lennon was never a match winner.
He was never a glamorous footballer.
He played in one of the unsung roles that flashy players aren’t attracted to. He was tough in the tackle, and hard as nails, but so was Keane, Ince, even Gerrard himself. None ever drew so much venom in a single away game that his manager put a supportive arm around him at full time and walked him across the turf to his own fans, so that he could feel something other than detestation for a brief time. Martin O’Neill did that to Lennon at Ibrox in November 2004.
Fourteen years ago. Think about that.
When, in the aftermath, O’Neill told a packed press conference that Lennon had been the victim of “anti-Irish racism”, the first chorus went up blaming the victim for the crimes against him. The media and others have been banging the drum ever since.
The problem for Lennon is obvious; a man such as him – a Northern Irish Catholic – is supposed to keep his head down in this country, to know his place, to shut his mouth. It’s okay have success … but for God’s sakes don’t rub anyone’s face in it lest those who think they are The Peepul wonder why they don’t, and start acting out.
Lennon is fierce in his own defence. He is proud of who and what he is and where he comes from and there’s a section of Scottish society – a big section – which simply cannot cope with that. Not when who he is, what he is and where he comes from is the absolute antithesis of everything they are. And you cannot truly comprehend what it does to them unless you’ve lived here, unless you’ve seen it up close, gone nose to nose with it, had it right in your face.
We know it because that’s our lives. That’s Lennon’s life.
It is easy, in some ways, for those in the media, who’ve never had to deal with it and don’t really get it, to find excuses to blame Lennon. It’s even easier for those in their ranks who would join in his lynching party – and those people do exist, and they can take umbrage to that all they like but we know they do – to add fuel to the fire.
And it’s easier still for some of those who have, perhaps inadvertently, stoked the hate for years by pushing this tawdry line that he somehow deserves this, either out of ignorance of the consequences, intellectual laziness, or just utter cowardice, to now, at such a dark hour, one which perhaps, brings belated realisation with it, to walk to the water bowl, clean off their hands and pretend they had nothing to do with it.
But that is what got us here. Because the rivers of hate could have been drained years ago if the media and Civic Scotland had gotten a grip on this stuff.
Instead it has pushed it into the background and in doing that, and in building other toxic myths, the problem has grown.
Lennon is not the first public figure to suffer dire treatment for being of a certain background and religion and speaking out about it, although those who targeted him went above and beyond the norm and far past what others had to endure.
(Except in the case of the bombs, where several other high profile Catholics in Scotland were similarly targeted; at the trial the perpetrators were charged with “conspiracy to assault.” One of the bombs was sent to the Irish Republican organisation Cairde na hÉireann; do me a favour, and imagine two of their members had sent those same packages, to a footballer, a prominent lawyer, and a parliamentarian … honestly, do you think for one second that the charge would have been “conspiracy to assault”? Neither do I. And whilst you’re at it, remember that the guy who assaulted Lennon as he stood on the touchline at Tynecastle when he was Celtic manager got a “Not Proven” verdict in his own trial, in spite of it happening live on the telly.)
Scotland just does not want to hear this.
The media just does not want to say it.
Our political class does not want to have to do anything about it, which is why today all the talk is about Strict Liability, and placing the blame on football clubs and fans in general, instead of acknowledging that it stems from a deeper problem, that sectarianism lies at the heart of it all.
And because nobody wants to tackle that, the problem grows and grows and grows and hatred flourishes.
I know this stuff is hard to comprehend, I know it must seem like we all live on the dark side of the moon. And maybe we do.
To get it you have to live it and nobody lives it quite like Neil Lennon, a man who is the public face of all Scottish culture’s grubby little secrets.
His struggle is the junction point where a media that does not want to offend a certain demographic and those amongst that demographic who thrive on hate and a political class that dances around this issue all come together with a bang.
He is simultaneously the loneliest man in Scotland and a part of all of those of us who have experienced a little in our lives of what he goes through every single day, and so when it happens to him and Civic Scotland turns its back it happens to the rest of us too.
That’s why we say “We are all Neil Lennon.”
Because we are.
What has happened, what is still happening, to him, and occasionally to us, is Scotland’s secret shame. Only sometimes it’s not so secret. Every now and again those rivers bubble up, the lava rises, and the rest of the world gets a glimpse of what lies beneath.
Ugly, isn’t it?
And in Scotland, all this stuff weaves in and out of football and every issue we face in the national sport.
There is nowhere else like it, and it’s why me and the other bloggers do what we do.
It was the great US Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis who wrote that “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”
Scottish society may owe Neil Lennon a debt of gratitude today because maybe, just maybe, he’s shone a light on all of this that truly does some good. Out of this appalling few days, a little good – and even a little would help a lot – might eventually come.
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