Ever since Neil Lennon came to Scotland to play for his boyhood team he has received torrents of abuse. No doubt for a section of bigots, being from Northern Ireland, a Catholic and a Celtic fan is enough to mark him out for this treatment.
Lennon decided to stop playing for his own country in 2002 after receiving death threats from a paramilitary group in Northern Ireland. He was also assaulted and knocked unconscious in 2008 by two Ranger’s fans after an Old Firm game.
Recently Lennon and others at Celtic have received death threats, mail bombs and ammunition through the post.
While at the touchline watching his team play at Hearts he was attacked by a fan that broke through the security and hit him before being taken away. (see article below)
Whenever he is away from home Lennon’s family have to be taken to a safe house and he is under 24 hour guard for fear of attack.
This season has seen a marked rise in sectarian tension in Scotland, specifically around football.
Thousands of Old-Firm supporters travel from Northern Ireland to Scotland for matches every week. Given the deep sectarian divisions within Northern Ireland, it is inevitable that this has an impact on the character of the games here as well.
However, the reality is that the big majority of the working class, including the majority of Rangers supporters, are opposed to the threats and attacks.
The attacks and threats against Neil Lennon by sectarian thugs are a danger, not just to him and has family, but they also carry the threat of sowing division among sections of the working class.
It’s a small minority who practice anti-catholic or anti-protestant bigotry, however we cannot allow ourselves to be pulled back into a time when sectarianism was more prominent within Scotland. While not as much of an issue now, these events prove it is still a factor – especially when it is linked to the football and the Old Firm.
At a time when the working class are under attack from vicious cuts to the public sector, benefits and pensions these problems can only help to try and divide the working class.
We need unity. No matter what religion you are or what team you support, these are secondary to the need to fight for the unity of working class people here in Scotland and in Northern Ireland.
The working class won’t be taken back into the bog of sectarianism. Supporters of both teams need to take initiatives in ridding sectarianism from the grounds.
Above all the trade unions and the workers’ movement should be clear about the need to fight any element of sectarianism and for working class unity.
The historic discrimination against Irish people and Catholics in Scotland was largely undermined by the growth of the trade unions, the wider labour movement and through common struggle that brought workers together, regardless of their background.
And it’s on that basis that we can defeat hate, fear and sectarian division on all sides today.
Tynecastle Stadium in Edinburgh is a unique place to watch football. The closeness of the fans to the pitch, the steep angle of the stands and the volume generated by the supporters packed into the confines of the tight ground all lends itself to providing one of the best atmospheres of any footballing venue in Scotland.
By Graeme McIver
The game between Hearts and Celtic on Wednesday 11th May should have been one of the occasions where the famous atmosphere once again came to the fore. With the fans of the home team celebrating clinching third spot in the league and the visiting support urging their team on in their title challenge it had all the ingredients for a night to remember.
But, the following day and all across the world, newspapers and television news programmes would show the darkside of the Scottish game as Celtic Manager Neil Lennon was attacked by a Hearts fan shortly after his team took a 2-0 lead.
The assault was followed by large scale disturbances in the away end as visiting fans fought with police and stewards whilst sections of both supports indulged in sectarian singing and chanting.
In the same week as the Hearts v Celtic fixture arrests were made for firearm offences outside Celtic’s Lennoxtown training facility and two men were arrested in Ayrshire and charged with sending explosive devices in the post.
This has been a season to forget for Scottish football as stories of sectarianism have replaced stories about soccer on both the front and back pages.
I write this article as someone who has attended the vast majority of Hearts home games at Tynecastle over the last quarter of a century.
Whilst there have been many explosive fixtures and controversial incidents during this time I cannot remember an atmosphere quite so poisonous and hatred filled as the one that hung in the air over Tynecastle on that stormy May evening.
Prior to the match steel barriers were placed around the ground to keep supporters segregated and many more police and stewards were on duty that at normal SPL fixtures at the Edinburgh ground.
Despite this increase in security Hearts will face censure from the football authorities for failing to prevent the assault on Lennon.
The scenes all around Tynecastle were a depressing reminder that Scottish football has failed to deal with the issue of sectarianism in its midst.
Yet there are solutions out there. When I first attended football in the late 1970’s terracing violence was endemic and overt racism common place.
I would never believe that the culture would change…but it did and much of it was done by self policing by the fans themselves.
Football violence still exists in Scotland of course but it is marginalised and mainly takes place between miniscule and specialised groups of football casuals.
Racism still exists but not to the degree it did when fans of both Hearts and Celtic showered bananas and aimed chants at Mark Walters of Rangers in the mid 80’s.
Indeed, in the same papers covering the story of the Lennon assault there were reports of a Celtic fan who had been jailed for racist chants aimed at Diouf of Rangers.
He had been reported to police and stewards by his own fans demonstrating there is an intolerance of racism that did not previously exist.
The vast majority of football games pass of free from the incidents witnessed at Tynecastle on May 11th. If there is an honesty and genuine attempt to tackle this problem I believe the situation can be improved.
If the clubs, politicians and authorities choose to sweep it under the carpet then unfortunately we may see more scenes of madness.