Northern Ireland

Who is Neil Lennon?

Neil Lennon
Image caption Neil Lennon was appointed manager of Celtic last season

Neil Lennon faced a battle to make it as a Premiership football star and if anything the struggles he has faced off the pitch have proven an even bigger test.

After starting with his local junior club in Lurgan, County Armagh, the midfielder spent the first half of his career with unfashionable Crewe and Leicester City before going on to star for Celtic, the club he supported as a boy.

For much of his career, he was making the most of his talents against a backdrop that most footballers do not have to contend with.

Death threat

Lennon was an established Northern Ireland international when he went to Celtic in 2000.

The NI national side has always featured both Catholic and Protestant players but a small element of its support has been associated with loyalism.

In Scotland, Celtic is usually associated with the Catholic-Irish community while Rangers are associated with Protestant unionism.

Not long after he began playing with Celtic, Lennon was booed by a section of the Northern Ireland support during an international game.

Image caption Neil Lennon retired from playing for Northern Ireland after receiving threats in 2002

Those jeers were condemned by the majority of the NI support and for a time Lennon was able to continue playing for Northern Ireland without a repeat.

Then in 2002, shortly before an international match, Lennon was told by police that a threat, said to be from loyalist paramilitaries, had been made on his life.

He immediately retired from international football and did not return.

Nevertheless, his club career continued to prosper.

Despite playing through the difficulties posed by depression, he won five league titles with Celtic and although finishing his career elsewhere, he was back with his boyhood idols in a coaching role in 2008.

Divided city

The difficulties he faced as a prominent Celtic figure in a city divided as Glasgow were brought into sharp focus again in the same year.

Hours after an Old Firm game, he was out in the city centre when he was attacked and knocked unconscious.

Police said that he had been subjected to sectarian abuse before the assault. Two men were later jailed.

Lennon is now Celtic manager and this year, controversy has again cast its dark spectre over football in Scotland.

During an Old Firm match last month, three players were sent off and angry scuffles broke out after the final whistle.

Lennon and Ranger assistant boss Ally McCoist squared up on the touchline, scenes which the Scottish Football Association described as "disgraceful".

Image caption Ally McCoist and Neil Lennon squared up after the final whistle during a recent Old Firm game

Police have long since pleaded with both clubs to show decorum during Old Firm games, arguing that violence involving players during games is often replicated on the streets of Glasgow by opposing supporters.

The last game of the season between the two Scottish giants is on Sunday.

If Celtic win, it will be a major step towards the league title, and help Lennon begin to match the considerable success he enjoyed as a player.

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