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Neil Lennon in the green of Northern Ireland

For the nine years I was over in Scotland I supported Livingston Football Club. In that time I of course got to see many of the Northern Irish players both senior and junior plying their trade. Of course one of the ones I saw in the SPL days and in several cup ties was Neil Lennon.

Now I admit there is a certain level of animosity towards Neil from all sorts of Scottish fans, must of that is non-sectarian. If you ever saw him being interviewed on TV post game there is a certain arrogance from him (or from a number of other Old Firm players) that grates with the fans of the other 38 Scottish League’s clubs fans as well as the other half of the Old Firm. However, one thing I never joined in with was the chanting against Lennon, after all on a really cold day I may well have as an extra under layer have been wearing one of my Northern Ireland tops to remind me of the team we both shared. Yeah the old club v country thing comes up in the stands, sometimes I couldn’t get into the really personal chants against by fellow Norn Irish (seeing as I was one of the chant initiators for my section that says something).

So of course the bullets being sent to Neil have once against sent shivers down my spine. To misquote Bill Shankley, “Football isn’t a matter of life and death, [life] is more important than that”. The fact that there was a Facebook page calling for the former Northern Ireland captain’s execution was a despicable act. I’m glad that Cllr. Niall Kelly took the matter up with Facebook and the page has now been removed.

Football crossed divides in Northern Ireland, even in the heights of the troubles nobody cared which side you came from. In one Home Nations match on 15 April 1964 two young men one 18-year-old Catholic from Newry, one a 17 year-old Protestant from East Belfast made their debuts side by side against Wales. It is possible you may have heard of one or other of them. The first went on to be Northern Ireland’s most capped player Pat Jennings, the other its most loved, skilled but sadly for too short a time George Best.

Side by side through the years Catholic and Protestant have played in the green shirt of Northern Ireland for years, yet sectarianism cost us the still considerable skills of Lennon in 2002, with him we may well have qualified in one of those close run things. Despite a full career, he only earned 3 more caps than the often troubled George Best! He now is one of the most prominent Northern Irish born football managers having this season taken on the Celtic post. Sadly the experience he has gained at that level will I suspect never be passed on to our national team due to the actions of mindless idiots over the last 10 years or more.

While I don’t agree with Lennon’s political views, I recognised his talent on the football field and am anticipating he will be a successful emergence from the Celtic Park bootroom. I defend his right to express his views on politics or football without fear for his life, sadly it seems that people took exception to one without realising the great loss of the other. So next time Norn Iron fail to make a finals let us not forget that without some bigots we may well have had the wizardry of Lennon in midfield or could look forward to his appearance on the managers bench with what he has learnt elsewhere.

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