As part of the Celtic family, many things can often seem second nature to us, things such as success, amazing atmospheres on European nights or even the more than occasional ‘honest mistake’ from the men in black.
With such expectation, whether positive or negative, comes normalisation. Something which, as this article will highlight, can be extremely dangerous and toxic if it remains unquestioned.
Particularly if this normalisation is in relation to a racist attitude, or of the ignoring of abuse from the corridors of power.
This article will highlight an example of this kind of negative normalisation in relation to what I, like many within our family, perceive as the perpetual persecution of one of our family’s favourite sons, Neil Lennon.
Specifically it will focus on the extent to which Lennon has been the victim of vicious and violent sectarian based attacks whilst a resident of this wee country and the ways in which our Courts have been sluggish and inactive in addressing the true motive for such crimes, namely bigoted hate, thus enabling a culture of expectancy and normalisation of such horrible attitudes.
Finally, it will shine light on something the Scottish state has so far neglected to do – are the crimes against Lennon actually about him or is it that he is seen by many as a vehicle for Irishness and Celtic and all of the fine traits which come with it?
If indeed this is the case, is up to the reader.
A Treble We Don’t Want
There is, domestically speaking, nothing better than a treble, a clean sweep of silverware. However, some trebles are simply not welcomed by any member of the Celtic family, one such example of this is to be seen in the response of the Scottish Criminal Justice System in relation to the brutal, cowardly and absolutely disgraceful behaviours of men from different social classes and age groups who have attacked Neil Lennon.
Specifically the folk who, although all found guilty of violence whilst they outnumbered and mob handedly attacked Lennon between the years of 2003 – 2011 on separate occasions, have been found not guilty or have had charges dropped in relation to ‘sectarian abuse’.
Let us think about this – on three separate and unprovoked examples of violence against Lennon, ranging from a west end car chase with a side order of head-butting to leaving him unconscious in the bourgeois and bloodied cobbles of Glasgow’s Ashton Lane, the police have submitted evidence to the Procurator Fiscal in which ‘sectarian violence/abuse’ has been an aggravating factor for the criminal acts. Yet, on all three occasions such charges have been dropped or deleted by the courts.
Are we really supposed to believe that these sectarian abuses, detailed by named witnesses in some cases, were ‘misheard’ or ‘incorrect’ on every one of these occasions – or is it just more convenient that such charges do not make the official sentencing paperwork of the courthouse?
For if they did and if these individuals were indeed sentenced on a motive related to sectarianism, the Scottish state would be forced to shine a light on something it would really rather not do. Shying away from this is perhaps the best definition of Scotland’s Shame.
Acts of Violence
Whether it is the Scotsman or the BBC, they all report on these vile and violent occasions rather well and let us know that the sectarian aspect, although initially listed as possible motive or as a basis for the violence in the first place, is eventually dumped when it reaches the courts. Of the Ashton lane incident, the Scotsman reported:
‘Part of the charge, that the attack was aggravated by religious prejudice, was deleted.’ (Scotsman, 16/01/2009)
This episode of cruel and cowardice behaviour from two men as they attempted to ‘wind up’ Lennon after those rarest of things, a non-Celtic victory in the now obsolete ‘Old Firm’ fixture, is just one of many such proofs as to how the Courts do not take the sectarian aspect any further. It is significant to remember that it is not the words of a Celtic minded writer which is detailing this as a vicious and cruel attack, but the words of a Scottish judge:
“At some stage during this mindless attack the complainer (Lennon) was rendered unconscious… The complainer was fortunate that he did not receive more serious injuries given the ferocity of the assault.”
In relation to the car chase incident dating back to 2003, in which the criminals were eventually fined for their behaviour, the BBC had this to say upon reporting on it at the time:
“The two University of Glasgow students had also been charged with shouting sectarian abuse but the Crown accepted not guilty pleas to that allegation.”
The article continues highlighting how both criminals began to spit at Lennon before hurling further abuse and it states that the court heard how the whole episode, “…began as a bit of banter.”
Let us be clear; sectarian abuse, famine song or anti-Irish jokes which are made by those who assume the culturally dominant position of power and status, in this case a white Scot of non Irish heritage, culturally speaking, cannot assume the right to be able to engage in ethnically charged ‘banter’. This is casual and unthinking racism, but it should never be classed as innocent banter.
This level of casual racism, if done so between knowing members of a social group, an old mate or work colleague let’s say, and if spoken in private circles, will probably be legitimised and tolerated, but in such a scenario, the cultural rules of what is and isn’t acceptable are clearly defined and agreed upon. These rules are obviously missing and non-negotiated when random members of the public begin to enact in such, so called, ‘banter’.
Abuse, Bombplots and Tynecastle
What message are we, as members of the Celtic family who are either part of or associate with feelings of pride in our Irishness or pay homage to the role of Catholicism in our families heritage, supposed to take from this, other than feelings of hopelessness, alienation and, above all else, expectancy.
Beware the toxicity of this kind of expectancy or ‘normalisation’ however, such apathy only acts as a fuel to the fires of hate and bigotry.
The final example in this unholy treble of violent acts against Lennon relates to the 2011 incident regarding the now infamous Tynecastle attack. An attack which took place in front of 16,000 fans and hundreds of thousands more across the globe via TV screens is, to a large extent, the most unbelievable of them all. We ought to remember that this is the most recent of all three attacks detailed here and, as many would agree, by far the most obvious case of sectarian violence which is to be seemingly hushed up by the Criminal Justice system. So much for progressiveness over time.
Indeed, it is hard to argue against the notion that in 2011 the Courts failed Lennon and anyone who has been the innocent victim of sectarian abuse, on its largest scale yet.
Chapter and verse of the attack, beautifully diluted by Alan Thompson doing his best bodyguard impersonation.
The highlights of the article detail a man who lunges onto the touchline to, in his own words, ‘attack Lennon…’ as his team had just gone 2-0 down. He ran and swung at Lennon hitting him on the head, before being tackled to the ground.
Although captured by the TV, although witnessed by the majority of the crowd, although he confessed to his act of violence, although jurors heard evidence of the attacker labelling Lennon a F****n bastard’, John Wilson, was found ‘Not Proven’ of sectarian motivated violence, in a legitimate Scottish court of law.
He wasn’t even found guilty of violence at all.
He was instead jailed for a ‘breach of the peace’ for 8 months.
Surprised I am not however, as it was less than a year later that two men from Ayrshire, the locale which became the home of Scotland’s first Orange Lodge in 1801, (Maybole) were sentenced lightly after sending numerous ‘explosive’ devices to a number of famous Celtic fans who were also public with their Catholicism.
These devices were later proven impossible to explode, but the masterminds who made them were, allegedly, unaware of this and the ingredients would include the highly volatile and explosive substance tri-acetone tri-peroxide (TATP) according to the Telegraph.
Despite their militant and maiming style of ‘banter’ and specific target list, which also included an Irish Republican shop in the Barras end of the Calton, they weren’t even charged on an issue of sectarian related violence. Shockingly, this wasn’t even classed as an attempt at terrorism. After all, the packages only included explosive substances, wires, timers, and several different inched nails.
Anyone who is reading this who thinks that it is ok in the end as all of these bigots spent time at her majesty’s leisure has, unfortunately, missed the point.
The reasoning as to why they were convicted is of great significance here and it is this, which I believe, highlights a hidden and quite sinister mind-set amongst the Scottish populace – certainly not all, perhaps not even a majority – but a sizeable number who believe that it is ok to attempt to bring hush to any idea that anti-Irishness or anti-Catholic sentiment exists, whether on the street or even within our Courts.
One Scotland, One Culture?
This is the Scotland which I, like many within the Celtic family, call home. This is the Scotland which shares so many beautiful traits with Ireland in relation to its Gaelic roots and historical lust for independence and Republicanism. It is also a Scotland which has for a century now provided the platform for a very successful Roman Catholic sponsored education system, despite continual false claims of it causing segregation.
But it should not be forgotten that this is also the Scotland which allows for its largest and most powerful local authority, Glasgow City Council, to allow ‘OrangeFest’ to happen in 2015, only a week before the beginning of ‘marching season’ where those of the Lodge began to shuffle through city centre streets.
Incidentally, it is the same Scotland where the nations top officer of law, formerly the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland, confirmed to STVs sterling political reporter Bernard Ponsonby that anyone with an ‘Irish Republican political identity’ could be criminalised for possessing it. (2013) Naturally this was in the days just after the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act was in full acceleration mode.
If Scotland’s issue with Neil Lennon is based on his perceived personality or if it’s due to him being used as a vehicle for anti-Irish or anti-Celtic hate and bigotry, and many suspect it is the latter, then either way, there is a problem.
This problem, as demonstrated above by merely analysing the inactivity of our courts and jurors to criminalise the bigoted root causes of violent behaviours, must be challenged and confronted.
The Celtic family, whether through petition, politics or polemics, ought to become active and, like we tell our children to do with any bully or injustice, stand up and face things head on.
The days of apathy in the face of normalised bigotry or hate, ought to be consigned to the history books for any member of our family who is proud of their Irishness, proud of their Celtic and, above all else, proud of one of our favourite and most persecuted sons, Neil Lennon, who we will never allow to walk alone.
Thanks for reading
I first published this article in May 2018 for The Celtic Star Magazine