You are taking fucking liberties. In an interview from around the time of Man and Bhoy , he talks about how his depression is genetic, that his sister and his mother both also live with it, but beyond that, this is a man whose career has been beset with off-field issues. Sent death threats in after saying he wanted to play for an international team representing a United Ireland he retired from international football as a result , assaulted in by two men who were subsequently imprisoned, separately sent packages containing bullets and parcel bombs in One would think that any attempts to portray Lennon as an angry or volatile character should be at least be contextualised with this in mind — when you consider this plus a history of mental illness, then sensationalism in the manner of that Daily Record write-up seems irresponsible at best and callous at worst.
By now, football should know better. It was when former Wales captain, then Wales manager Gary Speed committed suicide. So what had happened to make things so different? Answer: I now played for Celtic. It was a totally surreal atmosphere inside Windsor Park that night. God only knows what the small number of Norwegian supporters made of it all. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of Manchester United was playing for them that night.
He was interviewed afterwards and was quite bewildered. Whether the clubs can do anything about it or not, Celtic and Rangers have become identified with the two sides of the sectarian divide in Northern Ireland. Here was I, in my thirty-sixth appearance for my country, never having been singled out before, being roundly abused simply because I was now a Celtic player.
In the small minds of some people that fact was sufficient to make me an enemy, someone they could single out for sectarian abuse. As I have said, I was aware that joining Celtic might give me problems of this nature. He had been thefirst Catholic to captain Northern Ireland and had been proud to play for and lead his national side. I was happy to go along with that advice, but truthfully, neither of us anticipated the escalation of problems or the lack of support I would get when things boiled over as they duly did in the Norway game. As we approached half-time with Norway winning , it was clear that something would have to happen.
All of the team had suffered as a result of the abuse—not surprisingly, their concentration was less than total. Opinions differ as to what exactly took place at half-time, but my recollection is that Sammy McIlroy came to me and said that he had spoken to Martin about taking me off at the interval before the game in any case. Given that I was relatively new at Celtic and should not be playing every minute of every game, that sounded plausible. Some people later suggested that they should have shown solidarity and refused to come out for the second half, but I would not have wanted that, not least because it would have worsened the situation with the crowd.
In addition, they were getting no lead from the manager or the Irish FA to do something of that nature. After the match, Sammy tried to play things down and was so blas?
It was as though he did not understand what lay at the heart of the whole situation. He indicated that everyone got booed at some time or another in their career—a remark that angered my family in particular, as they were the ones who had been forced to live with the appalling graffiti and who would now be the centre of unwanted attention back home in Lurgan. And I suspect the majority of the crowd would have backed him, though realistically nothing was going to deter the bigoted boo boys.
Instead, nothing happened at all. Neither Sammy nor anyone from the Irish FA confronted the issue at the time, and there were no warnings to the crowd that I heard, though to be fair the abuse was roundly condemned afterwards. So the minority got their wicked way. The football pitch can be a very lonely place, and I never felt so isolated in a match as I did on that night against Norway.
My substitution led to an even more bizarre event. I got dressed as quickly as possible and then did an interview outside the dressing room in which I gave my response to what had happened to the BBC. There are minorities in all walks of life who make trouble for everyone else. But there are a lot more good people than bad in this country. I hope to be back but first I will talk things over with my club and family and take it from there.
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The Royal Ulster Constabulary then stepped in. They insisted that I miss the rest of the game and go with them in an unmarked car. Here I was, minutes after playing for my country, getting a police escort through its largest city—it was beyond satire and in the realms of madness. I never did get to see what happened in the second half, though things must have improved as we only conceded one more goal and lost Some people in the media had already speculated that I might retire from international football, and for once they were close to the mark.
He had been as shocked as anyone and could see I was still upset, but his advice was that I should give it another go as I might regret it in the long term, and perhaps miss out on the chance to play in major finals such as the European Championships. The massive press speculation that I would quit international football continued for days and I decided to speak out. I said truthfully that I was considering standing down from the Northern Ireland squad but needed more time to think things through. Meanwhile a huge furore had broken out over what had happened to me. Banning these people is what the majority of decent supporters want.
But there is very little we can do about it. Talk about living in cloud cuckoo land…so hundreds of Rangers fans travelled from Scotland just to boo me? There were all sorts of mixed messages coming from the Irish FA. Its president Jim Boyce condemned the abuse but said that the majority of the crowd were behind me. The press and politicians also weighed in, and I was touched by the many ordinary decent folk who did try to encourage me to play on. But this was not really helping me one bit. I lay awake at night wondering what to do.
I spoke to friends and most importantly, to my family, and with their backing I eventually decided that I would carry on playing. Sammy McIlroy was grateful for my decision and assured me I was very much an important part of his plans. My next game for Northern Ireland was against the Czech Republic.
I need not have been so apprehensive. My name was cheered to the echo when it was announced and I was warmly applauded onto the field. I did not kid myself that this show of support was unanimous, but it was incredibly heartening that ordinary football fans were prepared to stand up and be counted on my behalf. My own feelings before the match were that I would give it one more go and my continued career for Northern Ireland would depend on the reaction at Windsor Park.
Scott Brown: Neil Lennon turned me from bhoy to man
There were people within the Irish FA who had wanted my participation to be seen as a statement that the boo boys would not be allowed to win, but I had not been taking that line in public—I just wanted to play football for my country and not be abused. After another two World Cup qualifiers against Bulgaria, which we lost home and away, I missed three games but was picked to be part of the squad in matches running up to the European Championships.
Even though my knee was bothering me, I came on as substitute against Poland in a friendly in Limassol in Cyprus which we lost At the start of what would be a momentous season for Celtic and for me personally, Northern Ireland played Cyprus. You may shortly appreciate the irony…. A few hours before the match it was announced that in my forty-first appearance for my country, I would captain the national side. Steve Lomas was injured and Michael Hughes was unavailable while Gerry Taggart, who would probably have been given the armband, was also out with a knee injury.
With those players out, I was the most experienced player in the squad and pretty much the obvious choice to lead the side. It was often forgotten in the aftermath of what transpired that I had actually captained Northern Ireland before. We played the Republic of Ireland in in a benefit match and at one point in the second half there was a raft of substitutions.
The manager at the time, Lawrie McMenemy, was a good and decent man who did what he thought was right rather than convenient. He could barely keep his chest inside his shirt and was as proud as punch.
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I was indeed very proud, just as I was thrilled to bits when Lawrie made me captain from the start in an away match against Finland. But I was still at Leicester then. This time I was a Celtic player and that was to make all the difference. When Sammy told me early in the week of the Cyprus match that I was going to be captain I was delighted.
We were installed as usual in the Hilton hotel in Templepatrick and were doing our routine of training and discussing tactics, but it all took on a different dimension for me on the Monday when I was appointed captain. Sammy went public with the news the night before the match and all the newspapers carried his statements explaining his reasons. Hopefully, things will change. He is the second most-capped player in the current squad.
Being in the engine room he can start us off with his passing and knowledge of the game. I hope he enjoys it and that his performance rubs off on the rest of the lads. I certainly was honoured, and my family were also proud and delighted for me. At a press conference I emphasized that the unpleasant events of the Norway game were in the past and that I preferred to look forward. I said honestly that it had been difficult for me at the time, but I had put it all behind me, and added the thought that being named captain was a nice way to start the season.
The political situation in Northern Ireland had also changed. It was now more than four years on from the Good Friday Agreement, and I thought there was genuine goodwill on all sides. But one man in a phone box many miles away thought differently. It all went pear shaped late in the afternoon. We were having our pre-match meal and I had just come down to the tables when Sammy took me to one side. He told me straightforwardly that there were two police officers from the newly named Police Service of Northern Ireland PSNI outside wanting to talk to me. I asked him what it was about, and he told me there had been a phone call and I would have to talk to the officers—one male and one female—about it.
I knew immediately what the call was, and my heart sank into my boots. But I had not thought it would go as far as someone threatening my life. The two police officers—as is the accepted protocol in writing about Northern Ireland, they must remain anonymous—were very matter of fact. The threat was that if I played that night I would get hurt. I asked the officers how genuine the threat was and they said that nine out of ten of these calls prior to sporting events were hoaxes. They were firm, however, that they could not tell me what to do. That decision would have to be mine and they would react accordingly.
I presumed that meant if I decided to play I would get armed police escorts to and from the game etc. My first reaction, nevertheless, was that I should play on. The percentage bet was that the whole thing was a hoax and I would be safe. But a whole whirlwind of thoughts started coursing through my mind, the vast majority of which centred on my family and their safety. And finally it came down to this—how much of a bet do you take with your life? This time Sammy McIlroy reacted well and sympathetically.
He said that if the call had been about his son, he would want him to go home. My mind was in turmoil at that second. I then called my parents. My father said that of course I could not play and he would come and get me.
Neil Lennon: Man and Bhoy
He rushed to the hotel and was angered that no one could tell him where I was. He eventually made his way to my room where I was just finishing packing. A few minutes later I was in his car and on my way home to Lurgan.