Even by Scottish soccer’s high standard for violence and thuggery, it’s been a brutal year for Neil Lennon. Yesterday, Lennon, the manager of Glasgow’s Celtic football club, was attacked by a man who clambered on to the Celtic bench during a match at the Hearts football club in Edinburgh.
The man connected with a punch before police wrestled him to the ground. The attack was the latest attempted attack on Lennon: In January a package addressed to him containing bullets was intercepted at a sorting office in Northern Ireland. Then in March the club confirmed Lennon was under 24-hour security surveillance after a suspicious package was intercepted at a Royal Mail sorting office in Scotland. Last month it emerged that Britain’s Royal Mail intercepted a total of two “viable” parcel bombs addressed to Lennon.
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The violence is part of the sectarianism underlying what the Scots call the “Old Firm rivalry” between Glasgow’s two biggest clubs: Rangers, whose supporters are predominantly Protestant, and Celtic, whose supporters are predominantly Catholic. (Hearts supporters, too, are predominantly Protestant, although police have yet to release the motive of the man who attacked Lennon). Knife crime and other violence spikes when the two teams play, and there are parts of Scotland where a fan would be in danger of attack all year round if seen to be wearing the colors of an opposing side’s jersey.
The hatred between the two clubs goes back to the 19th century, when Irish migrants fleeing famine in and around Glasgow. As such, it is also tied up in “The Troubles”–the long-rumbling feud over whether Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, should in fact be part of Ireland.
Lennon, himself a Catholic from Northern Ireland, stopped playing international football for his nation in 2002 after receiving death threats. It seems that even off the field, however, there’s no safe place in Scottish soccer.
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