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World at One Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK
Driven out by hate
Lennon bows out of international football
Lennon bows out of international football

Why the Celtic footballer Neil Lennon failed to turn out to captain Northern Ireland, his national side, against Cyprus last night, and why he says he will never play for his country again, seems as much about perception as reality.

He's a Catholic playing for a club team traditionally supported by Catholics. A call threatening he would be killed if he played for Northern Ireland -- traditionally supported by Protestants -- was received by the switchboard at BBC Belfast from someone purporting to come from the Loyalist paramilitary group, the LVF.

But such threats are usually only taken seriously when they are accompanied by a recognised code word. This call wasn't like that, but police nevertheless decided to advise Mr. Lennon to consider his safety. The LVF this morning said the threat was a hoax.

Neil Lennon has had plenty of experience facing up to sectarian football crowds. When he joined Celtic eighteen-months ago he was booed by the Northern Ireland crowd. In a newspaper interview then he called for an end to religious divisiveness in football and what in the context of Ulster politics was a brave suggestion -- the creation of an all-Ireland team. After Wednesday's death threat, he told reporters he decided enough was enough.

Neil Lennon's decision is immensely important to Northern Ireland's political future - the Northern Ireland minister Jane Kennedy told us that it was shameful that such a fine player was driven out of the game by "sectarian bigots"

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Northern Ireland Minister Jane Kennedy
This was a very difficult decision for him to make
Neil Lennon
Enough is enough
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