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Last Updated: Friday, 9 May, 2003, 19:01 GMT 20:01 UK
'Sectarian' attack on Lennon
Neil Lennon
Neil Lennon at training on Friday

Police are investigating claims that an attack on Celtic midfielder Neil Lennon was motivated by sectarianism.

Lennon, who quit the Northern Ireland national side after barracking and sectarian death threats, said he was attacked by three men.

The attack happened about 0100 on Thursday after the player was verbally abused by three men who approached his car near the Bank of Scotland on Great Western Road, Glasgow.

A 21-year-old female friend got into the car and they drove off but stopped at traffic lights where a further exchange took place.

Lennon, 31, was hit after getting out of the car and the woman was knocked over. Neither required hospital treatment.

"They were spitting all over my car and giving me a whole load of abuse," Lennon told the Sun newspaper.

If he could get the same kind of deal to go back down south I'm not convinced Neil Lennon would want to put up with this
Jim Traynor
BBC Scotland football commentator

"It was basically sectarian stuff. I'm not too badly hurt and I think the girl I was with is all right too."

At Celtic's regular pre-match news conference on Friday, manager Martin O'Neill said: "He's pretty upset but if you're asking questions about his future, I think we'll leave that until the end of the season.

"There were a few witnesses and it was an unprovoked attack.

"It's obviously something that would cause him great concern."

Detective Constable David McFall, who is leading the inquiry, said: "I cannot rule out the possibility that this was a sectarian incident.

"I am particularly keen to speak to the driver of a black Hackney taxi that was in the vicinity at the time."

Death threat

Lennon was in the news last year when he spoke of his anguish as he was forced to give up international football after receiving a death threat.

Loyalists said the warning that forced him to pull out of a game against Cyprus in Belfast was bogus, but the footballer still went ahead with retirement.

His family in Lurgan, County Armagh, had also been threatened.

Lennon's problems at home surfaced when he moved from Leicester City to Celtic, a club with historical Irish Catholic roots.

Suspects' descriptions
1. Aged 20-23, 5'9", medium build, short dark hair, wearing blue zipped top
2. Early 20s, 6', short curly hair, wearing black jacket, black t-shirt, light trousers
3. Early 20s, 6', sandy hair, wearing brown Barbour-style jacket

BBC Scotland football pundit Jim Traynor believes the attack could cause Lennon to consider his future in Glasgow.

"Too many people, because of the religious problems we have here, especially surrounding football, maybe look at Neil Lennon, a Catholic from Northern Ireland and they see some sort of hate figure and I think we could be looking at that problem," he said.

"He has already walked away from his international team because of religious bigotry and problems, people threatening him.

"The only place he's been so far where he hasn't had this kind of problem is when he has been playing in England.

"If he could get the same kind of deal to go back down south I'm not convinced Neil Lennon would want to put up with this."

'Mindless thugs'

But Lennon's representative Mel Stein said the midfielder will not be leaving the club after the "mindless" attack on him.

"Why should it affect his future with Celtic? This is the first time there has been a mindless assault on him personally when he was on his own," said Mr Stein.

"It can happen anywhere - London, New York or anywhere. They were just thugs."

  • BBC Scotland's home affairs correspondent Reevel Alderson says a new law is due to come into force soon to deal with offences motivated by sectarianism.

The new crime of "offences aggravated by religious prejudice" is the result of legislation passed in the Scottish Parliament.

It forms part of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act.

However, the law will not be retrospective to cover the attack on Neil Lennon.

Alan Mackay reports
"Shaken but a near certain starter against Hearts"

A victory for hatred
27 Aug 02  |  World Football
Lennon quits international football
23 Aug 02  |  Northern Ireland
Lennon pulls out after death threat
21 Aug 02  |  Football

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