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Wednesday, 21 August, 2002, 21:39 GMT 22:39 UK
Lennon pulls out after death threat
Lennon was due to captain his country for the first time
Lennon is disappointed to have withdrawn
Neil Lennon was forced to withdraw from Northern Ireland's team to face Cyprus on Wednesday after a reported death threat from a paramilitary group.

Lennon was due to captain his country's team at Windsor Park in Belfast.

He withdrew on police advice following the threat made by telephone to the BBC earlier on Wednesday.

The threat is believed to have come because Lennon is a Catholic and plays for Celtic.

Lennon played for Leicester City, but it was only when he moved to the predominantly-Catholic Celtic 18 months ago, did the abuse start.

Lennon said: "After close consultation with the footballing authorities and the police service of Northern Ireland I will not be participating in this evening's international game.

"I am very disappointed that my desire to play for my country, on my first opportunity to captain my team, has been taken away from me."

Flying home

The Celtic player was not on the Northern Ireland team bus when it arrived at Windsor Park with the rest of the squad.

He flew back to Glasgow later on Wednesday.

A Celtic spokesperson said: "We are very disappointed to learn of the circumstances of Neil's having to withdraw, particularly in his first game as captain of his country's team."

The Irish Football Association consulted with police and with Celtic on the matter before Lennon took the decision to pull out.

Northern Ireland Security Minister Jane Kennedy said a handful of sectarian bigots "have disgraced Northern Ireland in the eyes of the world by ensuring that the captain of the Northern Ireland football team cannot play in an international game".

"It is shameful that people cannot go about their lawful business without intimidation and threats."

The former Leicester player has been the target of sectarian abuse at previous international matches in Belfast.

Threatening messages had been scrawled across a wall near Lennon's family home in Lurgan ahead of the game against Norway last March.

"I thought long and hard about whether I should carry on playing for my country, but the honour of getting the captaincy makes it all worthwhile," Lennon said earlier this week.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
IFA general secretary David Bowen
''We have to respect Neil's decision''
BBC NI football pundit Bobby Carlise
''We may now lose Neil Lennon for good''
Former Ireland star Jimmy Quinn
"I doubt he'll play again"
NI boss Sammy McIlroy
"We'll do our upmost to get Neil back"
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