SPL Focus in wrong place

By Ryan Fleming

When does enough become enough?

That is the definite question that Celtic manager Neil Lennon, assistant coach Johan Mjallby and chairman John Reid need to answer. After numerous bomb threats, arrests made outside Celtic Park and now physically assaulted at Tynecastle in his team’s 3-0 win over Hearts Wednesday, Neil Lennon might finally say he has had enough. And no one could blame him.

The saddest and most pathetic part about the saga is the fact that none of this should have happened. The status of the game in the Scottish Premier League is certainly the lowest it has ever been. The casual fan, even the most avid fan wouldn’t be blamed if they wanted to state that what’s going on in Scotland isn’t even soccer at all. Truth is, they’re right.

With Celtic and Rangers, both team’s with a historic past and unimaginable followings, the problems of the yesteryear, some say, of even the present, have been brought to the forefront and Lennon is the unfortunate recipient of a minorities brute actions. Of course, Lennon, at times, has been his own worst enemy.

In his playing days with Celtic, Lennon was known as a fierce, loudmouthed opponent who would openly challenge and taunt fans and players. There’s no doubt that Lennon’s mischievous past and his heritage has caught up with him. Being of Northern Irish descent and a Catholic brings you into the negative spotlight when talking about Ireland, Scotland or sport in either country. Lennon’s lineage and religion are certainly a part of this, but in reality, it really shouldn’t be. The former Celtic midfielder started receiving threats when he was about to captain the Northern Ireland squad in 2002.

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The main talking point should be is the sport itself and how this weekend, Rangers’ game against Kilmarnock decides the title. If Gers win, they are Champions League bound, if not, Celtic can claim the title for the first time since the ‘07-’08 season if they can beat or draw with Motherwall. That’s where the focus should be, that and the fact that it is Walter Smith’s last season in charge of Gers. Now, naturally, both things will be overshadowed by the atrocities happening to Lennon — most recently another suspicious package addressed to the manager early Thursday morning.

In the bigger picture, the treatment of Lennon by this minority is also hurting the league. The SPL is considered by many as a second-rate league. It struggles to get noticed beyond the Old Firm fixtures. Now, with the yearlong trouble, the league is falling closer and closer to the pit of irrelevance. The solution of Celtic leaving the league would almost banish it from almost everyone’s mind.

Few things can be done to solve this problem. One is that Celtic get up and move out of the SPL possibly to the EPL or even the Championship. This has been brought up before the Lennon situation came to fruition. It has failed countless times, but talks might need to start again. The other, more unfortunate scenario is that Lennon steps down. Even talking about Lennon stepping down is pathetic in itself. No matter what club you manage, your every thought shouldn’t be about your safety on the pitch or certainly off of it. If an incident occurs inside a stadium, sectarian songs are being sung, a brawl in the stands, or God forbid, a manager getting attacked, that team should face a point reduction, fans jailed for a significant amount of time or a match forfeit.

Some of these possible solutions might sound a bit drastic or even impossible, but something needs to be done. The issue, at it’s core isn’t even about Lennon. It is about a problem deep within Scotland, racism and prejudice still exist. Use the power of the politicians, the representatives and of Europe as a whole to end this.

The chatter should be about soccer and the achievements on the field. Not about a life being constantly threatened while one accomplished manager is retiring and the SPL title, a place in the CL, is on display this weekend.

End this violence. Or there will be terrible consequences.

Ryan Fleming can be reached at ryan.fleming@thesoccerguysonline.com.

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