THE ATTACK ON NEIL LENNON - A WARNING TO US ALL
Mickey Blue Eyes
At last night's Hearts V Celtic match there was a physical attack on the Celtic manager, Neil Lennon. Fortunately, a thug was arrested and carted off before he could do much harm. In recent months Lennon has received death threats, bombs and bullets in his post, thus demonstrating there is a bad strain of football insanity in the air in Scotland. Though there appears to be a specific factor - Lennon is Catholic and received threats while he was a player too - it could easily have been anywhere in the United Kingdom or elsewhere in the world in any other sport. But there's nothing new about this species of sports hatred. Sadly, football attracts more of the sickness because it is the most popular game in the world. The only surprise to me is that it hasn't happened earlier in England. We too have more than our fair share of hate-filled crackpots. And don't kid yourself we don't have them amongst Evertonians.
In our case it isn't so long ago the club had to take action against racism promoted by a tiny group of north Liverpool BNP goons; make no mistake, some of them are still dribbling their craziness into a glass in the nearest ale house. It wouldn't take much to see and hear them again. As we all know, some of the racist incidents the club suffered back then were a disgrace to humanity. Fortunately, steps were taken to crush the perpetrators into an even smaller ball of trash, though it wasn't before the situation reached a disturbing level of pollution amongst younger fans.
For example, those of us who were there will never forget a losing match at Fulham in 2001 when Walter Smith was manager and playing fortunes were fraught. Before the game I was unfortunate enough to be in a pub where Evertonians gathered and were infiltrated by a small mob of racist scum who kicked off a dreary fascist diatribe. Doubtless some naifs thought it only "funny" and joined in for the "laughs." In fact it was anything but humorous. It was shameful. I shit you not, for the first time in my life I had a small sense of what it must have been like in Munich during the Nazi beer hall putsch. It really isn't too much to say the place was overcome by a sort of exalted hatred that lacked only the Horst Wessel song. I thought then it would simply blow itself out in the pub but I was badly mistaken. It spilled over into the match where I witnessed absolutely the worst organised racism I have ever seen at an Everton game. I still have a clear memory of a young black steward, frozen by the experience, howled at - it's the only description - and hounded by a bunch of adolescent and middle aged loonies spittling like a pack of rabid dogs. It reached such a sickening pitch I drew it to the attention of the police who eventually took (reluctant) action against them. Looking back, my biggest mistake was not to do it much earlier in the pub. The mad dog might have been caged earlier if I had. It is not a mistake I have repeated.
It is no coincidence the same match featured an incident near the directors box when the sick racist atmosphere encouraged one nut job to launch a miserable poisonous verbal attack on Bill Kenwright just two years after he had bought the club. Afterwards, Kenwright was obliged to properly apologise to the Fulham directors for the racism and the incident. That experience ensured I separated myself from anybody remotely connected with that kind of behaviour, that there could be no half way house with them. Racist and personality hatreds are cut from the same cloth. They are both a cowardly search for scapegoats. At one time during my early resettling days I even knew one fellow in a highly responsible position who never ceased telling me how much he hated Bill Kenwright and how proud he was to post it on the internet. It was simply incredible and bore no relation to the real problems faced by the club in its desperate-enough struggle to restore playing fortunes. I imagine it is how some inmates in an asylum indulge their irrational obsessive hate. One of the worst effects was on the most impressionable and vulnerable, the young; another was on the general reputation of the club. Outsiders see and hear this and can draw the lazy conclusion that a tiny noisy minority represent the rest of us, which of course they don't. They represent only their own psychoses.
But anyone who thought the Fulham match would be the end of the insanity had to revise their opinion a few years ago after we badly lost a home derby 2-0 to the old enemy and a hate-spitting - again, no exaggeration - mad man berated everyone in the directors box, all of it in front of the Liverpool directors. All this because we lost a football match and someone didn't have the common sense strength to take it for what it was. No, don't kid yourself it has gone away. The cancer is still with us. All it needs is someone or something to trigger it. Unrestrained, the logical conclusion is a tragedy that doesn't bear thinking about. The Neil Lennon episode is a universal symptom, not a cause.
Moreover, ultimately these crackpots have turned going to an away match into a chore hardly worth the effort. They have provided a ready excuse for authoritarian mindsets to extend the national security state into what should be a harmless hobby. Regulars will confirm the contemporary humiliating horror of being shepherded through files of policemen and dogs to be searched and filmed by stiff faced guards with the demeanour of fascist South American death squads looking for dissidents, an experience we face once again at West Bromwich on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Alex Salmond the Scottish First Minister has announced steps will be taken to "eliminate and eradicate" the kind of sectarian and chauvinist madness levelled against Neil Lennon. Inevitably this will include even more draconian measures and bring us a step closer to the point where the game is simply not worth having. Unlikely as it is, if we ever reach that melancholic state of affairs the haters will have won. And even though we are a long, long way from that there are times when perhaps we need a wake-up call. If the Neil Lennon matter is just such a moment it will have been at the price of one man's peace of mind. How sad. How stupid.