Lennon: I won’t play

HeadLine: LENNON: I WON’T PLAY

The Mirror, 22/08/2002, p1
by SHAUN MILNE
CELTIC ace Neil Lennon pulled out of a Northern Ireland match last
night after loyalist thugs threatened to shoot him dead – on the pitch.
The 31-year-old midfielder and his family flew back to Glasgow from
Belfast under guard after he accepted senior police advice not to play.
Catholic Lennon has been a target for hardline loyalists in the
Northern Ireland support since moving to Celtic from Leicester.
He had been due to captain his country against Cyprus last night.

**

HeadLine: THREAT WAS REAL

The Mirror, 22/08/2002, p2&3
by SHAUN MILNE

CELTIC star Neil Lennon was in hiding last night after Loyalist terror
thugs vowed to shoot him.
He pulled out of last night’s game against Cyprus in Belfast just hours
before kick-off and flew home to Scotland under an armed guard.
The Scottish Daily Mirror understands that Lennon – who was set to
captain his country for the first time – made the decision on the
strongest advice of senior police chiefs.
A man using a codeword used by a loyalist terror gang called a Belfast
newsroom claiming the Celtic midfielder would be shot on the pitch at
Windsor Park.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland informed the Irish Football
Association that they regarded the death threat as real and manager
Sammy McIlroy told Lennon that his life was in danger.
When his family and team mates agreed that he shouldn’t take the risk,
he decided not to play.
As Lennon arrived back in Glasgow last night he 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 the team, has been taken away from me.”
Senior police sources revealed that they had received “specific”
information about an attempt on Lennon’s life.
And the Mirror can also reveal that police chiefs were made aware of a
“live” death threat against Lennon just two months ago.
They were told that Loyalist Volunteer Force factions hoped to murder
the Celtic star as a one off “spectacular”.
This is not the first time that Lennon’s international career has been
rocked by bigots.
The LVF was behind a similar death plot a year ago when Lennon had to
be substituted during an international match – on the orders of worried
Special Branch detectives.
He was also pulled off at half-time after constant booing and sick
taunts during the 4-0 defeat to Norway at Windsor Park in March last
year – again on the advice of Special Branch.
And recent death threats have appeared on the walls of Loyalist areas
including one in Lisburn, Co Antrim, reading: “Neil Lennon RIP”.
Irish Football Association general secretary, David Bowen, said manager
Sammy McIlroy and Lennon’s teammates were “devastated” by the death
threats.
He said: “Police informed Neil of a threat earlier today.
“The manager spoke to Neil, and Neil spoke to his family and others and
for family reasons he has told us that he has had to withdraw from
tonight’s game.
“It is a decision he has thought about. As a result of that, he has for
family reasons decided not to play and we respect that decision.”
The player and his family held a crisis meeting with officials of the
Northern Ireland FA and anti-terror police to discuss the threats.
Lennon, accompanied by his manager, then had a second meeting with
team-mates where it was decided that he should pull out of the game on
safety grounds.
A source told the Mirror: “Neil didn’t want to let the lads down and
was still prepared to play – he didn’t want to let the bigots win.
“But it was not a risk anyone was willing to let him take. If there was
a nut out there hell bent on killing Neil, there was never a question.
His safety comes first.”
The death threat was made in two telephone calls to a Belfast newsroom,
but only the second one contained a codeword recognised by police as
having been used to claim previous LVF atrocities.
A spokeswoman for Celtic FC said: “We are very disappointed to learn of
the circumstances of Neil having to withdraw, particularly in his first
game as captain of his country’s team.”
There were unconfirmed reports last night that the death threat had
come from a faction within the outlawed terror group, the LVF.
The hardline group, whose stronghold is in Portadown and Lurgan, was
once headed by Billy Wright, who was assassinated in the top security
Maze Prison in December 1997.
A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Office said that, whether or not
the threat was a hoax, the situation could not be taken lightly.
The spokesman said: “We heard of the alleged threat at 6.30pm.
“The police have been in talks with the IFA and Celtic Football Club
but they did not know if it was a hoax, and therefore it had to be
taken seriously, which is why Neil Lennon pulled out.
“We condemn any threat to any individual regardless of who makes the
threat to whom.
“And although there appear to be some questions over how genuine this
threat is, it has to be taken seriously.”
Last year hate-mongers posted a sick spoof report of the star’s death
on the internet.
The website, mocked up to look like an authentic BBC report, claimed
Lennon had been killed in a plane crash.
During last night’s match, undercover police squad mingled with the
crowd as armed officers stood by.
Last night football officials and politicians expressed outrage at the
latest threat to the midfielder’s life.
Irish Football Association president Jim Boyce said: “It is a terrible
blight once again on society in Northern Ireland, especially when you
think of the efforts made by the Irish Football Association to stamp
this sort of thing out.
“It is something that the decent people of Northern Ireland totally and
utterly condemn.
“I am going to a football match tonight but quite honestly the heart
has been knocked out of it.”
Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, Mark Durkan, said: “The
sectarian threats against Neil Lennon are deplorable.
“Sectarianism and paramilitarism should not intrude into the sporting
arena.
“Neil Lennon is not just a first class player on the field but is
someone who has a real commitment to sport at a youth and community
level, regardless of background.”

**

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Categories: Daily Mirror articles

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