NOTEBOOK: Neil Lennon makes Celtic ‘bullying” claims and refuses to apologise for Dubai trip

Peter Lawwel, Nicola Sturgeon and Neil Lennon – “we did nothing wrong”.

BY BILL HEANEY

It’s grand to see someone with the guts to stand up for himself in the face of establishment and media bullying.

Step forward Neil Lennon who should receive widespread support but will most probably get the sack for saying what he has about the champions’ midwinter break in Dubai.

Furious Neil Lennon insists the backlash from Celtic‘s trip was over the top and that some of it is borderline bullying, according to a supporters’ newsletter.

I cannot help but agree with him.

The Parkhead boss has come out fighting following his period of coronavirus quarantine and has defended the club’s trip to the UAE for midwinter break.

Thirteen players, including Lennon, were forced to isolate after Christopher Julienne tested positive for Covid.

The club has been criticised for going abroad during a pandemic and there have been leaked pictures of players by the hotel pool without social distancing being adhered to.

The newsletter states that coach John Kennedy admitted there were minor “slip ups”  before chief executive Peter Lawwell, who sanctioned the whole thing and will sign off the bill for it,  apologised to fans, admitting the trip was a mistake. Lennon disagrees completely.

It’s a pity to see a man of Lawwel’s standing  rolling over in the face of puerile criticism from hypocrites and mediocre sportswriters, who would be more appropriately designated as fans with laptops.

Lennon is quite rightly adamant the media reaction has been too severe and refused to show remorse.

He said: “It’s not as if the players were doing a conga in the dressing room and dancing to Baccara – or travelling on a train journey from Glasgow to London with Covid.”

The first indication that the media has not intention of pulling back come in tonight’s Glasgow Timeswhere they referred to Lennon’s reference to the conga as “bizarre”.

It’s not bizarre at all, of course.  BBC Scotland illustrated in the News tonight that the Scotland squad did exactly that after their recent qualification victory in the European Championships.

Lennon’s stand against the spin is courageous. He said: “The fallout from this has been way too much – there’s a bit of bullying going on. My apology is to the fans because 13 players and three staff had to isolate, which is ludicrous.

“I’m not apologising for anything else. I’m not apologising for going out there and training for a week. I’m not apologising for the players having a day off.

“I think that it is remarkable and blows out the water the way the trip has been portrayed in certain quarters of the media, by certain pundits and by certain government officials as well.”

He didn’t name Nicola Sturgeon but who else could he have been referring to?

But we come back to this barrage of absolute hypocrisy.”
The truth about all of this is that it was First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the reporters who attended her daily floorshow about Covid who stirred it all up.
The position is quite straightforward. Celtic broke no rules and had permission from the football authorities to make the trip.   They left on a Saturday before it was announced. The lockdown did not come into force until the Monday.  No problem there then. 
The main fault lies with the government and its communications arrangements which are appalling.
By the time Ms Sturgeon decided to recommend no one should be travelling abroad, Celtic’s trip was well underway and had been bought and paid for.  Everyone knows she has a track record as long as her arm for doing too little too late.
I don’t think that in similar circumstances, most of us would have turned back at the airport and gone to our beds.
As for the allegation that the footballers congregated by the swimming pool and occasionally rubbed shoulders contrary to the rules for social distancing, hasn’t Ms Sturgeon seen footballers on TV hugging each other in celebration long after she made her announcement that it shouldn’t be happening.
Of course she has – and she hasn’t said a thing about it. I have a feeling that Celtic supporters and ordinary Scots blessed with with commonsense and decency won’t be voting for the SNP come the parliamentary elections in May.
Sturgeon scored a stupid own goal when the question about Dubai was first put to her. She said she was not going to comment because she felt it was dangerous ground for any politician to stray into. It was.
Her many fans talk about how politically astute she is, but she wasn’t on this occasion, just as she hasn’t been on so much to do with Covid – PPE, care home deaths and a never-ending list of “bumps” on the road, including the delay of vaccines, to tackling and eradicating this deadly virus.
Maybe Ms Sturgeon should apologise to Neil Lennon for making him out to be irresponsible and unprofessional and by doing so placing his prestigious position as manager of Celtic in jeopardy.

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