Neil Lennon says the abuse thrown at him isn’t his problem but one for Scottish society, adamant that it is not sectarian but racist.
And the Hibs boss claimed graffiti scrawled on a wall close to Tynecastle before the first Edinburgh derby of the season proclaiming “Hang Neil Lennon” was akin to what the Ku Klux Klan did to black people in the 1960s.
Asking why there was any reason why someone should write that, Lennon, a Roman Catholic from Nothern Ireland, said: “For me, it’s racism. You call it sectarianism but I call it racism.
“If a black person is abused, you’re abusing the colour of their skin, their culture and heritage and I get that more of less every week. I get called fenian, pauper, beggar – those type of words.
“You have to sit on your hands sometimes and take it but what it telsl me about the people who are saying it is they have this outdated sense of entitlement or superiority complex and because I have the gall to stand up for myself, then I bring it all on myself.”
Lennon was struck in the face by a pound coin thrown from behind the away dug-out after he’d turned to the home fans in celebration after Hearts had seen what they thought as a last-gasp winner chalked off for offside.
But, he insisted, to claim he’d provoked anyone was “a lame excuse” for what had happened, saying: “I don’t know if the incident was sectarianism motivated or not, or just pure badness from a rival supporter.
“The graffiti to me reeks of sectarianism. Hang – I hear that song at some grounds, sometimes referred to me. “It’s something the Ku Klux Klan did to black people in the 60s and it might tell you a bit about the mentality of people who sing those songs or write that graffiti on the wall.
“In terms of my safety, I have no qualms over that. At 47 years of age, you would think after 18 years [in Scotland] it would stop, but it hasn’t.
“I don’t always moan or complain about it, but when you are asking me questions, there is a time now to get the elephant out of the room and really call it what it is.”
Some have accused Lennon of bringing what happened upon himself, a claim which he completely refuted, saying: “The only person responsible for all of this is the guy who threw the coin. Not me. Not me. I could do a lot of things to people, and sometimes I want to, in fact I think at times I am quite restrained.
“Not in some people’s eyes because they are blinkered, they are intolerant. It ceases to shock you. It has been going on now for too long. There is the “Hang Neil Lennon” written on a wall – what’s that all about? Is it meant to be funny? It infuriates me, really infuriates me.
“I’m a football manager. I’m not a politician. I am not a criminal. I don’t break the law. I don’t go around looking for trouble. I live my life quietly away from football. I love what I do. I’ve tried to make the game better here, with varying degrees of success. But I have been successful and some people don’t like that. I get that. But it shouldn’t make them violent or aggressive. I’m actually proud of what I’ve done here.”
Lennon, who was attacked by a fan in the Tynecastle dugout in 2011 when Celtic manager, insisted he’s always steered clear of talking about religion or Northern Ireland, but adding: “My thoughts are my own but people second guess me and most of the time get it wrong. Again, this is the way you are portrayed. Because I am an Irish Catholic who played for Celtic, I’m this, that and the other.
“It’s their problem, not mine. What I am is a competitor. How dare you go into our stadium and win. How dare you stand up to the abuse I am giving you. Who do you think you are, stand down, know your place. No! People use football as an excuse, a vehicle for religious connotations, personal connotations. But it comes from the home. You see young people doing the same thing and I feel sorry for them to think throwing things on a pitch is a badge of honour. It’s not. They will grow out of it eventually but it is the original point of thought that’s the worry.”
Agreeing some may think anything goes at a football match, Lennon insisted: “I don’t think throwing missiles or flares endangering the participants in a football arena is anything to do with being at a football game.”