BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
HIBS head coach Neil Lennon insists the contrast in reaction to Jose Mourinho’s taunting of Juventus supporters in Turin compared to his mocking of the Hearts fans at Tynecastle underlines the double-standards he endures in Scotland.
Lennon watched on with interest on Wednesday evening as Manchester United’s Portuguese fire-brand cupped his ears in front of the seething Juve faithful after his side claimed a fine 2-1 win against the Italian champions.
Just seven days previously, the Northern Irishman had made a similar gesture towards those in the main stand in Gorgie, while roaring with laughter, following Clevid Dikomona’s disallowed goal for the Jambos. He was subsequently struck by a coin.
He, on the other hand, has been subjected to a cavalcade of pundits including Gary Caldwell, Gordon Smith and Danny Murphy suggesting he should stop winding up opposition fans. Former Scottish Police Federation chairman Les Gray even stated that Lennon ‘could have started a riot’.
“Did you see Mourinho [on Wednesday] night? Is there any difference?” said Lennon. “And the way that’s portrayed in the mainstream media is ‘fun’. I understand why he did it – but it’s double standards and it smacks of hypocrisy.
“Do I get treated differently or portrayed differently? Yes, obviously. It’s right there in two incidents. One’s seen as goading – inciting a riot – and the other’s fun, but they’re exactly the same thing.
“These people are pundits – they’re allowed to express an opinion. I don’t have to agree with it. I don’t like this holier-than-thou attitude. Sometimes do things emotionally in split seconds. Jose [Mourinho] was a great example of that.”
Following the act of physical violence at Tynecastle, Lennon took the opportunity to open up on the ‘racist’ abuse he suffers, drawing attention to graffiti in Gorgie which read ‘Hang Neil Lennon’.
The Hibs boss says he has received support from many quarters in subsequent days, including his old Old Firm foe Ally McCoist, noting ‘I’d rather listen to Ally’s opinion more other people’s because we’ve walked in the same shoes, more or less’.
Professional Footballers Association of Ireland (PFAI) and Show Racism the Red Card have called for the authorities to ‘investigate all incidents of anti-Irish discrimination’.
Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) chief executive Neil Doncaster chose not to speak about the issue in detail during a media obligation with league sponsors Ladbrokes on Monday.
“I don’t understand why he [Doncaster] doesn’t want to talk about it when he’s asked the question,” added Lennon. “It seems some associations are quite keen to do something about it and others aren’t.
“These things should have been tackled a long time ago. They have had 18 years. I have shrugged it off and laughed it off for too long now and whether the coin incident was sectarian – I don’t know – but certainly the graffiti outside the ground had more sinister undertones from my point of view.”
Lennon candidly admits the furore surrounding his attack and headline-grabbing comments in the aftermath cause Hibs – and himself – to lose focus ahead of last Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at home to St Johnstone.
He is certain that will not be repeated on Friday night when he takes his side to Pittodrie to face Aberdeen.
“I felt for the players with all the hoo-ha going on in the background, they’re not used to that,” he added. “You could tell there was a lack of focus, not just from the players but also the manager. I don’t want to be bringing that sort of stuff to a club like Hibs so I’ll take responsibility for what happened last weekend.
“But time is a great healer. Players get on with it and they have trained well this week for what should be a good game.
“Aberdeen have found their form again. I think they had a huge fillip from the semi-final win over Rangers and I’ve got huge admiration for Derek [McInnes] and the job he’s done there. Pittodrie at any time of the season is a difficult place to go and it’ll be no different this time.”