Lennon will relish Ibrox cauldron
● Manager expects to take flak as he returns to Rangers’ home with Celtic but says he thrives on the hostility
The l ast t i me Neil Lennon managed Celtic at Ibrox, back in March 2012, he was forced to watch the second half of the match on a TV in the press room after being dismissed from the technical area.
In a depressing indication of the depth of hostility from Rangers supporters towards him, Lennon was advised by Celtic’s own security staff not to take a seat in the Ibrox stand or directors’ box.
In the seven years since, it’s safe to say the rancour has hardly abated. But as he prepares to lead newly- crowned eight- i n- a- row champions Celtic across t own f or t he final Old Firm showdown of the season tomorrow, there is a part of interim manager Lennon which relishes the vilification likely to come his way from much of the home support.
“I’d much prefer to still be playing in these games,” said the former Celtic captain who lined up in 33 Old Firm games as a player.
“But do you get a kick out of it? Yeah, you do. Because they fear you. That’s why you get all the abuse. If I was just a runof- the- mill player, they would just disregard me. So I think t here i s a cer t ain element of fear within them when it comes to me.”
Lennon made a winning return to the fixture in March, overseeing the 2- 1 win at Celtic Park which effectively put the title beyond Rangers’ reach. “It was obviously a bit different for me, because I was only a few weeks into the job, but I thought it was a really good game that ebbed and flowed,” he reflected.
“There has been good quality in all the games between the t wo teams this season. Celtic had the upper hand in the first one at Parkhead in September, Rangers were better in the second one at Ibrox in December. We were better in the third game and God knows what the fourth one will bring.
“It’s a great fixture to play in. Great atmosphere, intimidating, all those things that test you. It will be two teams going hard at it again.”
If Lennon has a rival as the bete noire of the Rangers fans, it is his captain Scott Brown whose Scottish FA misconduct charge for his part in the acrimonious scenes at the end of that last Old Firm clash was not proved by a disciplinary tribunal.
“Scott is a big- game player, he’s been a big- game player for 12 years here,” observed Lennon “He’s a big personality. He takes the hits, he gets up and enjoys it and he thrives in the atmosphere. That’s what you want from your captain. He leads by example.
“Maybe t en years ago he played with a chip on his shoulder. He was young, he was brash. But over the last seven or eight years he’s matured into a top- class midfielder and a top- class captain. He knows how to play the game.
“T h a n k f u l l y t h e r i g h t decision was made on him at the tribunal. My players acted ver y, ver y well that day. We take offence at being tarred with the same brush at times.”
In a week which saw Jose Mourinho’s name linked with the Celtic managerial position, Lennon remains relaxed about his own situation and doesn’t believe tomorrow’s match will have any impact on his prospects of landing the job on a permanent basis.
“It would be a doozy, that one,” he s ai d when asked about the former Real Madrid a n d Ma n c h e s t e r U n i t e d manager. “I’m not too sure how r eali s t i c t hat would be. I t would cost the club a lot money, that one.
“I speak to [ chief executive] Peter Lawwell ever y day. I speak to [ major shareholder] Dermot Desmond once a week. If there was anything happ e ni ng, I ’ m s ure t hey would be the first to tell me, rather than me reading about anything.
“I’ve been hearing this all the time – you’ve got to win the first Rangers game, you’ve got to win the semi- final, you’ve got to win the league, blah, blah, blah. It will have no bearing on my future.”
“Do you get a kick out of it? Yeah, you do. Because they fear you. That’s why you get all the abuse. I think there is a certain element of fear within them when it comes to me”
0 Neil Lennon on the touchline in the Old Firm derby at Ibrox in March 2012, the last time he managed Celtic at the home of their arch rivals.