22/08/2002

Lennon quits Northern Ireland football after death threat

Northern Ireland football captain Neil Lennon has stated that he will never play for Northern Ireland again, after he withdrew from an international friendly last night following a threat on his life.

Lennon, who was due to lead the team out against Cyprus at Windsor Park yesterday, was advised to pull out of the game by police after the BBC received a death threat against him at 2.30pm yesterday afternoon. It was reported to have been issued on behalf of the LVF, but the caller did not use a recognised codeword. A senior LVF source in Belfast has since denied that the group were behind the death threat, dismissing the claim as “nonsense”.

The death threat is believed to have been made against Lennon as he is a Catholic and plays for Glasgow Celtic – a predominantly Catholic side.

In an interview, Mr Lennon said: “I am very disappointed that my desire to play for my country, on my first opportunity to captain my team, has been taken away from me.

"I've thought long and hard about but I probably won't being coming back to play for Northern Ireland. I have come to the conclusion that is the best for everybody.”

Lennon has suffered sectarian abuse at international matches before. And last March, threatening messages were daubed on a wall near his family home in Lurgan just before Northern Ireland’s European qualifier against Norway.

However, Northern Ireland manager Sammy McIlroy expressed his hopes that Lennon would return to play for the team.

“I hope to talk to him after the weekend and hopefully we can get him back,” he said.

The threat has brought widespread condemnation from both politicians and football officials.

The Irish Football Association president, Jim Boyce, meanwhile, criticised political representatives, claiming that it was up to them to stamp out sectarianism in Irish football and Northern Ireland as a whole.

“Quite honestly, until they (the politicians) sort out the problems on those streets, we are never going to eradicate those terrible problems that exist in our areas,” he said.

Northern Ireland Security Minister, Jane Kennedy called the perpetrators “a handful of sectarian bigots” who had “disgraced Northern Ireland”.

First Minister David Trimble said: “This is a sinister and serious development which I condemn without reservation – it is totally unacceptable. The action also undermines the commendable efforts of the Irish Football Association to combat sectarianism in the game. The threat was made in the name of a particular organisation – I call on them to repudiate it.”

(KmcA)

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