How can you excuse the cowardly attacks on Neil Lennon and Zdenek Zlamal during Edinburgh derby?
- Hibs held on for a 0-0 draw with 10 men after sending off of Florian Kamberi
- Hearts had what would have been a stoppage-time winner disallowed for offside
- Neil Lennon was hit in the face by object as he celebrated goal being ruled out
- Zdenek Zlamal was apparently hit by a visiting fan as he went for the ball
There are no pictures of Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal winding up Hibs fans at Tynecastle on Wednesday night. It didn’t stop someone punching him anyway.
Images of assistant referee Callum Spence trolling supporters in Livingston last month are nowhere to be found because it didn’t happen. And still he was struck by a coin.
No one now argues that Zlamal or Spence were the architects of their own misfortune. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time and it could have happened to anyone.
Hibs manager Neil Lennon was struck in the face by an object thrown from the crowd
Punched on the face as he went to retrieve a ball behind the goal in the 68th minute of a shameful Edinburgh derby, the Czech keeper was only doing his job. Spence, the official smacked on the head by a coin at the Tony Macaroni Arena last month, was waving nothing more offensive than a coloured flag.
Spare us the tribalism over Neil Lennon, then. A rise in incidents of self-indulgent, neddish behaviour among Scottish football fans across the board is becoming difficult to ignore. They don’t need alcohol in grounds to misbehave. Nor do they need a reason. And supporters of every club should see there’s really no excuse.
As Tynecastle erupted in the mistaken belief Clevid Dikamona had broken the Edinburgh derby deadlock with an stoppage-time winner, the cork was placed back in the bottle by an offside flag.
Lennon required medical treatment after being hit by a missile in the last moments of derby
Seconds later, Lennon fell to the ground clutching his face, television images showing he was struck by a coin.
‘Obviously we didn’t know what had happened,’ said Hibs captain Marvin Bartley. ‘He looked out, he wasn’t moving.
‘It’s not something you want to see in football, in a football stadium. I get it’s a derby but people have to be more responsible in their actions.’
On one level, people can agree. No one should be assaulted at their place of work.
When a football fan loses all semblance of self-control and throws a pound coin from a height and with velocity towards the manager in the opposing dugout, it crosses the threshold of acceptable behaviour.
Hearts keeper Zdnek Zlamal was apparently hit by a visiting supporter as he went for the ball
Yet in the aftermath of a punter striking Lennon at Tynecastle, the same seven words appeared with depressing regularity. ‘No one should throw a coin, but…’
In 2011, Hearts supporter John Wilson leapt from the main stand at Tynecastle and launched himself at Lennon when he was manager of Celtic. The badge on Lennon’s training top has since changed, but, six years later, that might be the only thing.
Where assaulting a Czech goalkeeper or an assistant referee draws condemnation and universal expressions of disgust, assaulting Lennon brings excuses, justification and mitigation for criminal behaviour instead.
In an otherwise nondescript and poor game of football, a 64th-minute red card for Hibs striker Florian Kamberi inflamed tensions. Bartley’s account paints the picture of a final half-hour where missiles came down like toxic raindrops.
‘There were things coming on the pitch, I think something has happened to Lewis Stevenson and something has been thrown at Martin Boyle as well, so I think today was the worst since I have been playing in these derbies,’ he said.
Rumpus sparked by the sending-off of Florian Kamberi seemed to tip Tynecastle over the edge
‘I had a coin thrown at me after the game and it’s just gone across the front of me and you think to yourself I can put up with the abuse — but when people act like that there is no place for it.
‘They throw a coin and big it up: “Look at what I have done”. But if they catch you in the wrong place…
‘Maybe they should grow up a little bit, maybe act as adults. You cannot blame the stewards or the police because if someone wants to do something like that, then it happens so quickly you can’t stop them.’
Supporters of other clubs rationalise their reaction towards the manager of Hibernian by blaming the victim.
An intense dislike of rival managers is not unheard of in professional football. Neither is it restricted to Scotland.
Yet football supporters are developing snowflake tendencies. Before moving to Scotland, Lennon was a Leicester City midfielder relatively free of notoriety. For the last 18 years, he has attracted a level of attention disproportionate to the act of kicking a bag of leather around a football pitch.
Former pros ranging from Partick Thistle manager Gary Caldwell to former Celtic striker Tony Cascarino took to the airwaves after Tynecastle to suggest he should rise above the abuse. Reacting to the offside flag going up for a late Hearts goal by turning to the home support and taunting them was unwise and needless — and the point was fair.
The problem for Caldwell and others is that the argument strays dangerously close to saying he brings it on himself. And nothing anyone does on a football pitch justifies being struck from a height by a flying coin.
Strip it down and football is an absurd, out-of-season pantomime with one key difference. When Cruella de Vil taunts an audience in the Edinburgh Playhouse, people laugh and jeer.
When Lennon cups his hands to his ears on Gorgie Road, supporters fall over themselves to take offence.
Fans goading and abusing managers and players for 90 minutes then leaping their feet in indignation is a laughable business until it’s followed by a sharp object being thrown at soft tissue on a human head. Never mind us, goes the cry — what about him?
The truth is that Zdenek Zlamal taunted no one and took a punch to the face for the simple act of bending down to pick up a ball. He didn’t cup his ears. He made no one-arm salutes. It mattered little who he played for or who he was. When morons take it upon themselves to behave like morons, no one is safe.
If people don’t like Lennon, that’s fine. But there’s a thin line between lobbing abuse and lobbing missiles — and on Wednesday someone tumbled over it head first.
Good luck, then, to the defendant who appears at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in six months and blames the Hibs manager for provoking him into to throwing a coin at his head.
Seven years ago, John Wilson was jailed for eight months for launching himself at the away dugout at Tynecastle and, when the scales of justice fall heavily upon someone else’s shoulders in six months time, he will differ from the manager of Hibs in one key area. He really will have brought it on himself.
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