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Celtic boss Neil Lennon pours cold water on chances of Old Firm matches without fans

© SNS GroupNeil Lennon looks forward to going head-to-head with Gers boss Steven Gerrard again
Neil Lennon looks forward to going head-to-head with Gers boss Steven Gerrard again

Neil Lennon believes there’s little chance of an Old Firm derby being played behind closed doors.

The Premiership is scheduled to return at the start of August, with crowds banished until coronavirus is no longer a significant threat.

However, given the huge pulling power of a Celtic showdown with Rangers match, the Hoops boss expects it to be taken out of consideration for the opening few weeks – or even months – of the campaign.

“I do think the authorities will look at it, and try to push it back to give us more of a chance to get the punters there,” said the Hoops manager.

“I think that’s what everyone would want. Everyone associated with the game would want that, and the clubs would want that.

“I’m sure the TV companies would want that as well.

“If that is not possible, and it has to be behind closed doors, then that’s the way it has to be.”

If the Northern Irishman is sceptical about the attractiveness as a spectacle of football without fans, he is also pragmatic and upbeat about the return of competitive action.

“It is not how we see football, but then we are not in an ideal environment,” the Celtic manager continued.

“Health and safety has to come first. But, important as that is, I think it’s also really important to get football back.

“We know what the game means to so many people in this country.

“We have a fantastic product here for the size of the country, and it’s important we protect it and get it up and running as best we can.

“Hopefully in the not too distant future, we will have supporters and players back in unison again, in the same stadiums with the same atmosphere.

“But maybe as a short-term fix, behind closed doors is something I and the players will have to adapt to.”

© Alan Harvey / SNS Group
Rangers’ Alfredo Morelos and Celtic skipper Scott Brown clash in the last Old Firm encounter

Lennon points out that the fact several countries have chosen to complete their 2019-20 programmes before thinking about next season means Scotland will not be taking a step in the dark.

“The Bundesliga have led the way through this difficult time, and I have watched a lot of the games,” he said.

“And while it makes for surreal watching because there are no supporters, the actual quality of football was brilliant.

“It didn’t seem to affect the players in terms of what they brought to the game. So we have to look at that, and say this is doable.”

Which is great news for Lennon, as success in the coming campaign would see him bracketed along with Jock Stein and Martin O’Neill as one of the truly great Celtic managers.

“To be mentioned in the same breath as those guys would be fantastic,” said the Irishman.

“In my own mind, I have got a long way to go to be up there with the likes of those two.

“I’ve got plenty of time, hopefully, and good days ahead of me to look forward to in which I can achieve it.

“I’m going for my sixth title as a manager and, of course, it would be the 10th-in-a-row for the club.

“It shows remarkable consistency from the players. The motivation is there to continue that run as long as we can.

“Then, in 15 or 20 years, we’ll be talking about these great players in the club’s tapestry.

“However, we are not thinking about that, just as we are not thinking about the league in terms of 10. We’re just thinking about winning the championship.

“There will be a lot of challenges we’ll have to overcome.

“But we’ve just won our 11th domestic trophy on the trot, which is an absolutely incredible statistic at any club.”

Lennon’s use of the word “domestic” is significant.

The Champions League – and in particular the annual chase for a place in the group stages – factors heavily into his thinking as he plots for the 2020-21 season.

“Stein and Martin both did so well in Europe (they are the only two managers who have led Celtic to European finals) and that’s the port of call for me.

“Can I progress Celtic in Europe as well as being strong domestically? That’s what we always look to at the start of every season.

“Can we make inroads because that’s really where the gravitas comes on top of the domestic stuff?

“But if I could have similar successes to Martin O’Neill I’d be absolutely delighted.

“The impact he made here is still felt to this day.”