2020 dealt lovers of football another brutal kick in the balls last night. For Celtic fans, it also served as a timely reminder of our off the pitch enemies.
The death of Diego Maradona, in my opinion the greatest ever to play the game, was a tragedy, if perhaps not an entirely unexpected one given his self-destructive nature.
What was also, sadly, not in any way unexpected was the way in which the usual ghouls in the mainstream media, particularly the BBC and the gutter tabloid press seized on this tragedy to remind us how much they hated the man.
34 years ago, Diego Maradona cheated. He punched the ball over Peter Shilton and into the England goal, allowing Argentina to draw first blood in the quarter final of the World Cup. The fact that Shilton should still have easily beaten Maradona to the ball, given his huge height advantage, hands or no hands, is, of course, conveniently cast aside.
That Maradona followed up this single, isolated moment of treachery with the greatest individual goal in World Cup history is also, often, ignored. Admitting you were blown away by sheer brilliance doesn’t fit with the English victim narrative, nor does it meld with the feelings of supremacy the British media like to cast over all the nations they’ve invaded in the past, Argentina included.
But what does any of this have to do with Celtic? I hear you ask.
Well, quite a bit actually. For in looking at how the hacks treat Maradona, we see a reflection of how they treat us, and our manager especially.
Every win is dismissed as lucky or unconvincing, every defeat is a disaster, and every stagger along the way is met with cries of glee from the usual suspects in the media.
Maradona may never have played for Celtic, but he was a victim of the very same brand of toxic jealousy, envy and hate as we are to this day.
In the same way as they don’t care about the violence and hooliganism they incite by bringing up the Malvinas conflict every time England play Argentina, equally, large elements of the press have no qualms about raking Celtic, our players, staff and fans over the coals at every opportunity.
Last week’s tenuous attempt to link Leigh Griffiths with an act of arson near his home that had nothing to do with him or his family was just the latest example of this.
We’ve seen it all before. As they called my idol, Maradona “a cheat”, they also branded Celtic players “thugs and thieves”. These so-called journalists positively reveled in our manager having to face death threats, sectarian abuse and acts of direct, on-field violence. All the while, they continued to feed a “he brings it on himself” narrative that we all know was a complete lie. When Maradona’s battle with drug abuse became public, that same narrative was deployed.
Neil Lennon was vilified in much the same way as Diego Maradona. Indeed, footballing ability aside, the two have a lot in common.
The media conveniently ignored the mental, emotional and other external issues that led to Maradona’s drug addiction, just as they also ignore Neil Lennon’s underlying battle with depression when it doesn’t suit their agenda.
And yet, when the likes of Paul Gascoigne, a man clearly in need of help for his own mental health demons, has another in a series of very public breakdowns, everyone is expected to rally round, ignore his drugs, drink and domestic violence issues and “be kind”.
It’s hypocrisy of the most toxic kind.
As I said earlier, Neil Lennon was never anywhere near Maradona as a player, but as a man, there’s no shortage of similarities.
Both were men of humble beginnings. Both showed tremendous will, determination and defiance to get to where they ended up.
Perhaps most pertinently, both had little patience for the establishment, and were not slow to criticize.
Diego Maradona was man who rose from the slums of Buenos Aires to the very peak of world football and refused to be held down.
Neil Lennon is proud to be an “uppity fenian” from Lurgan who refuses to “know his place”.
Diego Maradona is, hopefully, in a better place now. But Neil Lennon is still here. Whether he remains our manager or not, we all owe it to him to give him the love and respect he deserves. After all, we know he’ll never get his due from the media.
Neil Lennon, wherever he may end up, is one of our own. And the Celtic Family never abandons one of its own.
Finally, I’d just like to say, to Diego Armando Maradona: “Vaya Con Dios”.
Thank you for giving me my love of football, and for all you did to give millions of people across the world hope. You will be missed.