Celtic manager rounded on his critics as he mounted a passionate defence of the club’s trip to Dubai

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

As the dust settles on Neil Lennon’s incredible press conference, there are several talking points that we can expect to continue being debated over the next few days.

Beef with Andy Walker. Beef with the Scottish Government. Beef with the media. Privilege. Buses.

A season that began less than six months ago with Celtic expected to clinch a historic tenth league title in a row has descended into chaos, with Lennon’s side already out of three cup competitions and 21 points behind in the Premiership.

Fan protests calling for Lennon’s exit began in November, since when the club have been pilloried for pressing ahead with their trip to Dubai during a pandemic.

The club confirmed shortly after their return that defender Christopher Jullien had tested positive for Covid-19. As a result, Lennon, his assistant John Kennedy and 13 players were required to self-isolate.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

On Monday, the club announced that another player had tested positive.

In that context, it was unlikely that Monday’s press conference would be routine.

Few, however, could have anticipated the drama that awaited.

Here’s every word of Lennon’s extraordinary presser.

How has the last week been for you?

“Interesting watching the media and the fallout and the attacks on the club. I have a question for you Charles, on your alleged show last week you had Andy Walker on live saying our winter training camp was a jolly.

“Can you explain to me what he meant by that?

“You can’t go on a public platform and spread insults about my professionalism, my players professionalism. 70 to 80 per cent of the players are teetotal.

“You know the inference and the innuendo he was making. It wasn’t a stag doo, it wasn’t an 18-30, even though it’s being portrayed like that. We went out there with the best intentions, the lads had one day off.

“We got into Dubai at 7 in the morning and were entitled to a bit of down time.

“It’s not as if we did the conga in the dressing room dancing to Baccara or doing a train journey from London to Glasgow while having Covid.

“I think we’ve been harshly treated. I would apologise to our supporters for the fallout, it shouldn’t have been Peter who had to do it, it should have been me.

“It was my decision, along with the backroom team, medical staff and sports scientists to go with the best intentions for the benefit of the team going forward for the second half of the season.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

“Unfortunately it’s not worked out that way, we’ve had one positive test but that shows our protocols were very good out of a group of 60 odd people.

“I think the fallout from this has been way too much and a bit of bullying going on and we’ve been held to a far higher standard than any other club.

“What I want is for you to go speak to Andy and for Andy to apologise because he was demanding apologies from the club.

“I want an apology from Andy because he is questioning my professional integrity, my players professional integrity and the use of the word term ‘jolly’ is quite crass and arrogant.

“He accused the club of being arrogant, we weren’t. We had no intention of being arrogant or rubbing it in anyone’s faces.

“We went out to do a good week’s work and get a volume of work we wouldn’t have got here back in Scotland. Until then, you won’t be getting anything from me or my players.

“Who is Andy speaking for then? Does he speak for the Celtic support?

“Is he all of a sudden a man of the people? Challenging the club’s social ethos.

Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group via Getty Images

“I’m not sure he’s in a position, he stood up there as if he was a Celtic legend and a stalwart of the club, putting the boot into me, the club and everyone else involved and I think he’s totally out of order.

“Who is he speaking for Charles?

“He’s on your platform.

“His opinion is false and it’s insulting.”

Peter apologised on behalf of the club last week and you felt you should have been in a position to do that yourself. When you look back over the last fortnight or so do you feel that this is a point where the stuff off the pitch has taken the headlines? A couple of draws and a loss to Rangers, has this overshadowed it?

“There seems to be some sort of agenda being driven here. We played very well at Ibrox and didn’t deserve to lose the game. We were the better team.

“We’ve come back and been absolutely decimated by these rules. I’m not convinced they’re a public health issue, it seems political in my opinion. Nobody has got Covid.

“Our protocols were perfect. We’ve been decimated the last two games.

“The players have done all they can, the ones who have been left behind to play the games. Could have played a little bit better in both the games but considering some of them hadn’t played in a year and we had some young boys out there doing a man’s job, to come away with two points we’ll have to take it.

“We’re very motivated, it’s great to see all the players back so we want to go on a run now and put in the type of performances we put in towards the end of December.”

Photo by Rob Casey/SNS Group via Getty Images

Do you feel you have a chance of turning this situation around?

Of course. The league may be beyond us but we’ll not stop trying.

“What we have to do is start winning games on a consistent and regular basis and the players have proved they can do that.”

Is everyone back for Wednesday and have they been tested?

“Yes. All been tested rigorously.

“I have been tested five or six times myself. We’ve all been tested again today, we get the result back later on but from the lateral flow test this morning, everyone is negative.”

How did you keep in contact with that group of players?

“Just by technology. Obviously you had Zoom, you had cameras at the game, cameras in the dressing room as well.

Is it worth an apology for what’s happened?

“At the end of the day we’ve gone out there with the best of intentions and professional, just as other clubs are doing at the minute.

“We were out there speaking to the manager of the training complex and he was saying ‘If there’s a circuit break in England, we’ve had some enquiries from English clubs as well’.

“British athletics were out there, Zenit St Petersburg are out there now, it wasn’t just exclusive to Celtic going out there. Other clubs use the facility as well because it’s world class.

“I do regret that we lost 13 players and three very important members of staff but that was something out of our control.

Was there a doubt in your mind?

“No. I was just hoping that we’d go out there and get away from the pressure a little bit, get some warm weather, train, get them refreshed like we have done many, many times before and get a positive impact when we come back.

“Always in the back of your mind there’s a worry someone might pick it up but you don’t imagine you’re going to lose 13 players and three staff because one player has picked it up somewhere.

When you come back and the whole thing explodes, do you feel in some ways has it created this madness but also hampered maybe your chances of sitting down with Peter Lawwell and saying ‘I’ve turned this around’?

“I don’t think it’s hampered my position. I’ve had chats with Peter on a daily basis. We feel we’ve been held to a higher standard than other clubs.

“There’s outbreaks across the country, Aston Villa shut down, Raith Rovers. They haven’t travelled anywhere.

“We could have easily have stayed here and maybe had an outbreak but because our protocols have been so good, we’ve been able to quell that.

“In terms of the trip itself, we felt really good on the way back. We felt we had a good week, quality of work physically and mentally really good coming back for the second half of the season.

Photo by Alan Harvey/SNS Group via Getty Images

“But this thing has sort of taken off and we’ve been shot at from all sides rightly or wrongly.

“You all have your own opinions professional or morally but right from when this was first mooted, I thought it would be the best thing to do at the time.”

More politically motivated?

“I’m not getting into a fight with the government but I’ll leave it out there.

“Sorry just to clarify there, Iain has just told me that we’ve had one other person who has been deemed positive.

“So we’ve had two out of the whole 60. The person would rather remain private for now.”

Discussions with Peter, do you feel Peter has said to you you’re the man?

He’s not said that, no, but I don’t think he needs to either.

“My job is to carry on and get the best out of the team.

“It was only a month ago we won the treble but now there’s a bloodlust out there for me to lose my job.

“There has been for quite a while but that’s the nature of being a football manager in this day and age”

Is it another player that’s tested positive?


You’ve talked about the protocols being perfect, would you concede they’ve not all been around the poolside and at the bar?

“We were in our bubble. The players were sitting in a bar, they weren’t on top of one another. We were outside having a beer in our bubble having a beer for half an hour.

“This is being made out to be something it’s not.

“We weren’t doing a 20-man conga which was lauded by all and sundry because Scotland qualified for the Euros.

“Our players weren’t behaving like that at all.

“80 per cent of them are teetotal so for anyone to call it a jolly is totally disrespectful to the professionalism and the way they conduct theirselves as men.

“For me there was nothing wrong with the photographs, and by the way it’s illegal to take a photographs in Dubai without someone’s consent.

“However we weren’t hiding anything, we weren’t up to anything, we were out there sitting there on our day off having travelled all through the night.

“Again, that’s our problem and not anyone else’s, but it’s impossible to do any training the next day, so they were given some down time like they all were.

“This has been a stick to beat us with these photographs and it’s completely preposterous.”

There should have been 2m social distancing, John Kennedy referred to slip-ups. Would you accept that not everything was perfect?

“Not everything was perfect but show me anyone who is doing the right things.

“For example, when we played Hibs we had to bus six players in two buses because we were told now that is the way it has to be.

“Three people on a 52 seater bus. That has not been going on throughout the season.

“We have been going to away grounds where we are cramped in like sardines.

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

“Boxing Day at Hamilton there was no social distancing there, there was no physical distancing.

“It is inconsistent. Protocols of different clubs are inconsistent.

“We go to St Johnstone all crammed into a little dressing room. Inconsistent.

“As soon as Celtic are deemed to do something wrong then bang. You are all wanting blood. It is absolutely scandalous.”

It’s not so much a bloodlust

“That’s your opinion? Not from where I’m sitting.”

The chief exec has already apologised and you’ve said it’s warranted and it should have come from you. In terms of that apology , clearly there has been a colossal error of judgement across the lines

“I’m only apologising because unfortunately we had one player pick it up. We have to look at that and see what happened.

“My apology is to the fans because 13 players and 3 staff had to isolate for 10 days which is ludicrous.

“I’m not apologising for anything else. I’m not apologising for going out there and training for a week. I’m not apologising for the players having a day off.”

Is there an apology due to a wider section than just the clubs fans?

“To who?”

To other clubs, to the population at large who had to stay behind here, to any reputational damage it’s done to the game in the eyes of the government?

“What reputational damage has it done?

“Compared to Raith Rovers, compared to Hamilton, compared to Kilmarnock, compared to Motherwell, compared to Aberdeen? What reputational damage has it done?”

Well the first minister and her deputy have said the trip shouldn’t happen?

“Why didn’t they stop us from going then? We flew out on the Saturday, the country went into full lockdown on the Monday.

“You can’t tell me the government didn’t know that we were going into full lockdown before we flew out on the Saturday?”

Was the risk going to outweigh the reward?

“That’s alright in hindsight. At the time we felt it was worth it.

“You sit there pontificating to me like the rest of you all are. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

“We did everything we possibly could do avoid any damage.

“But like I say, we’ve been held to a higher standard. There’s no leniency at all.

“We sent pictures of the plane, pictures of the bus, everything social distancing but it appears it wasn’t good enough for some government officials.

In terms of the review of your position, has it happened?

“You need to ask the board that.”

Reports you are to continue until the end of the season?

“Well that’s great news for me then isn’t it.”

That’s not correct, you’ve not heard that?

A – “No.”

Is the positive test from one of the 13 who is self-isolating?

“It’s from someone self-isolating.”

Are you disputing that you should have been without that many players?


So what has gone on there then?

A – “On the plane they were saying you had to isolate if you were two seats forward or two seats back, which wasn’t the case. We were told it was two metres.”

Is it inaccurate?

“I disagree with it and I’m not convinced that was what we were led to believe.

“On the buses, the way we’ve been travelling and the way every team has been travelling up and down the country, now – the way the government has set out the protocols since we’ve come back, you can only have three on the bus out of a 52 seater.

“We played Hibs and we had six players who couldn’t drive so we had to bus them.

“We couldn’t put all six on one bus. We had to get two busses to take six players.

“That would have meant in Dubai, we would needed 20 buses. If that’s the case, every team in the country is breaking the protocols.”

You feel as if the goalposts were moved?

“100 per cent”

Is there an issue with the guidelines Neil?

“We followed the protocols and it’s completely backfired on us, we’ve been punished for following the protocols so for me they’re a complete waste of time.”

From this new positive, any worry of self-isolating?

“Everyone is negative. The whole squad is negative, bar two players.

“I think that’s remarkable, and it totally blows out the water the way the trip has been portrayed in certain quarters of the media, by certain pundits and by certain government officials as well.

“We did not abuse any ‘privilege’, we did the right things, we were absolutely, totally professional.

“We had a little drink in the afternoon on a day off, completely allowed, no law breaking. Yet we come back to this barrage of absolute hypocrisy.”

In other news, Tomas Soucek reacts on Twitter to controversial West Ham moment