Hall of Fame: Neil Lennon

Last updated : 06 October 2003 By Simon Turner
25th June 1971, Lurgan

Years at Crewe: 1990-1996

Crewe Appearances: 187

Crewe Goals: 18

Other clubs: Manchester City; Leicester City; Celtic

International honours: 39 Northern Ireland caps

After joining up with Dario Gradi at Crewe following a rejection from Manchester City, Neil Lennon went on to become a fine servant for the club and his native Northern Ireland.

He joined Manchester City as a kid, but made only one appearance as an eighteen-year old in the old First Division. He was told to find another club, and the Italian boss, in his seventh season as Alex manager, snapped the then centre back up on a free transfer in August 1990.

Dario decided to see what the kid could do by giving him a few run outs in midfield. He was always physically fit throughout his six-year spell at Gresty Road, and was always described as consistently intelligent, becoming more mature in himself and integral to the side.

The fiery red head is thought of as a defensive 'water carrier', especially now at Celtic, but at the Alex he was nothing less than an intelligent playmaker. He made his debut for Northern Ireland while still at Crewe in 1994 against Mexico at Windsor Park. He went on to make 39 appearances for his country.

Lennon was always well liked throughout the early 1990s at Crewe as he was seen as a 'passionate professional' who epitomised Crewe's style of play. When Martin O'Neill's fledgling Leicester City offered a then club record £750,000 for him, the club couldn't refuse, so he left in February 1996. His last goal for the club was against Wycombe (O'Neill's old club) on 20th January 1996 at Gresty Road.

At Leicester he improved under O'Neill's guidance, making one his first appearances against Stoke at The Victoria Ground in the Division One Play-off semi final. He played at Wembley alongside Muzzy Izzet, Emile Heskey and Steve Claridge as the Foxes secured promotion against Crystal Palace.

From Division Two to the Premiership football in the space of a few months for Neil didn't affect him, as most would expect. The Foxes upset the odds and stayed in the Premiership and quite outstandingly won the League Cup at Hillsborough after a Wembley stalemate with Middlesbrough.

Lennon sampled European Football for the first time against Atletico Madrid in 1998, but City were beaten home and away with a little help from Christian Vieri. They again reached the League Cup Final against Tottenham Hotspur, losing 1-0 at Wembley. Leicester claimed the Worthington Cup again in 2000, narrowly beating First Division Tranmere 2-1.

Lennon's last game was against his first club Manchester City before he followed O'Neill to boyhood heroes Celtic in December 2000. The Bhoys paid £5.75m for the then 29-year old, and won the Scottish domestic treble in O'Neill and Lennon's first season, beating Kilmarnock and Hibernian in the two domestic cup finals.

The Champions League brought Juventus, Porto and Rosenborg to Celtic Park, and if not for a controversial performance by the referee in Turin, the Bhoys would have gone onto the second round. Still, it was good experience for Lennon who was by this time Northern Ireland vice-captain. Celtic won the league again in 2002, making it 44 championships for the club.

In August 2002 Neil was forced to quit his beloved Northern Ireland because of constant death threats regarding his Catholic faith from a Loyalist Paramilitary Force. Obviously distressed, he told the press: "It's a real pity that it all has to end like this. Obviously I can't put my family through this every time. So I've thought long and hard about it and I've decided that I probably won't be going back to play for Northern Ireland." Lennon was named Northern Ireland captain before he was forced to give up his international career under Police advice.

A frustrating season for Lennon and Celtic ensued as Rangers snatched back the title along with the SFA and CIS trophies. Lennon was sent off at Ibrox as the Celts were denied the title by a single goal. Probably most disappointing though was the defeat against Porto in the UEFA Cup Final after beating Blackburn Rovers and Liverpool at Ewood Park and Anfield respectively.

Six years great service from Lennon at Gresty Road transformed him from Manchester City reject to Northern Ireland captain and a pivotal player at the massive club that is Celtic.

He will always be welcomed back at Gresty Road as he was a popular, respected player at Crewe and is a worthy member of our Hall of Fame.