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Neil Lennon would "encourage" players to walk off if racially abused

Neil Lennon would
© Reuters
The Hoops boss hopes there will not be instances of racist abuse when Celtic play Lazio next month.

Neil Lennon would encourage Celtic players to walk off the pitch if they are ever subjected to racial abuse.

The issue of race is back in the news following England's 6-0 Euro 2020 qualifying win over Bulgaria at the Vasil Levski national stadium earlier in the week, when racist behaviour from some of the home fans forced the Group A match to be halted twice in the first half.

The Celtic boss fears there could "possibly" be similar problems when the Hoops visit Lazio in the Europa League next month.

The match will be played in a partially closed stadium after the Serie A club's fans were found guilty of racist behaviour by UEFA during the 2-1 Europa League victory over French club Rennes at Stadio Olimpico earlier in the month.

"I wouldn't discourage any player from walking off the pitch if he is getting racially abused," said the Parkhead boss, preparing for the visit of Ross County in the Ladbrokes Premiership on Saturday.

"I would encourage it because at the end of the day it is pointing out there is a wrong and we all have to do a little bit more to prevent it.

"And for the individuals it is personal and it is very hurtful."

UEFA'S three-step protocol was implemented in Bulgaria but not taken to its full conclusion of the match being abandoned.

Much of the debate since has focused on whether or not Gareth Southgate's players should have taken matters into their own hands and walked off.

Asked about the possibility of having to consider walking off in Rome, and his thoughts on that, Lennon said: "It's a hypothetical question but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

"We will be guided by the club and people behind the scenes before we take to the pitch, so it is difficult to say what we would do in those circumstances.

"We have had a few warnings about it before but thankfully there has been none of it manifest itself so far.

"I find it bitterly disappointing that some of the stadium is going to be closed.

"It is a real shame because it is a real glamour game for us, one we are all looking forward to, visiting Rome and playing against a great Italian side, so it has really taken away the sweetness of it all."

The former Hoops captain was also dismayed after Celtic were fined 12,000 euros (£10,400) by UEFA after their fans set off fireworks in the 2-0 Europa League win over Cluj earlier this month.

It is the second such fine the Parkhead club have received from the governing body this season after they were punished for fans setting off flares and throwing objects during the 4-1 Europa League play-off second-leg win over AIK in Stockholm in August.

Lennon's advice to Celtic's supporters was simple.

"Stop it," he said. "We have enough colour, atmosphere and noise in the stadium.

"We got fined again so it is not doing the club any good.

"I don't really see the attraction of pyrotechnics in the stadium."

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