IN so-called ‘normal’ times, Neil Lennon has been well used to accepting the acclaim of his adoring crowd. He was only too happy therefore to return the favour this week as he applauded those he considers to be the real heroes during this time of global crisis.

Like so many thousands of supporters, Lennon no doubt considers football to be his life, but while he misses it as much as anyone right now, he says it is time for acknowledging the workers of the NHS and others like them

“We were out at the window [applauding NHS staff] and my neighbour downstairs was banging on a saucepan," Lennon said.

“It was quite emotional, actually. I suppose it is some sort of way of showing thanks for the amazing work these people are doing for us.

“This is unprecedented. It’s surreal. We have to follow the government guidelines and certainly football takes a back seat in terms of what is going on at the moment. Health and safety is the most important thing. This is life we are talking about, not sport. It’s above everything else.

“Once a game the magnitude of a derby was postponed, you quickly realise this is real.”

If anyone is qualified to speak about the murkier aspects of Scottish society, it is Lennon. The abuse and the threats he has received since he came to this country are a reminder of the darker side to life at times in Glasgow in particular.

He is hoping that if anything positive can come from this situation, it is that people will be drawn closer together by the crisis, and that perhaps football too will show the best of itself in the testing weeks and months to come.

“In society, it’s a total change, I think," he said. "If and when we do come out of this.

“The one good thing from the ordeal we are going through is that people will be closer to each other again and communities will be bonding again with each other.

“This isn’t me getting on a high horse or anything, but you see the good in people in very difficult circumstances.

“I never went through a war, but people are describing it as being back to a war-time situation and people are conversing.

“There’s half-a-million volunteers from the NHS to help. I think that’s an amazing response and it’s bringing out the good in people.

“From a community perspective, you are seeing good in people and football is a big part of lives. For some, their football club is what gets them away from the rigours of normal life.

“They can support their club and you can see a lot of clubs giving something back. It’s fantastic.”

For now, the Celtic players have to stay physically apart. A plan to have them attending Lennoxtown on an alternating basis has now been cancelled as stricter social distancing measures have come into place, meaning training is now a solo pursuit.

Lennon trusts that his players will be keeping themselves as fit as possible, but he says it will take a while for them to regain their sharpness even after they are allowed to return to normality.

“We were trying to get them into train at Lennoxtown in twos and threes, but we had to stop that as well under the guidelines from the government and the association," he said.

“It’s just a question of time now and taking it day by day as opposed to trying to plan anything.

“It’s nobody’s fault. It’s a pandemic and it’s not just Scotland, it’s worldwide. And it’s not just football, it’s all sports and all ways of life.

“The opportunity is there for players to make the most of the situation.

“We know they are going to be de-conditioned when they come back, so that’ll take time to get them up to full speed.

“They are going to need a lot of time as they are missing out on interaction and football-specific training. That can take its toll on conditioning, cardio and the muscles you use.

“It’ll take time before a ball is even kicked to get them up to speed.”