Alexandra Soccer & Community Association
 
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Neil Lennon

Northern Ireland

Born in Lurgan, Northern Ireland, Neil Lennon was a midfielder, plucked from Manchester City's reserve side, who became one of the best playmakers in Crewe Alexandra Football Club's history. He went on to become an accomplished International footballer, a decorated member of Scottish side Celtic's team, and a role model to many for the way he handled himself in the face of outrageous sectarian bigotry throughout his career.

Like his future Crewe team-mate Ashley Ward, Lennon, a youth team product at Maine Road, couldn't find his way into the team under Howard Kendall at Manchester City. So when Dario Gradi offered to take him to Gresty Road to play some first team football in August 1990, the young Irishman jumped at the chance.

Lennon signed on a free transfer, having made just one appearance for City, and the intelligent player seemed to blossom under Dario producing a string of consistent performances over the years for the Alex after making his debut on 18 September 1990 in a defeat at Reading.

Ironically his first season with the Railwaymen ended in relegation, but the other six seasons he spent at the Alex were some of the most exciting in the clubs history, with Lennon at the spearhead, pulling the midfield strings during this successful period.

1991/92 and 1992/93 both saw Neil helping the Alex reach the Division 4 (then to become Division 3) Play Offs, only to lose out to Scunthorpe and York City respectively.

The following 1993/94 season saw Lennon again proving to be an integral part of the Alex side which clinched automatic promotion with a third placed finish in Division Three, and the season after he helped the reds finish third again, this time in Division Two, only to lose in the play-offs once more.

In June 1994 Lennon was also recognised for the first time at International level when Billy Bingham handed him his Northern Ireland debut, as a substitute, in a friendly defeat to Mexico in Miami. It was an immensly proud moment for both Lennon and Crewe Alexandra, although he had to wait nearly a year to be selected again and win his first full cap, when he started the game in a 2-1 friendly defeat by Chile.

Further European Championship Qualifying matches against Portugal, Austria and Liechtenstein later that season soon had the Catholic born player as a regular in the Northern Ireland squad, and only served to raise his profile. By now Lennon's credentials were there for all to see, and the Premiership scouts had been lurking at Gresty Road for some considerable time to watch the talented player in action.

Halfway through the 1995/96 season, and with Lennon again in fine form, the Alex couldn't hold onto him anymore and, after 6 years, 187 appearances and 18 goals for the Railwaymen, he left Gresty Road to sign for Martin O'Neill's Leicester City.

The Foxes rated him so highly that they paid a club record £750,000 to take him to Filbert Street and it proved to be money well spent as he became a key player in O'Neill's side over the next four years.

In the remainder of the 1995/96 season he helped Leicester to promotion to the Premier League, as he finally had some luck in a play-off, beating Crystal Palace in the final. The following season he missed just a handful of games as the Foxes established themselves in the top flight and also collected his first piece of silverware thanks to a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough in the replayed final of the League Cup.

The following year he was part of the Leicester side which played against Athletico Madrid in the Uefa Cup and alongside the likes of Muzzy Izzett and former Crewe team-mate Robbie Savage, Lennon formed a formidable midfield in O'Neill's impressive side which ended up with four top ten finishes in the Premier League.

League Cup triumph followed again in February 2000 at Wembley Stadium, this time as the Foxes defeated Tranmere Rovers 2-1 in the final, but in December of that year, Lennon was set for a dream transfer.

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