'The epitome of everything that's good about Celtic': European Cup winning captain Billy McNeill passes away aged 79
The legendary Celtic player and manager Billy McNeill has been hailed as 'the epitome of everything that is good' about the club after passing away.
McNeill spent his entire 18-year playing career at the club and even went on to manage the Hoops in two spells.
He is best known for being the first British player to lift the European Cup as he, as captain, led his team of 'Lisbon Lions' to victory over Inter Milan in the 1967 final.
In 2015, a statue was unveiled outside Celtic Park depicting McNeill holding aloft the famous trophy.
"It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our father Billy McNeill," read a family statement, released via the club website. "He passed away late last night (Monday, April 22) surrounded by his family and loved ones. He suffered from Dementia for a number of years and fought bravely to the end, showing the strength and fortitude he always has done throughout his life.
"We would also like to note our love and appreciation to our mother, Liz, for the care, devotion and love she gave to our father throughout his illness. No one could have done any more.
"Whilst this is a very sad time for all the family and we know our privacy will be respected, our father always made time for the supporters so please tell his stories, sing his songs and help us celebrate his life."
McNeill won nine Scottish league titles in a row as Celtic captain and added four more as manager. He also won a total of 10 Scottish Cups and seven League Cups with the club. He was named the Scottish Football Writers' Player of the Year for the 1964/65 season.
It's little wonder, really, that Andy Walker places his former manager at the very peak of Celtic illustrious history.
"Billy was a family friend. My dad was his accountant and he would come to our house when I was a child. We were all in awe of Billy," Walker told Sky Sports News.
The #CelticFC Family is mourning the death of Billy McNeill, the club’s greatest ever captain and one of the finest men to have played and managed the Hoops, who has passed away at the age of 79.— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) April 23, 2019
Rest in peace, Cesar. You’ll Never Walk Alone.
"He went on to become the most iconic figure in Celtic, the best captain they've had and the best manager I ever had. He gave me some of the happiest times of my life.
"Billy was the epitome of everything that is good about Celtic Football Club. He had such a good relationship with the fans and with everybody in Scottish football. When you think of the rivalry with Rangers, he and John Greig had a very healthy level of respect. I think that's been lost in today's game.
"He started scoring goals in the 65 Cup final and building up to Celtic sweeping all before them in 67. Celtic could take on anyone in Europe and beat them and Billy was at the forefront of that.
"In terms of a team, you need a leader to carry everyone and have a special relationship with the manager. Billy had that.
"My dad brought me to the 1975 Scottish Cup final and that was his last game. I think in later years he felt he could have gone on but he wanted to go out on a high. What a leader he was."
Further praise has been pouring in from across football. Celtic hero and former Northern Ireland international Paddy McCourt said:
"Terribly sad news today regarding Billy McNeill, without doubt one of the most inspirational Celtic players of all time. I would meet him occasionally in and around Celtic Park & he was always the gentleman. Thoughts & prayers are with his family & friends. Rest In Peace Billy".
Ex Celtic striker Chris Sutton said McNeill was 'an inspirational leader, a legend and a lion'.
Rest in peace, Cesar. You’ll Never Walk Alone. pic.twitter.com/FLCdURfuox— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) April 23, 2019
Just last week, Athletic Bilbao announced that they would present their prestigious ‘One Club Man Award’ to McNeill. The accolade was was set up four years ago with the aim of honouring players whose career with one team represents the values of “commitment, loyalty, responsibility, sportsmanship and respect”.
He also managed Clyde, Aberdeen, Aston Villa, Hibernian and Manchester City, who he led to promotion from the second division in 1985.
Belfast Telegraph Digital