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Saturday 19 October 2019

Celtic legend and European Cup-winning captain Billy McNeill has passed away aged 79

Celtic's European Cup winning captain Billy McNeill unveiling his statue outside Celtic Park in 2015
Celtic's European Cup winning captain Billy McNeill unveiling his statue outside Celtic Park in 2015
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Celtic have announced the death of former captain Billy McNeill at the age of 79.

McNeill, who played for Celtic his whole career, was captain of the famous 'Lisbon Lions' side who won the European Cup in 1967 and he also went on to manage the club.

Celtic’s Billy McNeill accepts the European Cup trophy from the president of Portugal after the Scottish side’s 2-1 victory over Inter Milan in Lisbon in 1967 Photos: Getty
Celtic’s Billy McNeill accepts the European Cup trophy from the president of Portugal after the Scottish side’s 2-1 victory over Inter Milan in Lisbon in 1967 Photos: Getty

A statement from his children on the Celtic website read: "It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our father Billy McNeill.

"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."

McNeill joined Celtic in 1957 from junior side Blantyre Victoria and holds the club record for most appearances with 822 over 18 seasons. The defender also won 29 caps for Scotland.

He had two spells as Celtic manager spanning nearly 10 years in total and won 31 trophies across his long association with the club.

The statement continued: "While 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."

Football pundit and former Celtic striker Chris Sutton tweeted: "Such heartbreaking news. Billy McNeill was an inspirational leader, a legend and a lion. Thoughts go out to his family and the Celtic family."

Former Celtic striker Frank McGarvey, who McNeill signed from Liverpool in 1980, told Press Association Sport: "It is a very very sad day.

"He was loved by all the players and you don't hear that about all managers.

"He was the captain of the first team to win the European Cup. As a manager, he was a great manager.

"He won a lot of trophies with Celtic on and off the pitch but not only that, he was a great person, a fantastic man. He would do anything to help you.

"He will be sadly missed."

Aberdeen, who McNeil managed in the 1970s, tweeted: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of our former manager, Billy McNeill who has passed away at the age of 79."

McNeill was the captain of Jock Stein's all-conquering Celtic side of the late 1960s and early 70s, winning nine league titles in a row, seven Scottish Cups and six League Cups.

He retired in 1975 after winning his final trophy, the Scottish Cup, and retained a strong association with the club throughout the rest of his life, becoming an ambassador in 2009.

Six years later a statue of McNeill holding aloft the European Cup was erected outside Celtic Park.

Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell paid tribute on the club website, saying: "This is the saddest of days for the Celtic family, and also for the wider football world.

"We mourn Billy McNeill's passing and we send our thoughts and prayers to his family and friends, while we also give thanks for Billy's life and the incredible joy he brought to so many people as a Celtic player, a Celtic manager and a great Celtic man."

Hibernian tweeted: "Everyone at Easter Road was saddened to hear of the passing of Billy McNeill, who spent a short time at Hibs as mentor to then-manager Jim Duffy."

The Scottish Professional Football League tweeted: "The SPFL are saddened to learn of the passing of @CelticFC legend Billy McNeill.

"Our thoughts and condolences are with his family and all at Celtic at this time."

Athletic Bilbao, who recently awarded McNeill's family with a "one club man" award for his playing career with Celtic, tweeted: "Athletic Club regrets the passing of @CelticFC legend Billy McNeill and joins the pain of family, friends and the entire emblematic club."

McNeil's former team-mate Jim Craig tweeted: "Heartbroken over the passing of my great friend and captain Billy McNeill. A huge blow for the Celtic family but a devastating loss for Liz, Susan Libby Carol, Paula and Martyn.

"My thoughts and prayers are with them today. RIP my friend."

Bertie Auld, McNeill's fellow Lisbon Lion, told Press Association Sport: "Today's news is a tragedy.

"I was there when the boss signed Billy at 17 years of age and even then he had tremendous presence about him.

"He was a big thin boy with spindly legs but he was majestic in the air, even at that age. He had a tremendous temperament for a centre-back.

"As the months went on, you could see he had this ability to be a leader. Despite being so young, he would give everybody his opinion and everyone respected him.

"I remember in Lisbon, him carrying the ball out onto the park in Portugal. His chest was out and his head was back. He knew we would win and that filtered through the rest of us. He was never arrogant or egotistical. He just believed in himself and the rest of us."

Hoops skipper Brown added on the club's website: "Wearing the captain's armband at Celtic is a great honour and privilege and it's something that I've been lucky enough to have done over the past few years. However, there will only be one greatest ever Celtic captain and that is Billy McNeill.

"All of the players at the club are deeply saddened to hear of Billy's passing, and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.

"Billy set the benchmark as a Celtic player and captain, and that's something everyone who pulls on the jersey has to aspire to. He won every honour in the game with Celtic including, of course, the European Cup, and I can only imagine how he must have felt when he lifted that trophy in Lisbon back in 1967."

Brown continued: "He (McNeill) and his team-mates created history with their success, both in Scotland and in Europe, and every successive Celtic team since then have always strived to emulate that. It is only right that at a massive club like Celtic we have the highest targets to try and achieve, and those were set by Billy McNeill and that team who achieved such incredible things.

"It was also great to see Billy here on a matchday when he would come to Celtic Park to cheer on the team, and it was always good to know that, even after they retired, legends such as Billy and his team-mates from that era, were still cheering on the team as supporters.

"John Clark has always been an integral part of things here at the club, and I know this will be a tough time for him and his fellow Lisbon Lions. You can see that the bond they had as players has remained throughout the rest of their lives, and our thoughts are with them too.

"I also know that Celtic supporters throughout the world will be devastated at this news. Billy McNeill has been a hero to every fan, and it is fitting that his statue is the first thing that greets us all at the start of The Celtic Way. He will always be remembered as a true Celtic legend and one of our greatest ever players."

The Scotland national team tweeted: "Our thoughts are with the family and friends of former Scotland and @CelticFC captain Billy McNeill, a true icon of Scottish football. We will not see his likes again."

Rangers tweeted: "The Directors, players and staff of Rangers Football Club are today saddened to learn of the death of Celtic legend Billy McNeill. Everyone at Rangers today sends their condolences to the family and friends of Mr McNeill."

Greig, who is the honorary life president at Rangers, added on the club's website: "As a player I remember Billy was like an extra forward because of his aerial ability at set-pieces. He was also a leader and a commanding and respected figure in the Lisbon Lions team of the Sixties.

"He was a great man and at this sad time my thoughts are with Liz and her family."

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