Celtic opinion: A tribute to an icon – Billy ‘Cesar’ McNeill
The footballing world woke up on Tuesday morning with the sad news of Billy McNeill’s demise. Tributes have flown in from across the footballing world for a man who was idolised by millions of football fans from across the world.
A fantastic player, a hugely respected manager and above all, a wonderful human being, McNeill suffered from Dementia in the latter stages of his life and at the age of 79, he left the footballing world with a number of memories to cherish for a lifetime.
Fondly nicknamed Cesar after actor Cesar Romero, McNeill joined Celtic from local club Blantyre Victoria in 1957. After a struggle-filled first few years, McNeill captained the Hoops to make them a dominant force in both Scotland and in Europe.
In a career spanning over 18 years for Celtic, McNeill played over 800 games and became one of the most popular Scottish footballers of all time. A quality defender and a true leader in the squad, the Scot took the club to heights that were never achieved before both domestically and in Europe.
He helped Celtic win 9 consecutive Scottish League titles between 1965 and 1974 and won a combined 13 other domestic cups. He became the first British captain to lift the European Cup and was also the skipper of the first ever side to complete a European treble.
The Scot also holds the staggering record of playing every minute of his 822 games for Celtic, which showed his quality, commitment and desire to achieve great things for Celtic.
The Hoops honoured McNeill with a statue of him holding the European Cup outside Celtic Park, which remains an iconic figure.
After announcing his retirement in 1975, McNeill entered management and initially worked with the youth players at Celtic. He then managed Clyde and Aberdeen before returning to his beloved Celtic in 1978.
He was as influential a manager as he was as a player and helped his club dramatically win the league in his first season at the helm to further his name as a legend. He won 2 more league titles before moving to England to manage Manchester City.
Man City back then were in the second division when McNeill took over and under his supervision, the club gained promotion in his first season. He managed to keep them up the following season too despite a number of hardships before quitting them for Aston Villa, who were also in a dire state.
McNeill returned to Celtic in their centenary season of 1987. In a period when Rangers won absolutely everything in Scotland, McNeill won the double in his first season and stayed at the club until 1991.
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After a brief spell as a football development manager at Hibernian in the 1997-98 season, McNeill stepped aside from football, leaving a huge legacy behind him.
McNeill’s contribution to Scottish football and to Celtic, in particular, will never be forgotten and he will forever remain an icon of Scottish football.
Rest in peace Billy.