Dubbed ‘Caesar’ by fans and team-mates, Billy McNeill was a fearless leader who inspired Celtic FC to European glory during a glittering 18-year career at Parkhead.
Born in Bellshill in 1940, the defender signed for Celtic as a teenager in 1957 from junior team Blantyre Victoria, and spent his entire career in the famous green and white hoops.
Soon after making his debut in a 2-0 win over Clyde in August 1958, Billy became a first-team regular and scored the winning goal in the 1965 Scottish Cup Final. In the same year he was the first recipient of the Scottish Footballer of the Year award.
The following season he captained Celtic to a league and League Cup double and a run to the semi-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup. With Billy as captain, Celtic dominated Scottish football and in 1967 he and his team-mates completed a clean sweep of domestic honours.
That season culminated in the greatest achievement in Scottish football history, as Billy led out a team that would go down in folklore as the ‘Lisbon Lions’ to face Inter Milan in the European Cup Final in Portugal. A 2-1 victory saw Billy become the first captain of a British club to lift the trophy.
With Jock Stein’s Celtic now established as one of the best teams in Europe, Billy led the Hoops to the final again in Milan in 1970, where they narrowly lost 2-1 to Feyenoord after extra time.
He retired as a player in 1975 after a record 822 appearances for Celtic. He played every minute of every game he started and was never substituted. During that time he won nine league titles in a row, as well as seven Scottish Cups and six Scottish League Cups. He also represented his country between 1961 and 1972, earning 29 Scotland caps and scoring three goals.
Billy later spent two spells managing Celtic and he also spent time in the dugout at Clyde, Aberdeen, Manchester City and Aston Villa. He was awarded the MBE in 1974 and in 2002 was named Celtic’s greatest-ever captain. In December 2015, he was immortalised in bronze at Celtic Park with a statue that showed him proudly holding aloft the European Cup. Billy died in 2019, aged 79.
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