CURRENT club captain Scott Brown has this morning been speaking to the Celtic View Editor Paul Cuddihy about the honour he feels following in the footsteps of Billy McNeill, Celtic’s Greatest Captain.
“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,” an emotional Broony said.
“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.
“He 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.”
Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager also spoke to Paul, again as reported on the official Celtic site, about the loss of Cesar, our greatest ever captain.
“This is such sad news and I want to send thoughts and prayers to Liz and all the family from myself and all the backroom staff here at the club,” Lenny said.
“When you think of Celtic and our incredible history, Billy McNeill is always one of the first names that comes to mind. He was our greatest ever captain and one of our greatest ever players, and along with his team-mates, achieved historic things for Celtic in the 1960s and ’70s.
“I love Billy’s statue, which is the first thing you see whenever you walk up The Celtic Way. It’s the perfect image of him, holding aloft the European Cup, and it will remind future generations of supporters of what a great Celtic man he was.
“As a Celtic supporter, to get the chance to play for the club, captain the team and finally to become manager is something that dreams are made of. The fact that I’ve achieved all three is something that I really appreciate, and the fact that I’m following in the footsteps of a legend like Billy McNeill makes me truly lucky.
“Billy was a brilliant Celtic player, and a great manager, and as a player and a fan myself, it was always a great experience whenever I would meet him and chat to him. He was so positive and supportive, and always wanted all of us to do well because, if we did, it meant that Celtic were doing well and, for Billy, that was everything.
“This was his club, and he devoted his professional life to Celtic. In turn, he received the gratitude, admiration and love of every Celtic supporter.
“This is more than a club, with Celtic known throughout the world, and it is because of people like Billy McNeill that this is the case. He was a giant of the game, a true Celtic legend and someone that we will all miss,” Lenny said.
And Celtic’s CEO Peter Lawwell has also been speaking to the official website after the sad news of Billy’s passing came through this morning.
“We have lost a great Celtic man with the passing of Billy McNeill, and I would first of all like to pass on my condolences on behalf of the club to Billy’s wife, Liz, their children, Susan, Paula, Libby, Carol and Martyn, and their grandchildren at this very sad time. Their loss is a deep and profound one, and I know that everyone, regardless of their football allegiance, will be sending their thoughts and prayers to Billy’s family,” Peter Lawwell told the Celtic View editor.
“I also want to send my condolences to his football brothers, in particular, the Lisbon Lions, with whom he shared so many extraordinary triumphs with Celtic, but also to all the countless friends he made in football, people such as Mike Jackson, with whom he formed a lifelong friendship after the two of them were team-mates here in the late 1950s and early ‘60s.
“Billy McNeill was our greatest ever captain and one of the finest players ever to wear the famous green and white Hoops. His record as a player is extraordinary. He made 790 competitive appearances for Celtic – more than any other player in our history – and during that time he won nine league titles, seven Scottish Cups, six League Cups and, of course, the European Cup triumph in 1967.
“That remains the greatest moment in our club’s long and illustrious history, and the image of Billy holding aloft the trophy in the Estadio Nacional in Lisbon is an iconic one which is now immortalised in the stunning statue at the front of The Celtic Way.
“He also managed the club in two separate periods, winning a total of four league titles, three Scottish Cups and the League Cup. Among his many successes from the dugout are memorable triumphs such as the 1979 title win, when 10 men won the league and, of course, the Centenary Double success in 1988.
“He also become our first ever club ambassador in 2009, and there was no more fitting candidate to take up such a role than the man whom fans always knew and loved as Cesar.
“Those of us who were lucky enough to see Billy play, particularly during that golden era under Jock Stein, appreciate we were truly privileged to have done so. There were so many gifted players at the club during that time, and their leader on the pitch and in the dressing-room was always Billy McNeill.
“It has also been one of the great privileges of my life that, over the years, I got to meet and know Billy, not just as a great Celt, but also as a great man and someone I was delighted to call a friend. His presence on a matchday here at Celtic Park, where he would cheer on the team, was always a great opportunity to meet up with him, and it was also an indication that he always was, before everything else, a Celtic supporter, faithful through and through.
“It is often said that you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but with Billy, as with all the Lisbon Lions, meeting them has always been a wonderful experience. They have remained humble men, regardless of their incredible achievements as Celtic players, embodying everything that is good and positive about Celtic Football Club.
“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.”
The Celtic Chairman Ian Bankier added his own tribute. “This is an extremely sad day for everyone connected with Celtic Football Club, and our thoughts are with Billy’s wife, Liz, and their family at this time.
“Billy’s career, as a Celtic player and manager, was incredible, and his achievements will continue to be celebrated by supporters for generations to come.
“He and his team-mates, led by the legendary Jock Stein, made history and became football legends themselves, achieving extraordinary success both here in Scotland and on the European stage. They ensured that the name of Celtic will always be synonymous with an exciting brand of attacking, successful football.
“For those of us lucky to meet and get to know Billy over the years, having already known he was a great footballer, we realised that he was also a great man. His love for Celtic was evident, while his humility was always something to be admired.
“We all mourn his passing, we offer all our support to his family and we will be forever thankful for everything he did for our football club.”