Billy McNeill – Emotional Tributes from 3 Lisbon Lions teammates

“It is very sad news,” Jim Craig said. “Billy was such a nice guy, easy to get on with and that’s all you can ask from someone. He never made any demands on you, he was just happy in your company and that’s what I’ll miss the most.

“I first met him in unusual circumstances. I was the captain of the Scottish schoolboys team in 1961 for a game against England, which was the only international match we played at that time at Under-18 level. The match was held at Celtic Park, and before the game Billy, who had played in the same fixture just three years earlier, was brought into the dressing-room.

“By that time he was playing for Celtic and he was an example of how we could improve and how we could get on and the level we could reach if we worked hard, so that was my first meeting with him. Then, five years later, I was a team-mate of his.

“Billy was always a natural leader. He didn’t have to say anything, he just looked the part and he was very helpful to me when I came into the team and I’m sure he was the same to the others as well,” the Lisbon Lion said, speaking to the official Celtic site.

“He might have a quiet word sometimes during a game, maybe at a corner or a free-kick, but he was never a shouter, he never needed to roll up his sleeves.

“It was a natural thing he had, an aspect of his character where, if he said something on or off the park, you could accept it. And he had worked with Jock Stein before when Jock was there at Celtic in the earlier days with the reserves. So there was a rapport between those two that I think none of the rest of us had, which was a great help as well.

“He had a very good managerial career as well and was very successful in his two spells at the club, and again, that’s where the family came into play because they were always very supportive of him wherever he managed. They were all behind him and they’ve always been a tower of strength for him.”

John Clark also paid his respects to his great friend, former teammate and of course he was also assistant manager to Billy at both Celtic and Aberdeen.

“My thoughts are with Liz, his children and his grandchildren,” John said to the official Celtic website.

“It’s obviously very sad and I hope they are okay. Jim Craig called me this morning to tell me the news and, even though I knew he wasn’t well, it still stuns you when you find out.

“I’ve known Billy for most of my life. We played together and spent most of our lives working together, about 60-odd years in total. I can’t imagine a time in my life then without him.

“There were no big egos in that team we were part of and Billy summed that up. He was down to earth and everyone in the team was as well. Billy was well-liked, and everyone who met him liked him because of the kind of person he was.

“There’s nothing much more you could say to some him up other than he was an icon in football. He was well-respected by everyone and he respected other people as well.

“He’ll be a big miss. That’s part of my life away now. He was a massive personality. He was big in stature and big in personality and we’ll all miss him very much.”

Bertie Auld, who paid his own special tribute to Cesar by starting a chorus or two of the Celtic Song today as he joined John Clark in laying a wreath at Billy’s wonderful statue at the bottom of the Celtic Way, also spoke to the official site.

“It’s sad day for the club, but Billy is getting a bit of relief now, and to me that is so important.

“I saw him when he was 17-years-old, just signed with Celtic down at the tunnel and such like, and he went from strength to strength. He was a magnificent asset to Celtic Football Club.

“Big Jock signed him as a reserve player as he had recommended him to the club. Billy was big tall youngster standing at the bottom of the tunnel while I was training full-time with the first team and I remember shaking hands with him and saying ‘All the best, son.’

“Billy had a tremendous presence about him. He was the type of man that you could rely on and we used to rely on Billy an awful lot as a player. He was a great player and a great captain and he hit the heights he deserved to hit. When he became manager here it was something that everybody wanted to happen, and he deserved that and the love Celtic fans had for him.

“When I came back to Celtic, I wasn’t surprised that he was captain by then as he was very, very confident as a young player, even at 17-years-old. He was very confident in himself as I remember playing a few reserve games with him, and the confidence was obvious.

“He was someone that you always looked up to, and not just because of his height, it was because of his mannerisms and the way he carried himself. To me, that was something that was so important as I remember my Dad saying to me, the great thing about the reserve team of today is that it is the first team of tomorrow – and Billy was important in bringing that forward.

“He had the same respect, we all respected each other’s position. That was the great thing about us – on and off the park.

“Our paths crossed as managers as well, but the great thing about it was that we always committed ourselves. So when Billy was managing Celtic and I was managing the opposition, it was him against me and we always gave our best – I don’t think you’d be able to look at yourself in the mirror if it was anything other than that.

“He was well-educated, well-mannered, a great parent and a great husband. To me that’s the sad thing as we were all close, all of our wives and families at functions and meetings. Liz has done extremely well, and we all feel for her and the family.
“Billy was the perfect player, captain, manager and ambassador for the club. You just had to look at him to see his stature as his chest was always out and he loved that position. It didn’t matter where you were, he was able to conduct himself in the correct manner.

“He was a magnificent player and he walked down that tunnel for every game carrying the ball with his chest stuck out, and he would be the same at receptions and functions later on in life. He always looked after himself and treated everybody and every occasion with respect.

“He was a lovely man and he was a gentleman. He was a very good manager and at all times, Celtic was the first thing on his mind.”

About Author

The Celtic Star founder by and is editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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