Cesar not Caesar, as he celebrates his 21st with a special goal – Matt Corr

Cesar and Celtic: Part 9 – Cesar not Caesar, as he celebrates his 21st with a special goal…

Hard to believe it’s already 12 months since we said our final goodbyes to the man who pretty much epitomised Celtic for many of us supporters who grew up in the mid to late-1960s. In this short tribute series, we look back at the early career of the incomparable Billy McNeill.

Part 8 of this series covered the opening games of 1961, as Celtic continued their consistently inconsistent season by losing two matches then winning the next three, including a Scottish Cup victory over Falkirk at Brockville. We pick up the story from there.

Cesar in Lisbon in 2006 – click on pic to read that article and enjoy some brilliant photos of the Lions

A last-minute goal by Tommy Bryceland consigned Jimmy McGrory’s unchanged side to a 2-1 defeat by St Mirren at Love Street, as the February fixtures got underway, Parkhead skipper Bertie Peacock having given the Hoops the lead from the penalty spot just before the break. In fairness, it was a goal fit to win any game, the inside-forward, who had set the Buddies on their way to a Scottish Cup Final success two years earlier, by netting the opening goal in their 3-1 win over Aberdeen at Hampden, took on the entire Celtic defence before coolly beating Frank Haffey to secure the two points.

There was a much more comfortable afternoon seven days later, as second-tier Montrose came to Celtic Park in the next round of the Scottish Cup. McGrory changed his attacking left flank, with Stevie Chalmers and Alec Byrne replacing Willie Fernie and Bertie Auld, speculation regarding the latter’s Parkhead future refusing to go away.

There would be further punishment for the Angus visitors in the second period, Byrne making it 5-0 within ten minutes before Chalmers grabbed his own second and Celtic’s sixth with 15 to play, heading home from Dunky MacKay’s inviting cross.

Cesar in action against Montrose

Billy McNeill was a flu victim as the next game came around, a League visit from Hibernian on Saturday, 18 February 1961, allowing John McNamee to make his senior debut. It would be a winning start for the big Coatbridge stopper, as another Chalmers double, this time in the opening 15 minutes, had given Celts a 2-0 lead they would not relinquish. Hibernian fielded future Lisbon Lion Ronnie Simpson in goal and two future Scotland managers on either wing, Ally MacLeod and Willie Ormond.

John Hughes looks on as Hibs goalie Ronnie Simpson gathers the ball

The good run continued the following Saturday at Starks Park, Kirkcaldy, in the third round of the Scottish Cup. McNeill had recovered to take his normal place between Paddy Crerand and Peacock as Chalmers continued his scoring streak by firing Celts ahead in the seventh minute. Two goals quickly followed, Wallace’s equaliser for Raith Rovers immediately countered by a Leigh own goal before Willie Fernie made it 3-1 before the half-hour mark had been reached. A last-minute header from Hughes sealed an emphatic 4-1 victory for the Bhoys.

Two nights later, Celts faced Clyde in a re-arranged League match at Parkhead. It would be another encouraging performance by the young Bhoys as they inflicted a 6-1 defeat on their near neighbours. Archie Robertson, scorer of that excruciating late equaliser directly from a corner in the 1955 Scottish Cup final, had given the Bully Wee an early advantage, however, two goals just before the break from Byrne and Peacock turned that around.

Charlie Gallagher and the now obligatory Chalmers strike made it 4-1 before Hughes took over, his two-goals-in-three-minutes cameo finishing Clyde off at 6-1.

The Shawfield side included John Colrain at right-half, just three months after his transfer from Celtic. He had lost his Parkhead place due largely to the form of the new forward, Stevie Chalmers. He would also feature prominently in the story of another Lisbon.

Cesar and one or two other famous faces at John Colrain’s wedding

Billy McNeill attributes his nickname of Cesar to John Colrain, the big Celt naming him after the actor who played the getaway driver in the Hollywood movie of the time, Ocean’s Eleven, Cesar Romero. The story goes that Billy was the first of the group to own a car at that time.

There was no need to beware the ides of March as Celts travelled to Ayrshire on the opening weekend of the month to take on Ayr United at Somerset Park. Billy McNeill had celebrated his 21st birthday two days earlier, however, the first gift was Frank Haffey’s attempt to block Fulton’s long-range shot, which gave the hosts the lead just before half-time.

The Honest Men had worked hard to lose that nickname with a series of ‘robust’ challenges on the young Celts, Chalmers and Hughes being the main victims. But it would be a red-letter day for another, Billy McNeill, the big centre-half heading home six minutes into the second half to level the match with his first senior goal. A soft penalty award with 15 minutes remaining enabled Peacock to give Celtic the lead before Fernie wrapped it up at 3-1 in the closing stages.

With five successive victories under their belt, Celts would look forward to their next test with renewed confidence. That challenge would come in the shape of a Hibernian side keen on gaining revenge for their recent League defeat in Glasgow’s east end, with the next battle of the greens being at the same venue in the quarter-final of the Scottish Cup. That would prove to be a landmark tie for another young Celtic defender destined for greatness.

But that’s for the next chapter.

Thanks, as always, to the folk behind the Celtic Wiki, a wonderful source of information.

Hail Cesar,

Matt Corr

Follow Matt on Twitter @Boola_vogue

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor David Faulds 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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