Northern Ireland news

Celtic supporters' clubs pay tribute to European Cup-winning captain and former manager Billy McNeill

Billy McNeill captained the legendary Lisbon Lions team that won the European Cup in 1967

CELTIC supporters clubs across Ireland have paid tribute to European Cup-winning captain and former manager Billy McNeill, describing him as a man "who dedicated his life" to the club.

The death of Mr McNeill (79), who "achieved historic things" for the Scottish side, was today described as a "very sad day for the Celtic family".

Mr McNeill, nicknamed Cesar, passed away on Monday following a battle with dementia. He is survived by his wife Liz and five children.

Tributes have been pouring in for Mr McNeill, who skippered the 'Lisbon Lions' to the European Cup in 1967 and became the first ever British player to ever hoist aloft the 'trophy with the big ears' as he called it after the Hoops' victory over Inter Milan in May 1967.

He also captained Celtic to nine league titles in a row in the 1960s and 70s before two spells as boss at Parkhead and Celtic.

A club scarf on the statue of Billy McNeill at Celtic Park, Glasgow. Picture by Lucy Christie/PA Wire

Among the Celtic stars of past and present to pay homage to the club stalwart was Lurgan-born Celtic manager Neil Lennon, who said Mr McNeill was "our greatest ever captain and one of our greatest ever players".

"I love Billy's statue, which is the first thing you see whenever you walk up The Celtic Way," he said.

"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."

The Celtic team line up before defeating Inter Milan to win the European Cup: (back row, l-r) Jim Craig, Tommy Gemmell, Ronnie Simpson, Billy McNeill, Bobby Murdoch, John Clark (front row, l-r) Steve Chalmers, Willie Wallace, Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Lennox, Bertie Auld

The Association of Irish Celtic Supporters Clubs also said Mr McNeill had "dedicated his life to Celtic".

"Over the years, we as an association were privileged to have Billy and Liz as guests at our charity dinner," the association said.

"A warm and gentle man with a deep love for Celtic he was extremely generous with his time and was always happy to stop for photographs or sign an autograph for any of the Hoops faithful.

"The word legend is used freely in modern football, however, Billy is one who fits the title in its truest form."

Celtic captain Billy McNeill, pictured in October 1970. Picture by PA Wire

Banbridge Celtic Bhoys said his death as a "very sad day for the Celtic family", describing him a "great family man and a true Celtic legend".

St Peter's Celtic Supporters Club, Belfast also said he was a "true Celtic legend".

In a post on Facebook, Belfast Celtic Society wrote of its sadness about the death of an "icon of world football".

The society described Mr McNeill's numerous visits to Belfast to visit his late friend Charlie Tully, also a former Celtic footballer.

"Billy had an enduring relationship with Tully which began with visits to the family home when he was a youth player," it said.

"McNeill would later ascend to the pinnacle of European football and his iconic pose while hoisting the European Cup aloft in Lisbon in 1967 has since been immortalised in bronze at the foot of the Celtic Way in Glasgow.

"It wasn’t just for Charlie Tully's funeral that Billy came to Belfast - he was a habitual visitor to the city for supporters club events and he kept track of the work of our society through our president Charlie Tully Jr, sometimes offering memorabilia to treasure."

Billy McNeill, pictured in May 1987. Picture by PA Wire

Billy McNeill (back row, third from left) pictured with the rest of the Lisbon Lions in 2006

 

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