The Basque side pay homage every season to a sporting figure who they feel best embodies and identifies with their own identity and way of representing Bilbao, and it seems it’s McNeill’s turn to be handed the distinct honour.
Accompanied by a video of McNeill lapping up plaudits in the wake of leading the Hoops’ famous Lisbon Lions to the 1967 European Cup, Athletic’s statement partly read: ‘The choice of Billy McNeill as OCM transcends the player’s extraordinary individual career and links directly to the team he captained, the so-called “Lisbon Lions”.
‘That memorable Celtic won the 1967 European Cup against Helenio Herrera’s Inter Milan (2-1) with a squad made up entirely of Scottish players, all born within a radius of less than 50 kilometres around Glasgow.
‘The principle of territoriality, the same principle that Athletic Club has upheld throughout its history and of which it is today the only representative in the five major European leagues, is taken to its highest expression and personalised in a mythical figure for Celtic fans, Billy McNeill.’
McNeill, of course, has always been a legend in the eyes of Celtic fans and his CV is unsurpassed in the history of Scottish football.
McNeill, now 79, turned out 822 times for Celtic over his 19-year playing career, club record, and also went on to successfully manage the Hoops too.
It probably wasn’t the Spanish club’s intention, but we’re willing to bet they’ll have plenty of new-found Scottish followers in the wake of today’s award.
What do you think of the gesture?
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