McNeill won an endless string of honours as a Celtic player and manager but immortalised and cemented himself into the club’s folklore when he became the first British player to get his hands on the European Cup in Lisbon in 1967.
The man known to many simply as ‘Cesar’ succumb to a battle with dementia late last night, and many the great and good of the footballing world have been paying tribute to McNeill, including the Celtic hierarchy.
Speaking via the Celtic website, chief exec Lawwell said: “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.
“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.”
Whilst ex-skipper and current gaffer Lennon added: “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.
“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.”
And current club captain Scott Brown concluded the club tributes in his own way via his personal Instagram account:
As we told you earlier today, Rangers and their own legendary former captain John Greig paid a warm and classy tribute to one of the few men who transcended the bitter Old Firm divide.
What are your own special memories of Billy McNeill?
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