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Wednesday 18 September 2019

Lennon hails Celtic's 'greatest ever captain'

Success: Billy McNeill as Celtic manager back in 1987. Photo: PA/PA Wire.
Success: Billy McNeill as Celtic manager back in 1987. Photo: PA/PA Wire.

Neil Lennon has led the tributes for Celtic's European Cup-winning captain and former manager Billy McNeill following his death, aged 79.

As the leader of Jock Stein's famed Lisbon Lions, he became the first British player to ever hoist aloft the 'trophy with the big ears' after the Hoops' victory over Inter Milan in May 1967.

McNeill also had two spells as boss at Parkhead and Celtic marked the importance of his place in the club's history books when in 2015 they erected a statue outside the stadium of him holding the European Cup.

His death was announced in a statement released by his wife Liz and their five children.

Current Hoops boss Lennon said: "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 1970s.

"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."

Folklore

Signed from junior outfit Blantyre Victoria in 1957, he saw out his entire senior career at Celtic Park - playing every minute of his 790 appearances.

As well as claiming his place in Celtic folklore with his part in the club's famous win at the Estadio Nacional in Lisbon, McNeill - who was capped 29 times by Scotland - helped guide the Hoops to nine league titles in a row, seven Scottish Cups and six League Cups.

But after hanging up his boots aged 35, he was lured back to Celtic Park three years later, replacing Stein as boss following brief stints in charge at Clyde and Aberdeen.

He made a successful return to Glasgow's east end, winning three league championships, a Scottish Cup and a League Cup.

Stints at Manchester City and Aston Villa were not so fruitful but he returned to Parkhead in time for Celtic's centenary year in 1987/88, ensuring the celebrations ended with a bang as the Hoops claimed a league and cup double.

Two years ago McNeill's family announced he had been diagnosed with dementia.

Their statement announcing his death said: "It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our father Billy McNeill. He passed away late last night (Monday, April 22) surrounded by his family."

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