Scotland

Billy McNeill funeral: Fans and football greats pay respects to Celtic legend

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThousands of fans paid their last respects to the former Celtic captain and manager

Fans and football greats have paid their final respects to Celtic and Scotland legend Billy McNeill.

A funeral mass for the first British man to lift the European Cup took place at St Aloysius' Church in Glasgow.

Afterwards the cortege made its way to Celtic Park, where thousands of fans gathered to remember the club's former captain and manager.

McNeill, who had lived with dementia since 2010, died aged 79 on 22 April.

Image copyright Getty Images

The funeral service was attended by many famous names from the world of football, including former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, Liverpool legend Sir Kenny Dalglish and the surviving members of the Lisbon Lions.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon and club captain Scott Brown were joined by the first team squad and members of the board, including chief executive Peter Lawwell and largest shareholder Dermot Desmond.

Former Celtic managers Brendan Rodgers, Gordon Strachan and Martin O'Neill also turned out to pay their respects to the man known as Cesar.

Image copyright SNS Group
Image caption Sir Kenny Dalglish and wife Marina arrive for the service
Image copyright SNS Group
Image caption Alex Ferguson was among those paying tribute
Image copyright SNS Group
Image caption Players from the current Celtic team also attended

Old Firm rivals Rangers were represented by Ibrox legend John Greig, Gordon Smith, Willie Henderson and former boss Walter Smith.

The funeral was also attended by other figures from Scottish football, players who were managed by McNeill, and mourners from the world of politics.

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia began his homily by offering "heartfelt and prayerful sympathies" to McNeill's wife of 56 years, Liz, and children Susan, Carol, Libby, Paula and Martyn.

He told the congregation the former defender, who had eight grandchildren, endured his ill health with "dignity and courage".

Image copyright PA

Archbishop Tartaglia added: "As Glasgow Celtic's most famous captain, Billy also belonged to another family, the Celtic family, who adored him as their hero and who mourn his passing."

McNeill's son Martyn described his parents as the "the original Posh and Becks" and shared anecdotes of a loving family life.

He concluded: "We are not here to mourn the passing of a legend.

"We are here to say thank you for having so much more."

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionArchie Macpherson delivered the eulogy at Billy McNeill's funeral.

Broadcaster Archie Macpherson, who worked with McNeill for the BBC, recalled watching him lift the European Cup in Lisbon in May 1967.

Macpherson told the congregation: "When I saw him appearing he looked slightly dishevelled, a bit weary also, I think, wearing a puzzled look as if he had not really taken in what these local lads from around Glasgow had achieved in reaching the pinnacle of European football.

"It just did not seem real until he had his hands on the cup.

"And, believe you me, even the most talented Hollywood agency could not have cast a better man for that particular role of lifting the cup.

Image copyright SNS Group
Image caption The mass took place at St Aloysius' Church in Glasgow

"Tall. Handsome. Now you can be plug ugly and still lift a cup. Nevertheless, he did have the looks.

"As soon as he got the cup in his hands he was enlivened. It was as if he had been transfixed."

Macpherson said McNeill believed the Celtic story was "part fairytale".

He also described McNeill and manager Jock Stein as "one of the most powerful duos in the history of the British game".

And he added: "He was simply a decent human being."

Image copyright SNS Group
Image caption The service was broadcast on a screen outside Celtic Park
Image copyright SNS Group

Macpherson said McNeill seemed to rise above the rivalry of the Old Firm and he could not recall anyone in the media having a bad word to say about him.

The congregation was also told McNeill's daughters used to use his medals as currency when they played a grocery game with the neighbours.

Macpherson joked: "I had visions of the European medal being changed for a couple of chocolate biscuits."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image copyright SNS Group
Image caption Thousands of fans gathered at Celtic Park on Friday

After the service the cortege was greeted with a standing ovation as it passed through Glasgow city centre.

But the loudest reception of all was reserved for Celtic Park where fans had gathered to watch the service on a big screen.

Supporters clapped and cheered as the coffin was driven past the front of the stadium and down Celtic Way to McNeill's bronze statute, which is surrounded by hundreds of floral tributes.

There was also a rousing chorus of In the Heat of Lisbon before the McNeill family stepped out of the funeral cars to applaud the crowd.

The Bellshill-born defender enjoyed a glittering career and led the Parkhead club to nine successive league titles, seven Scottish Cups and six League Cups.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption McNeill lifted the European Cup as Celtic captain in 1967

But his finest hour came in Lisbon on 25 May 1967 when Celtic defeated Italian giants Inter Milan 2-1 to become the first British team to lift the European Cup.

McNeill went on to have two spells at the club as manager and led the club to eight honours.

These included a league and cup double in 1988, the club's centenary year.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tributes have been paid at the statue outside Celtic Park

His nickname was a nod to actor Cesar Romero, who starred as the getaway driver in the original Ocean's Eleven, as McNeill had the same car at the time.

The former Scotland defender, who won 29 caps for his country, also managed Clyde, Aberdeen, Manchester City and Aston Villa in the 1970s and 80s.

Tens of thousands of fans have already paid their respects to McNeill at his bronze statue outside Celtic Park, which was unveiled in 2015.

Celtic's players will wear McNeill's former number five on their shorts when they face Hearts in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park on Saturday 25 May.

Related Topics

More on this story