The sad news that Billy McNeill passed away late on Monday (22 April 2019) was felt across Scotland and no more than at Aberdeen and Celtic.
Billy was one of the most well-known and respected figures in Scottish football history, enjoying a career as a player and manager – a man of immense stature.
McNeill had a brief spell as Aberdeen FC manager in season 1977/78, taking over after Ally MacLeod left Aberdeen to take up the Scotland manager’s role.
It was the start of something special at Pittodrie. He was influential in the signing of Gordon Strachan from Dundee, Steve Archibald from Clyde and giving Neil Simpson a professional contract.
That contribution in a single season at Aberdeen was undoubtedly special and led to the Dons successes under the era of another legend, Alex Ferguson.
Sir Alex, recalled his memories of Billy: “He was a giant, a man with an incredible presence and I’ll always cherish the fact that we entered professional football at the same time,” said the former Dons manager.
“We played against each other on many occasions and, as anyone who played against him will testify, he was the fairest of players. He was also a truly good man and will be a loss to everyone who knew him. Farewell Cesar.”
McNeill had numerous achievements as a player at Celtic, making his debut on 23 August 1958 in a 2-0 home win over Clyde in the League Cup, whilst his final appearance came on 3 May 1975 when he captained Celtic to a 2-1 victory over Airdrieonians in the Scottish Cup Final.
During his time at Celtic he won nine league titles in a row, seven Scottish Cups and six League Cups.
On 25 May 1967, he enjoyed his finest hour, lifting the European Cup in Lisbon after a 2-1 win over Inter Milan.
McNeill succeeded another Celtic legend, Jock Stein in 1978 after leaving Aberdeen, staying with the club until 1983 when he left to manage Manchester City followed by a spell at Aston Villa from September 1986.
He had a second spell at Celtic as he delivered a league and Scottish Cup double in the club’s centenary season, 1987/88. However his four-year stint only saw one more trophy in the 1989 Scottish Cup.
After leaving Celtic, he had a brief spell of management at Hibs as Director of Football at Easter Road in 1998.
Billy had been suffering from dementia since 2010. His wife Liz and their five children said in a family statement that he had fought bravely, showing the same “strength and fortitude” he displayed in green and white.
The statement added: “We would also like to note our love and appreciation to our mother, Liz, for the care, devotion and love she gave to our father throughout his illness. No-one could have done any more.
“Whilst this is a very sad time for all the family and we know our privacy will be respected, our father always made time for the supporters so please tell his stories, sing his songs and help us celebrate his life.”