The loss of a legend
THE Football Writers Association has been deeply saddened at the passing of Billy McNeill, a colossus of a man in the Scottish game.
A magnificent servant to Celtic as a player, manager and ambassador he passed away on April 22 at the age of 79 after battling with dementia for nearly a decade.
However, he was also a wonderful man who was a great friend to the association and many of its members and a regular attender of our annual awards dinner.
Billy, of course, was the first recipient of the SFWA Player of the Year award in 1965, largely on the back of his stunning header that won the Scottish Cup in a 3-2 win over Dunfermline that gave Celtic their first major trophy in nearly eight years.
Within a year, he captained Celtic to the title. The year after that he stood on the podium at the Estadio Nacional in Lisbon, holding the European Cup aloft.
For that moment alone, following the historic 2-1 win against Inter Milan, his name was indelibly marked in football history but the greatest Celtic team of all time was just getting going.
McNeill was the skipper as Jock Stein’s side won nine consecutive titles and dominated with a remarkable ruthlessness and panache.
He won the Scottish Cup on six subsequent occasions. Indeed, his last appearance for Celtic was the 1975 Final when he lifted the trophy after a 3-1 win over Airdrie.
McNeill also won the League Cup six times and was runner up in the 1970 European Cup Final to Feyenoord. He was also capped 29 times for Scotland.
He cut his teeth in management with Clyde and then had a highly successful season at Aberdeen – laying the groundwork for the subsequent success of Alex Ferguson – before the lure of a return to Celtic in 1978.
Replacing Stein was no easy task, but McNeill built a terrific side that won three titles, one Scottish Cup and one League Cup.
His love affair with Celtic was not all roses, however, as he left for Manchester City in 1983 after falling out with the board.
He did well at Maine Road, leading them back to England’s top tier and then had a less successful spell at Aston Villa before patching things up with Celtic and returning for a second spell in 1987.
Perhaps fatefully, he led Celtic to a League and Cup double in their Centenary season and won the Cup again in 1989.
He left Celtic again as manager in 1991, but Celtic never left him.
It was a pleasure and a privilege for so many of the association to work during his career or with him after it was over.
We send our deepest condolences to Liz and the family.