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Tributes paid after death of Celtic great Billy McNeill

The Lisbon Lions captain passed away on Easter Monday surrounded by his family.

Figures from across the footballing world paid tribute to McNeill.
Figures from across the footballing world paid tribute to McNeill. ©SNS Group

Tributes have been paid to Celtic icon Billy McNeill, who has died at the age of 79.

McNeill was the first British footballer to lift the European Cup after Celtic's triumph against Inter Milan in 1967.

He won 31 trophies as player and manager and was associated with the club for more than six decades.

McNeill was also manager at Clyde, Aberdeen, Manchester City and Aston Villa.

He passed away on Monday, surrounded by his family, following a long struggle with dementia.

Figures from across the sporting world have paid tribute to a Scottish footballing great.

Celtic interim manager Neil 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 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.

"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."

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Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell said a "great Celtic man" had been lost.

He said: "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.

"It has also been one of the great privileges of my life that, over the years, I got to meet and know Billy, not just as a great Celt, but also as a great man and someone I was delighted to call a friend.

"His presence on a matchday here at Celtic Park, where he would cheer on the team, was always a great opportunity to meet up with him, and it was also an indication that he always was, before everything else, a Celtic supporter, faithful through and through.

"This is the saddest of days for the Celtic family, and also for the wider football world. We mourn Billy McNeill's passing and we send our thoughts and prayers to his family and friends, while we also give thanks for Billy's life and the incredible joy he brought to so many people as a Celtic player, a Celtic manager and a great Celtic man."

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McNeill's Lisbon Lions teammates Bertie Auld and Jim Craig expressed their sadness over their former captain's death.

"It was heartbreaking to see him the way he was," Auld said. "It's a terrible illness.

"He was such a big character. Big Jock [Stein] signed him when he was 17. Whenever he walked in - you could see it. He was a giant.

"He was an ambassador for the club. He always conducted himself in a great manner. He was born to be Celtic captain - the way he conducted himself made him stand out from the rest.

"I remember him coming to Celtic aged 17.

"He was capable of putting you in your place. if you were messing about - there were a lot of characters at the time. Billy wasn't the best of singers, so he had to stay quiet at times.

"But he respected everyone. He had that presence that nobody else had."

Craig said: "Heartbroken over the passing of my great friend and captain Billy McNeill.

"A huge blow for the Celtic family but a devastating loss for [his wife] Liz, [and children] Susan, Libby, Carol, Paula and Martyn. My thoughts and prayers are with them today."

Former Rangers captain John Greig also paid tribute to his one-time rival. He said: "Billy's not been well, but it's still a shock.

"When you think of Billy McNeill you think of that towering six-foot plus figure who captained Celtic to their greatest ever triumph. I've been friends with Billy for a long, long time.

"As Old Firm captains, we've done a lot together in the west of Scotland. My heart goes out to Liz and Billy's family. It's a very, very sad day."

Sir Alex Ferguson said: "I, like everyone in Scotland today, is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Billy McNeill.

"He was a giant in Scottish Football, a man with an incredible presence and I'll always cherish the fact that we entered professional football at the same time. 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's former sides, and clubs across Scotland, also sent messages of condolence.

Former Celtic strikers Chris Sutton said:"Such heartbreaking news. Billy McNeill was an inspirational leader, a legend and a lion. Thoughts go out to his family and the Celtic family."

Team-mate John Hartson: "Sad news the Great Billy McNeill has passed away.. a true Giant of the game, Leader and inspirational figure.. RIP Big Man thoughts are with the McNeill family at this sad time."

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