Thousands have lined the streets of Glasgow and gathered at Celtic Park to celebrate the life of Billy McNeill, who died last week aged 79.
A funeral mass for the Hoops hero, who captained the Lisbon Lions to European Cup victory in 1967, was held this morning at St Aloysius’ church in Glasgow city centre, before the cortège made its way to the East End.
Sir Alex Ferguson was among the mourners, as well as the current Celtic squad, Lisbon Lions, Sir Kenny Dalglish, Brendan Rodgers, Neil Lennon, Mick McCarthy, David Moyes and Alex McLeish.
Ex-Rangers managers Walter Smith and John Greig and former Celtic players Frank McGarvey, Frank McAvennie and Tom Boyd were also in attendance.
As he began his homily, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia offered sympathies to McNeill’s wife of 56 years, Liz, and his five children and eight grandchildren.
He added: “We are aware that Billy had a few hard years with his health before he died, which he endured with dignity and courage, but now he is at peace.”
The archbishop described McNeill as “captain of a team of legends”.
He said: “As a 16 year old boy, I watched with overflowing joy as Billy and his Lions lifted the European Cup. Never for a moment did I imagine that I would be conducting his Funeral Mass. I assure Liz and her family that it is a great honour for me to do so.”
The archbishop recalled standing on the terracing watching as McNeill kick-started Celtic’s glory days with a Scottish Cup final winner against Dunfermline in 1965, and other major moments on the way to Celtic conquering Europe.
He added: “Liz and family, all this is by way of saying that Billy and his Lisbon Lions and their colossus of a manager Jock Stein won the admiration and respect of a whole nation, and that whole nation joins with you in sympathy and in prayer today for Billy.
“Billy McNeill will remain in our hearts and minds undoubtedly as a football icon and a Celtic legend.
“At the same time, Billy was a family man who loved his wife and children. He treasured the intimacy of his family life.
“As with the best of heroes, he was blessed with an unassuming character. He never forgot his own origins and he always had time for ordinary people and fans.”
McNeill’s son, Martyn, described his parents as the “original Posh and Becks” given his mother’s role as a dancer on television.
He added: “After 55 years of marriage, I’m glad to say there’s been no Strictly curse.”
Commentator Archie Macpherson also spoke at the funeral, paying tribute to a man he had first known as a player, but who later came to be a great friend.
He said: “In the sometimes hateful atmosphere of Old Firm games Billy was never demonised as so many players can be in that.
“Somehow he seemed to be able to rise above the unfortunate quasi-religious hate-fest that too often it turned into. Why? Because of his appearance, his stature, because of the way he played – athletic, hard but fair.
“And I never saw any gratuitous implosion that felt he was a superior person to the other lot. In that sense he was different.”
'The most talented Hollywood agency could not have cast a better man for that particular role of lifting the cup.'
Archie Macpherson remembers that special day in Lisbon when Billy McNeill lifted the European Cup ? pic.twitter.com/unOE1kOZi2
— BBC Sport Scotland (@BBCSportScot) May 3, 2019
McNeill also managed Aberdeen and former Dons players Willie Miller and Alex McLeish were there to pay their respects.
McLeish said outside the church: “I worked with a legend. Billy gave me my debut, I’ll never forget that day.
“(He was) brilliant – banter on the training ground, serious when he had to give you a tongue lashing.
“Type of guy who when he walks in the room everyone stands up or shuts up.
“He was a great man. I know his family well, he’ll be sadly missed.”
After the ceremony, the cortège left the city centre, passing a gathered crowd at George Square before heading towards the East End.
Heading into the grounds of Celtic Park, fans threw scarfs onto the hearse, sang their hero’s name and applauded a legendary figure of the Scottish game.
Renditions of “In The Heat Of Lisbon” rippled around the crowd of thousands as the much-loved figure paid one final visit to the stadium.
Large screens, which had earlier broadcast the funeral, displayed pictures of the man they called Cesar, and the statue of McNeill lifting the European Cup was surrounded in a sea of green and white and flowers, scarves and shirts piled up.
To resounding applause and chants of ‘hail Cesar’, the cortège departed for a private burial.
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