Billy McNeill. Leader.

I first met Billy McNeill as a young boy when he came to play with other Celtic legends at a charity game in Larkhall. My dad also played in the game and you could see how much respect he held for big Billy as they blethered in the dressing room.

Over the years I have had the privilege of being in Billy’s company, working with him at football Q&A nights and being with him and my old man at sportsmen dinners.

Sometimes there is a sad persona that comes off old players as they leave behind their glory playing days and become ordinary guys trying to make a living. That could never be said about Billy McNeill.

The class and dignity that came off him in sheets on the field of play was always with him even after he hung up the boots and departed the dugout. He was every inch the ambassador for his club. Contrast his quiet dignity with the present possessor of the Captain’s armband and you will see how standards have fallen, not only in football but in society.

Billy McNeill was a man. Today’s footballers are mostly manchilds.  He stood head and shoulders above most in terms of sheer leadership energy. You might hate him but you couldn’t help but admire him.

As a boy I loved to see my beloved Rangers beat the teams he captained. But you had to admit he was an outstanding leader of men.

Another unappealing trait of players and ex-players is the arrogant disdain some show for fans. This was another unpleasant aspect missing from Billy McNeill’s personality; he had time for people and understood their need to feel special being in his presence.

Big Billy was hurt by the Mo Johnston situation when the player he thought he had captured signed instead for Rangers. But he was a big enough man to not let that make him bitter. He and my dad maintained their friendship despite it all.

Being Captain of the first British team to lift the Big Cup was a feat that in itself secured Billy McNeill legend status. But that was just one achievement in a glittering career, albeit the biggest.

Perhaps you could sum up the character of Billy McNeill by saying that in an era where respect between Rangers and Celtic fans is at an all-time low, many bluenoses are today genuinely grieving his passing.

Archie Macpherson was asked to sum Billy McNeill up in one word on television tonight. He said “Classy.”

I wouldn’t argue with that but my word would have been “Imperious.”

What you cannot argue with is the epithet that summed him up and brought the genuine if grudging admiration of even the most fervent Rangers fans: Leader.

 

 

9 Replies to “Billy McNeill. Leader.”

  1. football Royalty Cesar the Gentleman now Broonie the Mentalman Definetly a drop in standards sad but this is the way the whole world is going

  2. Lovely comments, Bill.

    The man was a giant of the Scottish game but more importantly (having met him many times) he was a genuine, honest gent of man.

    Celtic fans will be in mourning, a sad loss to their club and family.

    There’s a few that transcend the Old Firm nonsense. Billy McNeil was one of them, as were Davie Cooper and Tommy Burns. People that earned the respect of their peers and their rivals.

    I’ve been slightly surprised by the outpouring of genuine sadness among Rangers fans today. I think it proves that there’s much more to life than a game of football.

    A family man, a giant of the game and a true gentleman has gone.

    Thirty one trophies in total as a player, captain and manager of Celtic.

    That is a legend. No two ways about it and he gained my utmost respect the minute I met him.

    Ninja/Kenny.

      1. Indeed. Sad to say this and probably not the time to bring it up but compare Billy McNeil to their current captain. Do you think he’ll get the same respect from Rangers fans?

        Respect is earned and given when you show dignity and class. Scott Brown will never be held in any regard by Rangers fans simply because he has no class.

        His antics towards opposition players and fans are unbefitting of the club he represents.

        How standards have fallen…..

  3. Murdo, I share your thoughts, as a Rangers fan, I too loved to see the Gers beat any team he was in, but he was always dignified, the present Celtic captain comes no where near him. Billy would not be seen laughing as an opposing player was sent off, neither would he go to the Rangers fans and gloat. He was too much of a gentleman for that. A sad loss indeed

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