Thousands of people turned out in Glasgow along with major figures of Scottish football to pay their last respects to Billy McNeill.
Crowds lined the streets for Celtic’s European Cup-winning captain as the funeral cortege made its way from a city-centre church, past a packed George Square through the east end to Celtic Park.
Supporters had gathered to say a final farewell, many throwing scarves and flowers and singing songs in tribute to a man who won 31 trophies as a player and manager of Celtic.
There were songs and tears at Parkhead as fans paid tribute during a particularly sad time for the club. McNeill’s death last week was soon followed by that of fellow Lisbon Lion Stevie Chalmers, the man who netted the winning goal in the final against Inter Milan in 1967. Both had been suffering from dementia.
The Archbishop of Glasgow paid a heartfelt eulogy to one of his personal heroes and McNeill’s son, Martyn, and broadcaster Archie MacPherson also delivered tributes at St Aloysius Church in Rose Street.
The surviving Lisbon Lions – Bertie Auld, Jim Craig, Bobby Lennox, John Clark and Australia-based Willie Wallace – were among the mourners along with other team-mates such as Sir Kenny Dalglish and former Celtic managers Martin O’Neill, Gordon Strachan and Brendan Rodgers.
Former Rangers players John Greig and Sir Alex Ferguson were there along with a number of players who played under McNeill, the likes of Murdo MacLeod, Frank McAvennie, Tommy Coyne and Frank McGarvey, while current Celtic boss Neil Lennon and his first-team squad arrived at the church.
Archbishop Philip Tartaglia offered sympathies to McNeill’s wife, Liz, and their five children and eight grandchildren, some of whom carried the coffin into church along with Lisbon Lions right-back Craig.
The archbishop described McNeill as a “captain of a team of legends” and added: “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.
“Everyone remembers Billy holding up the European Cup in Lisbon. What a sight that was. His already imperious presence and stature was magnified by the achievement, by the accolade and by the context.
“Billy McNeill, the boy from Bellshill, Liz’s darling husband and father of their children, became public property. Beloved of the Celtic family, he was greatly appreciated also by the general Scottish public and by so many people across the world because he was the superb captain of the famous Lisbon Lions.”
Martyn McNeill described his parents as the “original Posh and Becks”, referencing his mother’s role as a dancer on television.
But he added: “We are not here to mourn the passing of a legend. We are here to say thank you for having so much more.”
MacPherson, a friend and long-time co-commentator of McNeill’s, recalled interviewing the former Aberdeen, Manchester City and Aston Villa boss at his home and being surprised to have to wait for him to find his football medals for a shot.
He added: “They were with the ladies I can see right here down the front when they were wee lassies. The medals, including that European one, they were using as currency to play shops with their next-door neighbours. I had visions of the European medal being exchanged for a couple of chocolate biscuits.
“It proved they were an ordinary family not carried away with the glory of their father and his reputation.
“So Liz, finally I would say to you, keep that tradition going. Let your grandchildren bring out the medals, and their grandchildren and then their grandchildren. Let them play with them, let them feel them, so that history isn’t shoved away in a wee cabinet.
“And if they do they will feel the reverberations of that famous day, when a Bellshill boy lifted the European Cup.”
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