The footballing world was met with tragic news this week as footballing great Billy McNeill passed away at the age of 79. He was one of the most legendary names in Scottish football, serving the game in this country for many years.
McNeill was a one club man during his playing career, making his name at Celtic. He is the club’s greatest ever captain, leading the club to the famous 1967 European Cup victory against Inter Milan in Lisbon.
In his management career he started out at Clyde, before managing Celtic over two spells, Manchester City, Aston Villa and serving as a mentor to Jim Duffy at Hibs.
There was also a spell in the 1977/78 season where the Lisbon Lion took over the reigns at Aberdeen. He was only there for a year, but the iconic number five laid the foundations for a golden period at Pittodrie.
Laying the groundwork for success
It was a shock when McNeill came to the Granite City. He was untested and inexperienced at a high level. His achievements as a player were legendary but little was known of his management skills.
He was a young manager, eager to succeed and make a name for himself in the coaches arena. That was a theme the Dons ran with in the late 70s and early 80s. His successor, a certain Alex Ferguson, also ticked those boxes.
McNeill’s reign as Dons boss started brilliantly, beating Rangers 3-1 in his first league game. They then went unbeaten in their opening eight league games, with his first defeat coming at the hands of Hibs in October 1977.
It was a straight fight between Rangers and Aberdeen for the league, with both clubs keeping up with each other as they moved towards the final stages of the season. Sadly for McNeill he wasn’t able to take any trophies away from the Govan side. Rangers won the league and beat his side 2-1 in the Scottish Cup final.
Celtic came calling soon after, meaning McNeill ended his fruitful spell at Pittodrie on quite a disappointing note. He was lured to his second home in Glasgow, with Celtic needing their legendary captain to give the side a lift.
Before he left Aberdeen though, McNeill signed the likes of Gordan Strachan and Steven Archibald, before giving many promising youngsters professional contracts. This meant successor Ferguson was well equipped to lead a golden era for the Dons.
McNeill will go down in football history
The news of his death brought the world of football together. Clubs from all around the world have united to offer their condolences to McNeill’s family, Celtic and those who were closest to him.
He was the boy from Bellshill who conquered Europe and captured the imaginations of fans across the globe. Many will be too young to remember him playing, but everyone is aware of McNeill’s story, and the incredible heights he reached in football.
The Lisbon Lion wore his heart on his sleeve at every club he represented. Everyone that had the pleasure of meeting him would tell you he was one of the kindest people in football. His contributions to the game in this country should be forever remembered.