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'Lisbon Lion' Billy McNeill passes away

Billy McNeill, who captained Celtic to European Cup success in 1967, has died at the age of 79.

Billy McNeill with the trophy after Celtic's 1967 European Cup final win in Lisbon
Billy McNeill with the trophy after Celtic's 1967 European Cup final win in Lisbon ©Getty Images

The first British player to lift the UEFA European Champion Clubs' Cup, former Celtic captain and manager Billy McNeill, has died at the age of 79.

McNeill led Jock Stein's 'Lisbon Lions' when they beat Internazionale Milano 2-1 in the 1967 final in the Portuguese capital.

McNeill led the Hoops to nine consecutive Scottish League titles from 1966 to 1974, as well as seven Scottish Cups and six League Cups. The defender made 822 appearances for the Bhoys and was capped 29 times for Scotland, scoring three times.

In two spells as Celtic manager, he won four titles and four cups, including a league and cup double in the club's centenary season, 1987/88. He also had spells in charge of Clyde, Aberdeen, Manchester City and Aston Villa.

McNeill remembers Celtic's 1967 final win
McNeill remembers Celtic's 1967 final win

Celtic said he died on Monday night "surrounded by his family and loved ones"; a statement from the family said McNeill had "fought bravely to the end, showing the strength and fortitude he always has done throughout his life".

McNeill is in the Scottish Football Hall of Fame, and was voted Celtic's greatest ever captain in 2002. In his later years, McNeill was an ambassador for Celtic, and a statue of him lifting the European Cup was erected outside Celtic Park in 2015. At the time, he said: "Celtic has been in my blood and a part of my life for so many years, and to be recognised in this way, by the club I love, is truly humbling."

Current Celtic manager Neil Lennon said: "When you think of Celtic and our incredible history, Billy McNeill is always one of the first names that comes to mind. 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."

Celtic chief executive, Peter Lawwell added: "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."

Scottish Football Association (SFA) president Alan McRae noted: "The Scottish football family has lost one of its all-time greats. Billy was, quite simply, an icon of Scottish football – a natural leader who, though synonymous with Celtic, was respected throughout the entire Scottish footballing fraternity.

"A solid, uncompromising defender, his greatest talent was inspiring his team-mates to reach new heights. His standards on and off the pitch were impeccable and he was a true ambassador for the best of the Scottish game wherever he travelled."