If there was ever a man who simply was born to be Mr Celtic then it could only be one man, King Billy McNeill or Cesar as he is so fondly known.
This week sees the release of Cesar-The Billy McNeill Story on DVD and I am sure that this will be on every Celtic fan's Christmas wish list.
The story of the one club man who played over 800 competitive games for the Hoops and lead them to 9 League titles in a row and a clean sweep of honours in 1967 and became the first British player to lift the European Cup as Celtic defeated Inter Milan 2-1 in Lisbon.
Not only has Cesar played for the Hoops but he captained and managed them twice and was in charge when the club won the Double in its Centenary Year back in 1988.
There can be no better man to be an Ambassador for this great club,Billy McNeill has done it all with Celtic and now you can enjoy his greatest moments with this fantastic DVD.
It's one not to be missed-Cesar,The Billy McNeill Story
I managed to catch up with Billy to chat about a time that is still fondly remembered by every Celtic fan and those remaining Lisbon Lions.
Celtic became not only the first and only Scottish team to date to win the European Cup, they were the first British club and the first non Latin club to lift this magnificent trophy, a superb achievement with an all Scots team and what a team !
Celtic had it all, they had a great team bond, a good mixture of characters who were as good off the pitch as they were on it! A team filled with flair and skill, entertainers like Jimmy Johnstone who would go past defenders two or three times for fun such was his talent and of course they had good leaders on and off the pitch.
Captain Billy McNeill was strong and commanding in the air and a good leader of men who was respected by team mates and opponents alike and last but by no means least they had a Manager who was up there with the best of them, a tactical genius in the late, great Jock Stein.
No matter if it was Sea Mill or Lisbon you could be sure that big Jock would have his team prepared in the best possible way and relaxation and fitness were top of the big man’s agenda and his players knew that.
Jock was also wise to the media and knew that Celtic getting to the final of a European competition would mean the club would be getting attention from the European media as well as the Scottish or British media so a few days at Sea Mill were in order and a few rounds of golf were the order of the day as well as some hard training, these boys had a big match to play!
Celtic captain Billy McNeill recalls the build up to the final in Lisbon.
“Big Jock had done everything brilliantly, very careful about the choice of hotel, which was magnificent with a beautiful swimming pool on the grounds.”
“We went to the ground for training in the morning and we were supposed to go first but Inter went first so that they could watch us train in case they could learn anything from us.”
“We had an attitude back then and nobody will ever convince us were the best eleven individual players in Europe but collectively and as a team, we had a determination about ourselves and if we played to our best we knew that we would be a handful for anybody”.
As the final loomed even the locals looked to have warmed to Celtic and their supporters, could it have been they liked backing the underdog or perhaps the hoards of Celtic fans who made the trip had convinced the locals they would be on to a winner backing a side with such flair and talent such as Celtic.
Going into a European final the last thing that any side wants to do is concede an early goal or make any mistakes or even give away a silly penalty but that is exactly what Celtic did.
But being a goal down to a Mazzola penalty after Jim Craig had fouled Cappellini.
Lesser teams would have folded in the heat and knowing that the Italians would such up shop such was their style of play but not Celtic, this made them more determined.
“We did get the bonus of them scoring the first goal, when I say the bonus, we were all annoyed at it and it had us up in arms and if you look at it, we hit the bar a couple of times and funny enough their keeper Sarti, who we believed would be their weak link was their best player!”
“We did think it was an injustice but it was possibly the best thing that could have happened to us, because that meant that we had to take the game to them.”
“It suited us because we had the players that could do that. We had wee Jinky that could take the ball to people and Stevie Chalmers, Bobby Lennox up front and Willie Wallace who could get up and help the forwards and we had two full backs in Tommy Gemmill and Jim Craig who were at their best going forward.”
“When you consider it, the first goal that we scored, Jim Craig cuts the ball right across the edge of the 18 yard line and Tommy comes and sticks it in the net.”
“Tommy scored in the first match in Europe that year and he scored in the final as well.”
Celtic dominated the final and the only surprise was that the final score line was only 2-1,but that was mainly due to Sarti and a master class in goalkeeping but due to Celtic’s never say die attitude their was only ever going to be one winner.
When Stevie Chalmers scored for Celtic to win the European Cup for the club, he surely could never have dreamed what it would have meant to so many fans all these years on!
The players have come through some really tough times but their friendship and camaraderie has seen them through many a match and situation.
“Our football club was more associated with the Labour party, we could argue amongst ourselves but nobody else could get involved in it. What ever arguments we had, we kept them amongst the group and often people would try and poke their nose in to it but it was just like hitting a dead wall and I honestly think that what made it difficult coming from elsewhere because they were entering a group of players who had won the ultimate European prize and the Lions could never accept people who could not have played along with them.”
Being captain of a club like Celtic, Billy McNeill knows what it is like to win Europe’s top prize but he also pays tribute to the other Scottish clubs who have had success in Europe and is optimistic about another Scottish success in Europe.
“Anything can happen, we won the European Cup, Rangers won the Cup Winners Cup, Aberdeen won the Cup Winners Cup, so from that point of view these three teams have proved that success in Europe can be achieved again but it has got to be an exceptional team because if you look at those three teams, they were exceptional teams and all credit to everybody involved.”
“But going back to our achievement in winning the European Cup, consider a club with a population of only 5 million in the country could beat all the big knobs in Europe, I think that this was quite astounding!”
Looking back on Celtic’s magnificent achievement, Billy knows that the 25th May1967 will be a night that he can look back with a sense of pride an achievement, will also be tinged with feelings of sadness, knowing that some of the players indeed his friends will no longer be able to celebrate this success with him and the rest of the Lions as each year goes by.
“That is something that we recognised and there was a period when we thought that we were invincible and then unfortunately Bobby Murdoch, Ronnie and wee Jinky left us and that has been particularly sad for us.
We would have liked nothing better than all of us together but unfortunately maybe the big man needed a player or two!”