The word legend is overused in football – but if it applies to one person, it’s Billy McNeill.
He was a brilliant player, a fantastic leader, an excellent manager and an incredibly nice guy.
Tributes have been paid to Billy, who passed away aged 79 on Monday night, from across the football world.
And it’s difficult to put into words not just his contribution to Scottish football, but also what a gentleman he was.
As a player he was magnificent and led Celtic as captain to two European Cup finals, winning one in 1967, as well as leading them to countless league titles and cups.
On top of his club achievements he was a Scotland international and led his country with distinction.
But he achieved all that with humility. If he went into a tackle with you and knocked you down he picked you back up straight away.
Billy always shook your hand after games against Celtic. At Aberdeen we beat Celtic in the 1970 Scottish Cup final and he was the first to shake our hands and congratulate us. I remember playing for Hibs against Celtic in the 1974 League Cup final when I scored a hat-trick but we lost 6-3. I’ll always remember what he said: “you’ve been so unlucky Joe to score a hat-trick in a cup final and end up on the losing side.”
That’s the sort of person he was – you couldn’t have met a nicer man and his wife Liz is also a wonderful person.
As a manager he was also very good at Celtic, Aston Villa and Manchester City as well as Aberdeen.
Billy may have been in charge for only one season at Pittodrie, but it was a joy to play under him and he was somebody as a player you respected hugely.
In his sole campaign with the Dons we finished second in the Premier Division and reached the Scottish Cup final.
Although we didn’t win anything it was a good season and the work Billy did meant that when he returned to Celtic as manager and Sir Alex Ferguson, pictured, replaced him at Pittodrie, some of the groundwork was already in place for the success Aberdeen were to have under Fergie.
The Dons’ next home game is against Celtic a week on Saturday. I hope before the match there can be a special tribute to Billy and both sets of supporters can show their love and admiration for him.
Billy always knew there was a stature about him because of his achievements and being a leader of a club like Celtic and also skippering Scotland.
But it never showed – he wasn’t arrogant, he was down to earth and a nice man.
He was an absolute gentleman and one of the nicest people you could meet in football.
There will never be another captain or player like Billy at Celtic, or in Scotland again.
In Scottish football now if a player of Billy’s ability ever comes through again he would probably move on because of the money in other leagues.
It is sad that Billy has passed away but the contribution he made to Scottish football and how much of a gentleman he was are things that should always be remembered.