'Farewell Cesar' - Alex Ferguson among Old Firm rivals to pay tribute on passing of Celtic's Billy McNeill

Clubs and players have been paying tribute to the captain of Celtic's 'Lisbon Lions', who died last night aged 79.

'Farewell Cesar' - Alex Ferguson among Old Firm rivals to pay tribute on passing of Celtic's Billy McNeill

Former Celtic captain Billy McNeill has died at the age of 79.

McNeill, who played for Celtic his whole career, was captain of the famous ‘Lisbon Lions’ side who won the European Cup in 1967 and he also went on to manage the club.

A statement from his children on the Celtic website read: “It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our father Billy McNeill.

"He passed away late last night (Monday, April 22) surrounded by his family and loved ones. He suffered from dementia for a number of years and fought bravely to the end, showing the strength and fortitude he always has done throughout his life."

Former Celtic striker Frank McGarvey, who McNeill signed from Liverpool in 1980, told Press Association Sport: "It is a very very sad day.

"He will be sadly missed."

Sir Alex Ferguson, who played directly against McNeill in Old Firm derbies and succeeded his former opponent as Aberdeen manager, said he was "deeply saddened" by the news.

The former Rangers striker told the Celtic website: "He was a giant in Scottish football, a man with an incredible presence and I'll always cherish the fact that we entered professional football at the same time.

"We played against each other on many occasions and, as anyone who played against him will testify, he was the fairest of players.

"He was also a truly good man and will be a loss to everyone who knew him. Farewell Cesar."

Aberdeen, who McNeil managed in the 1970s, tweeted: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of our former manager, Billy McNeill who has passed away at the age of 79."

In a statement posted on the club's website, Celtic manager Neil Lennon said: "This is such sad news and I want to send thoughts and prayers to Liz and all the family from myself and all the backroom staff here at the club.

"When you think of Celtic and our incredible history, Billy McNeill is always one of the first names that comes to mind. He was our greatest ever captain and one of our greatest ever players, and along with his team-mates, achieved historic things for Celtic in the 1960s and '70s.

"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."

"As a Celtic supporter, to get the chance to play for the club, captain the team and finally to become manager is something that dreams are made of. The fact that I've achieved all three is something that I really appreciate, and the fact that I'm following in the footsteps of a legend like Billy McNeill makes me truly lucky.

"Billy was a brilliant Celtic player, and a great manager, and as a player and a fan myself, it was always a great experience whenever I would meet him and chat to him. He was so positive and supportive, and always wanted all of us to do well because, if we did, it meant that Celtic were doing well and, for Billy, that was everything.

"This was his club, and he devoted his professional life to Celtic. In turn, he received the gratitude, admiration and love of every Celtic supporter.

"This is more than a club, with Celtic known throughout the world, and it is because of people like Billy McNeill that this is the case. He was a giant of the game, a true Celtic legend and someone that we will all miss."

Celtic captain Scott Brown posted an image of McNeill on Instagram and wrote: "Captain leader legend. Rest in peace."

Former Rangers captain John Greig was McNeill's rival during their playing days but also a friend.

He told Press Association Sport: "It's very sad news. I realise Billy has been unwell for quite a while and I've lost a very good friend today.

"We have been close for many, many years. Although we were big opponents on the field we had a mutual respect for each other off it."

"As Old Firm captains, we were asked to do a lot of public engagements together. We were even given doctorates from the University of Glasgow on the same day in 2008.

"Apart from being a great football player and a great captain for a great Celtic side, he was also a great guy, a real gentleman and I'll miss him."

The Scotland national team tweeted: "Our thoughts are with the family and friends of former Scotland and @CelticFC captain Billy McNeill, a true icon of Scottish football. We will not see his likes again."

Rangers tweeted: "The Directors, players and staff of Rangers Football Club are today saddened to learn of the death of Celtic legend Billy McNeill. Everyone at Rangers today sends their condolences to the family and friends of Mr McNeill."

Greig, who is the honorary life president at Rangers, added on the club's website: "As a player I remember Billy was like an extra forward because of his aerial ability at set-pieces. He was also a leader and a commanding and respected figure in the Lisbon Lions team of the Sixties.

"He was a great man and at this sad time my thoughts are with Liz and her family."

The Scottish Professional Football League tweeted: "The SPFL are saddened to learn of the passing of @CelticFC legend Billy McNeill.

"Our thoughts and condolences are with his family and all at Celtic at this time."

Athletic Bilbao, who recently awarded McNeill's family with a "one club man" award for his playing career with Celtic, tweeted: "Athletic Club regrets the passing of @CelticFC legend Billy McNeill and joins the pain of family, friends and the entire emblematic club."

Hibernian tweeted: "Everyone at Easter Road was saddened to hear of the passing of Billy McNeill, who spent a short time at Hibs as mentor to then-manager Jim Duffy."

McNeil's former team-mate Jim Craig tweeted: "Heartbroken over the passing of my great friend and captain Billy McNeill. A huge blow for the Celtic family but a devastating loss for Liz, Susan Libby Carol, Paula and Martyn.

"My thoughts and prayers are with them today. RIP my friend."

Manchester City tweeted: "We are sad to learn of the passing of Billy McNeill who managed the Club between 1983-86. Everyone at Manchester City would like to send our sincere condolences to Billy's family. "

Bertie Auld, McNeill's fellow Lisbon Lion, told Press Association Sport: "Today's news is a tragedy.

"I was there when the boss signed Billy at 17 years of age and even then he had tremendous presence about him.

"He was a big thin boy with spindly legs but he was majestic in the air, even at that age. He had a tremendous temperament for a centre-back.

"As the months went on, you could see he had this ability to be a leader. Despite being so young, he would give everybody his opinion and everyone respected him.

"I remember in Lisbon, him carrying the ball out onto the park in Portugal. His chest was out and his head was back. He knew we would win and that filtered through the rest of us. He was never arrogant or egotistical. He just believed in himself and the rest of us."

Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: "Very sorry to hear of the passing of Billy McNeill, a giant of Scottish football. The tributes from across the game today speak volumes about the affection in which he was held."

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