The passing of a titan like Billy McNeill is always hard to grasp.
Even those who never met the man will have a feeling of familiarity with the iconic Celtic man. His is a legend that permeates the entire culture at Celtic. He was all encompassing, part myth, part man. For him to leave us is almost unfathomable.
Stories have been passed down from parents, grandparents, uncles and aunties to our generation. Stories that have always filled us with awe, even if we did not experience them first hand as Hoops supporters.
Success, ability, personality, leadership – these traits are what we want every single Hoops team to aspire to and no-one taught us that more, simply by existing, than the European Cup winning captain.
Today’s sad news of his passing at the age of 79 has given us the chance to reflect on the kind of career that is simply unique, one that will never be surpassed by anyone who walks through the Celtic Park gates in the future.
McNeill made an incredible 822 appearances, all which were starts, for the Hoops.
Making his debut at the age of 18, he would play until he was 35, by which point he had already become part of the fabric of Celtic Football Club, having won 23 major honours, all of which came when he was captain.
From a nine-in-a-row triumph to the famous lifting of the big cup in Portugal, he had been the rock in Jock Stein’s famous team. Someone, who in the words of Stein himself, made others better.
“What makes a great player? He’s the one who brings out the best in others. When I am saying that I’m talking about Billy McNeill.” – Jock Stein.
For many, that would have been enough of a football career, but McNeill was always destined to be a Celtic manager and typically he brought great success to the dugout too, winning league championships in 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1988.
The addition of three Scottish Cups and a Scottish League Cup would bring his total major honour haul at Celtic as captain and manager to 31.
To put that into context, the club since its inception in 1888 have won 106 major trophies to date.
It’s almost unbelievable, but McNeill helped win almost a third of Celtic’s entire silverware collection in a leadership position.
Yet that barely scratches the surface of what he means to us as supporters. More than trophy wins, more than appearance numbers and more than a legacy on the pitch he represents something much greater – he was our link to generations before us and to a golden era of Celtic.
He was the living embodiment of everything anyone ever told us about Celtic in our formative years as supporters.
That’s exactly why he’ll never be forgotten.
Yes this week Billy McNeill passed away and it’s hard to grasp, but his legend will live on, all of us will ensure it.