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  • Cesar's emotional final farewell

    Cesar's emotional final farewell

    By: Paul Cuddihy on 03 May, 2019 14:42

  • IT was an emotional day as the Celtic Family said a final farewell to Billy McNeill, the club’s greatest ever captain who passed away last week at the age of 79.

    Thousands of supporters gathered at Paradise to watch the Funeral Requiem Mass from St Aloysius’ Church, Glasgow, with the Mass being shown on big screens at the stadium where Cesar had made his name as a football legend.

    The church itself was packed, with Billy’s family and friends gathering to mourn the loss of a great man. Celtic directors and staff were there, too, along with Neil Lennon and the Celtic first-team squad, while many supporters joined fellow mourners inside the church.

    There were many Celtic legends in attendance, most notably Billy’s friends and fellow Lisbon Lions, John Clark, Bertie Auld, Jim Craig, Bobby Lennox, Willie Wallace, John Fallon, John Hughes and Charlie Gallagher.

    And as well as many other former Celts, including Danny McGrain, Kenny Dalglish, Davie Hay, Mike Jackson, Tommy Callaghan, George McCluskey, Roy Aitken, Tom Boyd, Tosh McKinlay, Billy Stark, Pat Bonner, John Collins, Frank McAvennie, Peter Grant and Charlie Nicholas amongst many others, there were many other names from the world of football in attendance to pay their own respects.

    Those included former Celtic managers, Martin O’Neill, Brendan Rodgers and Gordon Strachan, plus Sir Alex Ferguson, Pat Crerand and Willie Miller.

    A number of Rangers directors were there, as well as Rangers legend John Greig and former manager, Walter Smith, while both the SFA and SPFL were represented.

    Just before the start of the service, John Innes, the ‘People’s Tenor’, performed a moving rendition of Ave Maria.

    The Funeral Requiem Mass was celebrated by Archbishop of Glasgow, Philip Tartaglia, along with a number of fellow priests. And the Archbishop expressed his condolences to Billy’s wife, Liz, their children, Susan, Paula, Libby, Carol and Martyn, and their grandchildren on their loss, while also giving thanks for Billy’s remarkable life and everything he had done both professionally and personally.

    And in his Homily, the Archbishop remembered some memorable moments from his own childhood watching Celtic that involved Billy McNeill, most notably, his goal in the 1965 Scottish Cup final, the winner against Vojvodina in the European Cup quarter-final two years later. And, of course, that historic night of May 25, 1967 in Lisbon, when Billy lifted the Big Cup after he and his team-mates had defeated Inter Milan 2-1 in the Estadio Nacional.

    Archbishop Tartaglia had also, at the start of Mass, spoke of the loss of the man who scored the winning goal in Lisbon, Stevie Chalmers, who passed away earlier this week at the age of 83. The Archbishop passed on his thoughts and prayers to the Chalmers family.

    Towards the end of Mass, and before the final blessing, there were moving eulogies from Billy’s son, Martyn, and his friend, the broadcaster Archie Macpherson.

    Martyn McNeill acknowledged the legendary status that his father had gained in the world of football, but to the family, he was a devoted husband, a loving father and grandfather, and a warm and special man. He also spoke of the lifelong friendship his father had enjoyed with Mike Jackson, the two men having signed for Celtic on the same day back in 1957.

    Archie Macpherson remembered a friendship with Billy that developed over time, having gone from commentating on Billy’s greatest triumph in Lisbon to later working alongside him in broadcasting after Billy had finished his managerial career.

    And Archie explained that Billy’s character transcended football rivalries, so that he was always respected by friend or football foe as someone who gave his all for the green and white Hoops. Billy McNeill, of course, epitomises everything that is special about Celtic Football Club.

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    Large crowds gathered in George Square and applauded as the funeral cortege passed through the centre of the city before it headed out to Celtic Park where Cesar took his final bow at Paradise.

    Remarkably, it is 44 years to the day that Billy played his last game in the Hoops – the 1975 Scottish Cup final win over Airdrie.

    Thousands of supporters had waited respectfully, and there was warm applause as the cortege made its way down the Celtic Way before it stopped at the statue of Cesar, where Billy’s family briefly got out of the cars to acknowledge and thank the fans before his wife, Liz, laid flowers at the statue.

    Then they continued to the cemetery for a private burial service. The Celtic Family has said its final farewell to the club’s greatest ever captain, but the famous words of Willie Maley are fitting on a day such as this. ‘They never die who live in the hearts of those they leave behind.’

    The thoughts and prayers of everyone at Celtic Football Club continue to be with Billy’s family at this very sad time.

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