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Celtic great Billy McNeill, captain of the 'Lisbon Lions', dies age 79

McNeill, who captain Celtic when they won the 1967 European Cup, had suffered from dementia for years, died on Monday

Former Celtic captain Billy McNeill has died at the age of 79, his family confirmed on the club's website on Tuesday.

McNeill, who spent the whole of his playing career with the Glasgow giants, was captain of the "Lisbon Lions" - the Celtic side that in 1967 became the first British team to win the European Cup.

He also went on to manage Celtic.

McNeill had suffered from dementia for years and a statement issued by his children said: "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."

McNeill joined Celtic in 1957 from junior side Blantyre Victoria and holds the club record for most appearances with 790 over 18 seasons. The defender also won 29 caps for Scotland.

He had two spells as Celtic manager spanning nearly 10 years in total and won 31 trophies across his long association with the club.

The statement continued: "While this is a very sad time for all the family and we know our privacy will be respected, our father always made time for the supporters so please tell his stories, sing his songs and help us celebrate his life."

McNeill was the captain of Jock Stein's all-conquering Celtic side of the late 1960s and early 70s, winning nine league titles in a row, seven Scottish Cups and six League Cups.

He retired in 1975 after winning his final trophy, the Scottish Cup, and retained a strong association with the club throughout the rest of his life, becoming an ambassador in 2009.

Six years later a statue of McNeill holding aloft the European Cup was erected outside Celtic Park.

Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell paid tribute on the club website, saying: "This is the saddest of days for the Celtic family, and also for the wider football world.

"We mourn Billy McNeill's passing and we send our thoughts and prayers to his family and friends, while we also give thanks for Billy's life and the incredible joy he brought to so many people as a Celtic player, a Celtic manager and a great Celtic man."

McNeil's former teammate 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. "

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 teammates, 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."

Football pundit and former Celtic striker Chris Sutton tweeted: "Such heartbreaking news. Billy McNeill was an inspirational leader, a legend and a lion. Thoughts go out to his family and the Celtic family."

Updated: April 23, 2019 02:40 PM

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