BRENDAN RODGERS has described Billy McNeill as an inspiration to British football following the revelation Celtic’s legendary European Cup-winning captain has dementia.
McNeill, who will be 77 on Thursday, led the Hoops to their historic 2-1 win over Inter Milan in Lisbon on May 25, 1967.
He also won nine domestic titles in a row, also winning seven Scottish Cups and six League Cups, before two spells as manager.
A statue of McNeill lifting the European Cup was unveiled outside Celtic Park in 2015 and current boss Rodgers, a lifelong Celtic fan, has called him “a true icon” of the club.
He said: “I was aware for a bit of time about Billy’s situation. Of course, it’s really sad that the family have felt the need to make it public.
“As always, Billy and his family retain the huge support of the Celtic family, which is the supporters and everyone involved at the club.
“He is a true icon and leader of this club, one of the great figures who has inspired Celtic to what it is today.
“I met Billy the last time at the Aberdeen game and he was in good spirits. The twinkle was still in his eye, but, like his wife Liz said, he finds it hard to communicate at the moment.
“In my time growing up, he was the one figure who was always mentioned. If you look at him as the player, he inspired not just people around Celtic Football Club, but many a player around Britain, being the first captain of a British team to pick up the European Cup.
“Many players around that time would have wanted to have done that. You only truly get inspired seeing someone you know or are close to actually do it.
“When Billy stood up in Lisbon and held up the Cup at that moment, I’m sure for many players in Britain it gave them a great source of inspiration to do that and from that moment Liverpool won the European Cup five times and other teams and managers won it.
“So, Billy is a really truly inspirational figure. At Celtic, he was a real leader of men, and proper men, and, of course, as a manager.
“He is one of the truly iconic players and people of this club who will always be remembered fondly.