A BRONZE statue in honour of Celtic legend Billy McNeill will be unveiled at Bellshill Cross at 1.30pm tomorrow.

Former Hoops captain Tom Boyd will compere a ceremony showcasing the memorial by sculptor John McKenna which shows the club icon leading out the team in Lisbon before the history-making European Cup Final triumph over Inter Milan on May 25 1967.

The unfurling will be done by the late Scotland international centre-half’s widow Liz and family and thousands are expected to turn out for the tribute to Bellshill-born McNeill.

NINETY MINUTES FROM IMMORTALITY…Billy McNeill leads out Celtic before their historic European Cup Final triumph over Inter Milan in Lisbon on May 25 1967.

The guest list is expected to include the Celtic idol’s Lisbon Lions team-mates John Clark, Jim Craig and Bobby Lennox along with others stars from the club’s glittering past such as Pat Bonner, Frank McAvennie, Tommy Callaghan, Mark Reid and Graeme Sinclair.

There has also been a special invite to Rangers great John Greig, a good friend of the Celt who passed away in April 2019 at the age of 79. The loyal one-club men were fierce competitors on the field and in the dug-out.

A request was also made for the attendance of Italian football legend Sandro Mazzola, who scored an early penalty-kick in the Portuguese capital before Jock Stein’s side replied with unforgettable strikes from Tommy Gemmell and Stevie Chalmers on their way to becoming the first British club to conquer Europe.

Eighty-year-old Mazzola replied to say he was very grateful for this gesture, but, unfortunately, he would not be able to fly to Scotland for health reasons.

PARADISE…Billy McNeill’s statue at Celtic Park.

Eddie Lynas, chairman of the Billy McNeill Commemoration Committee, in a report in Glasgow World, said: “Billy was the first northern European to get his hands on the European Cup, so the committee felt this needed to be recognised via building a statue in his home town.

“This is a community event. We are expecting a few thousand people to attend from all over Scotland.”

The unveiling – delayed by over two years as a result of the coronavirus pandemic – comes after the statue campaign raised over £80,000 since 2019 after donations from North Lanarkshire Council, prominent local businesspeople and as far away as Australia and Japan.

During his playing days, McNeill led the Hoops to nine successive titles, seven Scottish Cups and six League Cups. He played 822 games over 18 seasons, before retiring in 1975.

He also represented Scotland at full international 29 times while making nine appearances for the Scottish League XI.

THE START OF SOMETHING GOOD…Billy McNeill made his first-team debut for Celtic in a 2-0 League Cup win over Clyde on Saturday August 23 1958.
In two stints as a manager, McNeill guided Celtic to four leagues, three Scottish Cups and one League Cup. He was manager from 1978 to 83 and had  stints at Mnchester City and Aston Villa before returning in 1987 until 91.
He had a brief spell as manager at Clyde before moving to Aberdeen for a season and then returning to succeed Jock Stein.

McNeill was awarded an MBE in November 1974, was inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Scottish Football Hall of Fame two years later.

In December 2015, the club unveiled a bronze statue of McNeill holding aloft the European Cup which has pride of place on the Celtc Way.

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