BERTIE AULD has admitted the champions have lost “Mr Celtic” with the sad passing of legendary Celt Billy McNeill this week at the age of 79.
The world of football united in grief yesterday with the news of the club’s iconic Lisbon Lions leader’s death on Monday evening.
Auld, 81, was, of course, a team-mate of McNeill when Jock Stein’s side conquered Europe with a historic 2-1 triumph over Inter Milan in the Portuguese capital on May 25 1967. – exactly 52 years to the day when Celtic player Hearts in the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden with a treble treble up for grabs.
The man who was the midfield mastermind alongside Bobby Murdoch against the Italians that memorable day reflected on the life and times of his big friend and paid a poignant tribute: “Scottish football has lost a giant. We’ve lost Mr Celtic.”
LEGENDS…Billy McNeill and Bertie Auld enjoy a chat.
Auld, speaking to the Daily Record, said: “Billy McNeill had everything in his locker. He was a very, very special person.
“Billy was born to be a leader. He was a beautiful character and a dear friend. He was a great ambassador for the club and the players.
“He was Mr Celtic and he had tremendous confidence, but it was never with a swagger or arrogance as he respected everybody and every opponent.
“The word legend is bandied around quite easily these days, but that man was a legend. The statute of Big Billy holding aloft the European Cup trophy on the Celtic Way is everybody’s abiding memory of him.
“It is truly fitting that the first thing every supporter sees as they approach Celtic Park is Billy. It is the defining moment in the history of the football club.
“That is what makes Celtic famous around the world. Seeing the statue will resonate even more now with the Celtic supporters every time they pass by.”
Auld added: “The great thing about him was that Billy was at the club from 1957 and he had a tremendous manner about him.
“Even when he was alongside the likes of other great Celtic players like Bobby Evans and Bertie Peacock and working under Jock he never flinched.
MASTERMIND…Bertie Auld takes the ball for a stroll.
“I met him as a young boy at Celtic Park and he would just listen to everything. He took everything on board as he was a great listener and then he would give his opinion. Billy was just able to carry himself superbly.
”If you see pictures of Billy going up to receive the Cup in Lisbon he is actually a reluctant conscript because he was genuinely concerned he could not share the moment with the rest of the team. That summed big Billy up as a man.
“There was nobody more proud of Billy than the rest of his Celtic team-mates. He was a well-educated boy. The perfect choice to be our captain, our leader and to represent the club. He was a colossus.
“Billy stood for everything that was good about Celtic. I would regularly go up and see Billy in the hospice when he was fighting his terrible illness.
“He was still as a popular as ever with everybody. He radiated warmth and he was a real inspiration. The Celtic family are mourning the loss of one of their favourite sons.
“That is the Billy McNeill I know and the person who I want everybody else to know about. I will treasure everything we achieved together with Celtic and our time together.
“I will miss him with all my heart.”
Bertie and Billy combined to win Celtic their first trophy in eight years when they defeated Dunfermline 3-2 in the 1965 Scottish Cup Final.
THE START OF SOMETHING GOOD…Billy McNeill is held aloft by Bertie Auld after the memorable 3-2 Scottish Cup Final triumph over Dunfermline in 1965.
Auld, speaking to CQN, recalled: “The Fifers were favourites that day and they came so close to winning the league title that season.
“We knew the importance of the game after such a long time in the wilderness. Eight years is a long time to go without any sort of silverware at a club like Celtic.
“Jock Stein had taken over as manager the previous month and we hoped it would be the start of something good. My goodness, we couldn’t even have dreamed of what was around the corner.
“Dunfermline scored first through Harry Melrose, but I got the leveller with a header after Charlie Gallagher had cracked a shot off the crossbar and I raced in to do the necessary with the rebound.
“They went ahead again just before the interval with a well-worked free-kick about 25 yards out and their big striker John McLaughlin thumped a lot shot beyond John Fallon.
“I was lucky enough to get our second equaliser when Bobby Lennox got clear on the left and picked me out with a fabulous low cross and I scored with my right foot which didn’t happen too often.
“And then Big Billy had the final say in a dramatic fashion when he rose brilliantly to Charlie’s corner-kick from the left and flashed in the winner.
“For me, that was the most important victory of that era, that was the win that proved Celtic would no longer be known as runners-up.
“Billy McNeill was the man who got the bandwagon rolling that day at the national stadium.”