CELTIC legend Billy McNeill’s wife Liz has revealed the Hoops hero is battling dementia.
Speaking to the Sunday Mail Liz, his wife of 53 years, said “It is sad. We don’t know what he can remember because he can’t communicate.
“We don’t know if he can remember what he did.
“Sometimes you will see something, a smile or a look, but then it goes.”
Billy, who will be 77 on Thursday, was diagnosed seven years ago, with no history of dementia in the family.
Liz and the McNeill family have never publicly spoken about it.
But, as the 50th anniversary of his greatest triumph approaches, the McNeills have decided to speak about the sad situation.
Billy became the first British player to hold aloft the European Cup after Celtic’s 2-1 triumph over Inter Milan on May 25 1967 in Lisbon.
Recalling the journey towards Billy’s diagnosis, Liz said: “It was a bit of a shock, we didn’t really expect it.
“I had noticed that Billy had been getting his words mixed up. He called the car the hoover one day and I said to Mike Jackson, the best man at our wedding, had he noticed anything.
“He said he had. So we talked to the family and went to see a doctor.”
Initial tests revealed Billy had cognitive impairment and, after a series of further tests and a brain scan, a formal diagnosis of early onset dementia was confirmed.
Liz said: “We didn’t talk about it, I didn’t want him to get upset or worried. In the beginning he would say: ‘What’s wrong with me?’ when he couldn’t do something or remember something.
“I didn’t want to worry him. I’d say: ‘We all forget things, Billy’.”
Billy’s voice faded a year-and-a- half ago and Liz added: “Not being able to communicate with him is hard.
“He understands when you speak to him directly, but only for a short time. He can’t concentrate. He can’t follow a conversation.
”If this had happened to him when he was younger, then I might feel different, but he’s 77 in March and we have to accept it. We take it day by day.
“One of the consultants described dementia as like riding a horse with the reins getting pulled and that’s what it is like.
“It was a gradual thing. But while he is still able to walk and get about, I manage.
“Celtic have been great as have the supporters and some of the old friends and players come and take him out. People like Pat Bonner, Andy Walker, Frank MacAvennie and Murdo McLeod come over.”
Apart from the dementia, Billy is in good health. He has lost weight, but, according to Liz, he is still eating well.
She said: “We are still doing things every day. Billy goes to bed very early and since we don’t have to get up for anything, I will sometimes leave him to lie in.
“I help him get dressed, he can still do things for himself, he can tie his shoelaces, but when we are trying to get out the door I help.
“He can’t sit still for very long, so I take him out, we go to the shopping centre and people still come up to him. I now tell them that he can’t speak because of the dementia. We never hid it.
“Seven years ago, it was a family matter, but I think the time is right to talk about it.”
Billy is still a regular visitor to the directors’ box at Parkhead, where he is the club’s official ambassador.
Liz added: “He knows Celtic Park and all the people there.
“The chief executive, Peter Lawwell, has been great and Billy seems to enjoy being there, although we never stay long now.
”Football has given us a great life. I know that if Billy could say anything, he wouldn’t change it.”