Everyone involved with Blantyre Victoria were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Billy McNeill on Tuesday morning. The club were devastated to hear this news, as Billy was not only one of our club's most famous former players and ambassadors but one of our nation's greatest ever footballers.
As many may know Billy McNeill was signed for Blantyre Vics at the age of 16 by Dally Duncan, after being scouted while playing for Our Lady's High School in Motherwell. After a season at Castle Park he was signed for Celtic, after recommendations from former Vics man Jock Stein, following his performances at junior and school level. By 1958 he made his debut for the hoops and won his first major honour in 1964. After over 800 appearances for Celtic, 29 Scotland caps, nine Scottish League Titles, seven Scottish Cups, six Scottish League Cups and one European Cup - he retired and went down in history as Celtic's greatest captain.
As a manager he never stopped adding to his honours tally, winning eight more major domestic honours as the Celtic gaffer. He also managed a few various other clubs in Scotland such as Aberdeen, Hibernian and Clyde. As well as going down south to manage both Aston Villa and Manchester City (with whom he achieved promotion with).
In his second spell as Celtic manager, Billy McNeill returned to Castle Park, bringing his Celtic squad with him for a friendly match to raise funds for the new pavilion at The Vics. This generosity has never been forgotten, and the club may not have been able to complete the project if it wasn't for the help of Billy McNeill and Celtic.
Vics Stalwart Jim Cleland recalls his memories of Billy McNeill:
"I don't remember him playing too many games for The Vics, he was only young at the time and the purpose of him playing in the juniors was to toughen him up. His short spell at our club certainly seemed to have served him well, as he went onto an illustrious career. I only hold fond memories for Billy [McNeill] from the moment he arrived at Castle Park as a youngster, until he returned as a manager for the friendly back in 1990"
Vics man George Fulston wasn't even a teenager when McNeill played in Blantyre but despite having few recollections of him in a Vics jersey, he has many fond memories of the man:
"Watching Billy as young man playing for The Vics little did I realise that during my later years, in my involvement in the senior game would we become good friends. While serving in some Scottish League and Association committees, Billy [McNeill] was well respected for his straight forward comments.
A great player and ambassador for the game at all levels in Scotland. My sincere condolences to his family."
On behalf of all of us at Blantyre Victoria F.C. we would like to offer our condolences to Billy's family and friends. In commemoration of his achievements in the game both Blantyre Vics and his local junior team of Bellshill Athletic will observe a minute's silence and wear black armbands in this Saturday's match.