In Praise of Cesar
Today is a sad day for everyone connected with Celtic Football Club,an emotional day for all of us as we pay due homage to Our Great Leader.
Billy McNeill was known as Cesar to his friends and colleagues,but to the fans,he was Caeser or simply King Billy. He was to the fore of many of our greatest triumphs. But it wasn’t one of those great days which is my earliest memory of him;this was a mundane home fixture,but it was special to me.
23 October 1971. Celtic had already won six successive league titles,and were hot favourites to win their sixth successive Scottish League Cup. My Dad took me to my first ever Cup Final-and I was gonna have my photo taken as Celtic Bhoy in the next edition of The Celtic View!
What a day,I was certainly never going to forget this! And to this day,I never have-Patrick Thistle made sure of that. Football,eh? Bloody hell…
My reward for appearing in The View was two tickets for the main stand for me and my Dad,a tour of the trophy room and the chance to meet my favourite player. I chose Lou Macari,being a local lad and a goal scoring hero. The game chosen for us was against Falkirk,four weeks later.
It wasn’t a great match,but it was a great day! We won 2-0,the second goal coming from Billy himself. I’m sure it was a shot,rather than a trademark header,but aye,I know Billy made my day that day!
I wish it had been the following week,mind-we thrashed those upstarts from Maryhill 5-1. Heyho…
Later that season,he played a major role in our Cup Final trouncing of Hibs. 6-1 and my first winning cup final. Billy nodded in the fifth as he didn’t want to be left out!
We saw the last of Cesar as a player in the corresponding game in 1975 as he rounded off a magnificent career with another winning cup final,this time against Airdrie. He retired from the game with nine championship medals,seven cup medals and six league cup medals.
Oh,and another one,The Big One,won on the day The Lisbon Lions reminded Europe how football should be played. The one where he lifted The European Cup,striking that iconic pose with which we are so familiar.
Billy still had his love for Celtic,and he answered the call when we needed a new manager. Since our nine-in-a-row days had come to a close,the board had steadfastly refused Jock Stein the opportunity to invest. Replacements were definitely required-we had seen departures and retirements but few new faces. When,in his last season,Jock saw the injury list pile up,the cupboard was bare.
Cesar returned to his throne,but this time it was a managerial chair. New signings such as Davie Provan,Dom Sullivan and Murdo McLeod arrived. Injured players returned. Those whose form had suffered in makeshift sides the previous season were revitalised. Results weren’t immediately impressive,but the ship was stable. A harsh winter saw us return hungry for football-and win bonuses!
They soon piled up,as we played an incredible seventeen league matches from the beginning of March. Going into the final one against Rangers,we had won twelve of them,with one draw and three defeats. But Rangers still had another match to play after that. Should they win it and avoid defeat against us,the league was theirs.
It was all or nothing for us. And at half-time,nothing was what we had,and what we looked like finishing with. But a half-time boost from Billy saw us revitalised,and against the odds-you all know the story of 21-5-79 so I won’t go into detail-we were champions!
Our Great Leader had done it again,and this time as manager!!! The legend grew,until he was forced out by an ungrateful board. That board-somewhat changed in personnel-were to turn to him again in 1987,the beginning of our Centenary Season. We certainly looked to be up against it;the previous year had seen us throw away the league to a big-spending mob from the South of the city,and they were still spending! We had lost Mo Johnson,Brian McClair,Alan McInally and Murdo McLeod. Danny McGrain and Davie Provan hadn’t been adequately replaced. The signings looked decent,but surely nowhere near the quality required. Chris Morris,a reserve right back from Sheffield Wednesday,Andy Walker,a young hopeful from Motherwell. Billy Stark and Mick McCarthy offered more promise and experience,but the signing of Frank McAvennie ignited the support and the team.
Again,you are all familiar with events,the late winners,the never-say-die attitude. How proud we were-how ecstatic!-to win The Double in our Centenary Season.
Billy was Our Great Leader for all of the above. He lifted the trophy to make us the talk of world football. He captained us during the entirety of our Nine In A Row. He dragged us out of the depths to a title against all the odds in his first season as manager.
Not once,but twice!
Above all,he was a marvellous ambassador for his club and for his family. We have grieved with his family this past week,and we will grieve with them again on Friday when he is interred.
Today,with great sadness,we will celebrate his life. There won’t be a dry eye in the house.
Above article is by BMCUWP. It replaces the usual match preview for obvious reasons. As always,we would like as many of you as possible to review the match for publication on Monday.
Additionally,on this occasion,we would appreciate eye-witness accounts of the celebration of Billy’s life. No matter how much or how little detail,even just an anecdote from the day,we will publish it,attributed to the contributor.
Mail us please on