Close your eyes, picture in your mind what a leader looks like.
Now think of Billy McNeill and you’ve got it just right!
Tall and erect, head up, chest out –
a natural captain, there is no doubt.
Almost eight hundred times he wore the hoops,
first out of the tunnel, leading his troops.
This King Billy was made of real stock
of Baltic genes and Scots blood, solid as a rock.
He was another young star from the production line,
toughened up in the Juniors before signing full time.
Pretty soon he was promoted to the Celtic first team
and became the on-field lieutenant to the mighty Jock Stein.
Celtic Park was where Billy McNeill belonged,
whether on the field or off it he never put a foot wrong.
As a player and a manager, he won thirty three trophies
Aye, a leader like this could never be copied. They’ve given a knighthood to many inferior men
but leading Celtic was his honour he’d say time and again.
Now I know there’s many assumed that when they said he was Cesar
that this was fitting for a man with such bearing and stature
and you could imagine him starring as the famous Roman Emperor
but I’d have to stop you there before you mind ventures.
Naw, big Billy was ‘christened’ Cesar after the Hollywood star
They said that he resembled Romero when he drove his new car!
And so, the name stuck but was always used with great reverence
for he was football royalty, a majestic presence.
Was their ever a more worthy ambassador
representing a club that he truly adored?
And his finest moment was lifting that big Cup
in the pandemonium of Lisbon – wasn’t that enough?
The indelible images are stored forever away
But whenever we need to recall that great day
we see Big Billy standing aloft and alone –
a King who never needed a throne.
Now, raising that trophy in triumph to the skies,
it brings a lump to the throat and a tear to our eyes.
But now I want to take you a little way back
to an earlier game on 8th March.
A moment so dramatic that had it not come to be
Big Billy would not have lifted that symbolic trophy
and lives that changed forever would have remained the same
for Lisbon would have been another team’s fame.
It’s the second leg at Parkhead of a difficult night
Vojvodina and Celtic were locked in a fight
Neither would give way, it was a titanic struggle –
the aggregate score was one each and Celtic needed to double
their solitary goal, but the clock was running down
and a nervous tension had gripped the crowd.
Then with seconds to go – a corner kick
It all or nothing………c’mon the ‘tic!
Big Billy marches up into the penalty box,
every single supporter is watching the clock
Charlie Gallagher with that beautiful left foot
strikes a peach of a ball, curving goalwards in a loop.
It seems like this moment is suspended in time the crowd follow the ball, eyes fixed on its line –
Big Billy rises with a mighty leap,
every man, woman and child are on their feet.
He meets Charlie’s cross flush on his forehead
Gooooooaaaaal! the crowd roar……and Vojvodina are dead!
Pride of Lions by Tom Brown is the story of the Lisbon Lions in verse. Due for release March 2018. Extracts published here every week.