BILLY McNEILL was the trailblazing captain of Celtic when Jock Stein’s side swept all before them as they conquered Europe in 1967.
The legendary centre-half, now 74, made over 500 appearances for his only club side while winning 23 honours, including nine successive titles.
But McNeill reveals in a new book ‘Caesar and The Assassin’ that he wasn’t even playing during one of his most remarkable and treasured Hoops memories.
The celebrated Club Ambassador, originally nicknamed Cesar which was later changed by his team-mates to Caesar, opted for an extraordinary night in May 1979.
On that fateful evening, 10-man Celtic overwhelmed Rangers 4-2 at Parkhead to clinch the Premier League championship in his first season as boss after taking over from Stein.
McNeill’s men needed to win their last game of the campaign to take the flag. The Ibrox side, managed by John Greig, could afford to draw while they still had matches against Partick Thistle and Hibs to make up ground.
The Hoops icon recalled: “We were already a goal down nine minutes into the second-half when Johnny Doyle was ordered off. As he came off, I remember telling him he would be in serious trouble if we lost.
“I was furious, especially as we were in such a desperate situation at the time.”
Dramatically, Roy Aitken equalised and, with 16 minutes remaining, George McCluskey fired Celtic ahead. Rangers’ response was immediate and Bobby Russell hit the leveller.
Only six minutes were left on the clock when goalkeeper Peter McCloy pushed away a drive from McCluskey and the ball struck team-mate Colin Jackson before bouncing over the line. In the fading moments, Murdo MacLeod blitzed a screamer into the roof of the net for the goal that made sure.
McNeill said: “Afterwards in the foyer, Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Murdoch, Mike Jackson, Paul Wilson, Pat McCluskey, Benny Rooney and a whole host of former players were dancing around in amazement.
“Jinky was as happy as I’ve seen him. That win meant so much to anyone with an affiliation with Celtic.
“I was so proud to have played a role in their happiness.”
Davie Hay, 66, known as ‘The Quiet Assassin in his playing days, was the Celtic manager on another title-winning occasion that bordered on the unbelievable.
As with McNeill eight years earlier, Hay found himself in the position of the title race going right to the wire.
He remembered: “Hearts were favourites for the championship and were due to play their last game against Dundee at Dens Park while we were at Love Street to face St.Mirren.
“The situation was simple – we had to hope the Tynecastle team slipped up at the final hurdle, we beat the Saints and the title was ours on goal difference.
“I watched some sports programmes on TV the previous evening and I could see Celtic were being written off.
“Apparently, the trophy was as already good as in Edinburgh. That got my dander up.
“It was the same story the following day in the newspapers. Hearts were being tipped as the new Scottish champions by just about everyone.
“I arranged for someone to cut out the stories and pin them to the walls of our dressing room at Love Street.
“I said nothing, but I could see the players reading the clippings. It was having the desired effect. It’s never clever to dismiss Celtic.
“It’s history now that we won 5-0 and Hearts lost 2-0.
“Amazingly, both Dundee’s goals that day were scored by Albert Kidd, a player I had at Motherwell while I was manager at Fir Park.
“I think I still owe him a pint!”
‘Caesar and The Assassin: Managing Celtic after Jock Stein. Billy McNeill and Davie Hay with Alex Gordon is published by CQN Books. It is available at cqnbookstore.com
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