Celtic’s European Cup-winning captain Billy McNeill is to receive a prestigious award from Spanish club Athletic Bilbao in tribute to his “faithful service” to the Hoops.
Athletic’s ‘One Club Man Award’ was set up four years ago with the aim of honouring players whose career with one team represents the values of “commitment, loyalty, responsibility, sportsmanship and respect”, which embody the Basque side’s own identity.
Now 79, McNeill – nicknamed ‘Cesar’ by his team-mates – spent his entire career with the Hoops, with his crowning achievement coming in 1967 as he led Jock Stein’s ‘Lisbon Lions’ to victory over Inter Milan in the final of the European Cup.
As well as becoming the first British player to lift the trophy, McNeill’s tally of 790 competitive appearances for Celtic between 1957 and 1975 remains a club record.
He captained the Hoops to nine league titles in a row, claiming seven Scottish Cups and six League Cups, while also contributing 34 goals.
McNeill, whose family confirmed in 2017 that he had been diagnosed with dementia, would later return to Celtic for two successful spells as manager, while the club marked his special place in their history when in 2015 they unveiled a statue of his likeness holding the European Cup aloft.
Jose Angel Iribar, a former Athletic goalkeeper and their own record appearance holder, will lead a delegation from Bilbao to present McNeill with his award, whose previous recipients include former Barcelona captain Carles Puyol, Bayern Munich favourite Sepp Maier and retired AC Milan defender Paolo Maldini.
Celtic chairman Ian Bankier said: “This award is a fantastic recognition for Billy and recognises the phenomenal contribution he made to Celtic over so many years. A towering figure in the history of our great club, Billy’s achievements at Celtic form a legacy which we will always be so thankful for.
“Billy has always represented Celtic at all times in the best of ways with true integrity and professionalism and is someone who has always been the finest ambassador for the club.
“I am delighted that his unwavering commitment to Celtic has been recognised by Athletic Bilbao in this manner and we congratulate Billy, Liz and all the family on this great achievement.”
Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell added: “Billy is a hugely deserving recipient of this highly prestigious award. I know that Billy’s family is tremendously proud of this accolade, and on behalf of everyone at Celtic I would like to send our sincere congratulations to Billy and the entire McNeill family.
“I would also like to thank Athletic Bilbao for honouring Billy in this way, it’s a tremendous gesture which is greatly appreciated.
“I have had the genuine honour and privilege of knowing Billy for so many years now and he is someone who always set the highest of examples with his values of family, respect and humility. He is rightly revered as a true Celtic great and he will always be one of our favourite sons – a special player and a very special man.
“He has been voted our greatest ever captain and it is fantastic that Billy’s selfless contribution to his one club has been recognised in this way.
“Billy will always be one of European football’s major figures. He has given such a huge part of his life to Celtic and for that, we will forever be grateful and we forever hold him in such high esteem.”
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