“I have the utmost admiration for Big Billy… He had been a colossus of a centre-back… A marvellous man!” – Paul Elliott on Billy McNeill

In this ACSOM podcast with Paul John Dykes the former Celtic centre-half Paul Elliott comes across as a very positive character (despite suffering vicious racial abuse throughout his football career in England, Italy and Scotland). He was unstinting in his praise for Celtic supporters, midfielder Paul McStay and Billy McNeill, his manager at both Aston Villa and Celtic: “I have the utmost admiration for Big Billy. A marvellous man!” and “He had been a colossus of a centre-back and, both at Aston Villa and Celtic he was always full of encouragement for me, and praise too.”

Listen to PAUL ELLIOTT with A Celtic State of Mind here:  

Listen to “Paul Elliott with A Celtic State of Mind” on Spreaker.

The first time I remember seeing Billy McNeill on the pitch was in a 3-1 defeat at Ibrox on September 5th 1959 and I felt that only he and a feisty young left-winger called Auld had matched the Rangers’ players in effort and fighting spirit. The other Celtic youngsters appeared cowed in comparison.

After his retirement I was fortunate to meet Big Billy on several occasions. On one such occasion I was accompanied by Pat Woods, and we needed some first-hand information for a book we were working on. “I can only see you for about 40 minutes, and it’ll have to be at the pub if that’s O.K.” he had said. So we turned up at his pub in Pollokshaws, and went upstairs for the interview; everything went well; Billy was articulate, and had commendable recall of past matches and former players. Time passed, and when we eventually finished almost an hour-and-a-half had sped by.

I remember going down the flight of stairs from the lounge with Billy leading the way, followed by Pat. Halfway down the stairs I noticed Billy square his shoulders, puff out his chest and ready himself for entry into the bar. The sudden thought of a younger Billy McNeill leading out Celtic came into my mind and for a second or two l wondered: “Why is Pat Woods playing in goal for Celtic today?”

We went into the bar, and the young man behind the counter called Billy over to remind him that Liz wanted something picked up and a gaggle of oldtimers at a nearby table overheard. One rose to his feet. “Oh, my God,” he said, “The last time Liz sent you for the messages you brought back Martin Hayes!” Billy shook his head ruefully, and smiled: “I should bar the lot of you.”

Another memory involved the three of us in the same pub when we had arranged a book launch for ‘A Celtic A to Z’. Pat had asked Billy if it were possible for a couple of the Lisbon Lions to drop in, and Billy nodded. As it happened seven or eight turned up, and everything went well. My father, a very shy man, was there as well and sat in his corner nursing a pint quietly observing the scene. I knew that the Lions were his all-time favourites, and asked Billy if he could go over and have a word: “I can do better than that, Tom,” came the answer. He went over to the corner, and introduced himself and spent the next ten minutes engaged in conversation. Mission accomplished, he returned to the bar and spoke to Bobby Murdoch who made his way over to my father … to be followed by Bertie Auld … to be followed by Stevie Chalmers … For the next hour my father had the undivided attention of most of the Lisbon Lions, still happily carrying out the orders of their captain some twenty-five years after that afternoon in Lisbon.

As Paul Elliott truly said: “A marvellous man!”

Tom Campbell

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