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Hail Cesar by Billy McNeill

Release date: 01st November, 2004
Publisher: Headline

List Price: £18.99
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When it comes to iconic images, it's difficult to surpass the one of Billy McNeill holding the European Cup aloft on a magical night in Portugal nearly forty years ago. There is no smile playing on the Celtic captain's lips, no obvious euphoria; instead, the muscular McNeill simply lifts the trophy skywards in a manner which shouts, 'There! We've done it.'

Writing about the most memorable occasion in a career which encompassed club and international successes, McNeill says he can hardly remember most of the post-match celebrations, although he does recall a pang of guilt at being separated from his team-mates as he went to receive the trophy from the Portuguese president. "We were a team on and off the pitch," he says, "and I felt it wrong that we were denied the chance to share such a special moment." It's a telling remark, one which reflects McNeill's belief in the essentials of teamwork.

Not only did Celtic become the first British team to win the European Cup, but incredibly, their success was achieved by a squad of players assembled from within a twenty five mile radius of Glasgow, a factor which McNeill identifies as significant. "There was never any shortage of aggression," he writes, as though anyone needed reminding that taking on eleven Glaswegians at tiddlywinks would be tough; "That was an essential ingredient in our make up and formed an integral part of our very determined attitude," he adds.

Billy McNeill occupies a unique place in British football history as the first Briton to collect European club football's biggest prize.

Understandably, a sizeable part of the book is given over to Celtic's greatest hour when the Lisbon Lions beat Inter Milan on 25 May 1967. The return of Jock Stein to Celtic Park in March 1965 is afforded most significance, for here was a manager who would not display the same 'paternal benevolence' shown by his predecessor, Jimmy McGrory.

Celtic, who had not won a major trophy for eight years, were in desperate need of a kick up the backside and Stein delivered it. Not only did he nurture players such as the young McNeill, but he was an early master of the mind games later adapted with great success by another high profile Scottish manager.

McNeill describes one such incident before the European Cup final when Inter Milan's manager, Helenio Herrera, tried to commandeer the 'home' side's bench; Jock Stein leant over to his Italian counterpart and growled, "You'll have to find another place," forcing Herrera to walk a hundred yards to the other dugout.

Playing success aside, McNeill was later to prove that he was no one-trick pony, although he reflects, rather sadly, that he probably should not have succeeded Jock Stein as Celtic manager. Moving south to manage Manchester City, the reader has the unique opportunity to absorb the most written praise the club's former chairman, Peter Swales, probably ever received in print. The author does not have a bad word to say about him, which is not the case with 'Deadly' Doug Ellis, chairman of Aston Villa, the club McNeill later managed, which ended as an altogether disheartening experience.

Naturally, the likeable Scot would have loved to replicate his playing success with something similar in a managerial role, but even the game's Cesars are only allowed one iconic moment and Billy McNeill had already had his.


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