IT began with idolisation. Then friendship, respect, some bitterness and friendship again.

Billy McNeill was so many things to me. Our relationship wasn’t always great but after his passing the one thing I have been thinking about over these past few days is how lucky a man I have been.

I played under Jock Stein, Celtic’s greatest ever manager. Shared a dressing room with the club’s finest player in Jimmy Johnstone, as voted by the supporters, and I was led by the best captain Celtic will ever had.

Billy was my hero. As a Celtic supporter growing up, he was the player I idolised. How could you not? He was everything you would want to be as an aspiring player.

It was Billy who scored the winning goal in the 1965 Scottish Cup final against Dunfermline, the moment which started it all off.

That was our first trophy for eight years. Two years later, Cesar held aloft the European Cup. What a man. What a captain. What a human being.

Evening Times:

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When I first got to train with the Lions, I was in awe of them. Every single one was fantastic to me and the other kids that came through.

Billy had a presence about him. Very few people do. This lasted his whole life. When Billy McNeill walked in a room, everyone noticed. He was the leader on and off the pitch. He couldn’t have been better to myself. Always there for a tip or if you needed anything.

Watching him train was an eye-opener. Everything he did was perfect. I wanted to be just like him.

I watched the Lisbon documentary which was shown the other night. This may sound obvious but what a team that was. They took apart Inter Milan, the best club side about, or so it was said, the masters of defence who if they took the lead, which they did, could not be defeated.

The Lions, however, were special. With their inspirational captain at the back, those Scots were absolutely brilliant. When I became a regular in the first-team, Billy was a treasured team-mate and great off the park as well. He was funny. I was a bit younger and George Connolly was my great pal, but we all had a good time on trips.

Unfortunately, Billy and I had a bit of a fall out in 1987.

Evening Times:

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I was sacked as Celtic manager and Billy had been offered the job before I found out I was losing mine. I didn’t like the way it was handled and don’t mind admitting that I was bitter for a while -but you move on and we made our peace. I’m so glad we did.

After that,Billy and I were friendly more than close friends. We would bump into one another quite often and I always enjoyed our chats. It was about ten years ago that the signs were there that not everything was right.

Billy’s great friend is a former team-mate, Mick Jackson. When Billy’s health was beginning to deteriorate, Mike and I would take him out every so often to the golf club. I felt it was important to help in any way I could after all the man did for me.

The way his wife, Liz, looked after him is something I cannot praise highly enough. She did an amazing job and obviously my first thoughts were to her and the rest of the family. Liz is a lovely lady. She and Billy had a great marriage and while the last few years have been difficult, I am sure she will remember the fantastic days they spent together.

When I think of Billy, it’s of him leading Celtic, chest puffed out and ready to win. He will be hugely missed by all of us.