Football greats are gathering for the funeral of Celtic and Scotland legend Billy McNeill. A mass for the first British man to lift the...

Football greats are gathering for the funeral of Celtic and Scotland legend Billy McNeill.

A mass for the first British man to lift the European Cup is taking place at St Aloysius’ Church in Glasgow city centre.

Afterwards the cortege will make its way to Celtic Park, where thousands of fans will get the chance to pay their final respects.

McNeill, who had lived with dementia since 2010, died aged 79 on 22 April.

Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, Liverpool legend Sir Kenny Dalglish and the surviving members of the Lisbon Lions are among those paying tribute to McNeill.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon and club captain Scott Brown were joined by the first team squad and members of the board, including chief executive Peter Lawwell and largest shareholder Dermot Desmond.

Former Celtic managers Brendan Rodgers, Gordon Strachan and Martin O’Neill also turned out to pay their respects to the man known as Cesar.

Old Firm rivals Rangers were represented by Ibrox legend John Greig, Gordon Smith, Willie Henderson and former boss Walter Smith.

Among the players managed by McNeill in attendance were Ireland manager Mick McCarthy, Danny McGrain, Charlie Nicholas, Pat Bonner, Davie Provan, Frank McAvennie, Murdo MacLeod, Peter Grant, David Moyes and John Collins.

Aberdeen greats Willie Miller and Alex McLeish and current manager Derek McInnes also arrived at the church in Garnethill.

From the world of politics, mourners included former defence secretary Lord Reid and ex-Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy.

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia began his homily by offering “heartfelt and prayerful sympathies” to McNeill’s wife of 56 years, Liz, and children Susan, Carol, Libby, Paula and Martyn.

He told the congregation the former defender, who had eight grandchildren, endured his ill health with “dignity and courage”.

Archbishop Tartaglia added: “As Glasgow Celtic’s most famous captain, Billy also belonged to another family, the Celtic family, who adored him as their hero and who mourn his passing.”

Ahead of the funeral service, which is being broadcast live on a large screen outside Celtic Park, the McNeill family thanked everyone who had sent kind messages over the past week.

A statement said: “They have cheered us up tremendously at this difficult time.

“The love and affection shown towards our father is nothing short of amazing and is something we will never forget.

“Our father always made time for the fans and knew how important they are so we would like to send an open invite to help us pay our respects to him.”

On Friday morning Celtic highlighted that McNeill’s funeral is being held exactly 44 years after his last appearance for the club in the 1975 Scottish Cup final.

The Bellshill-born defender enjoyed a glittering career and led the Parkhead club to nine successive league titles, seven Scottish Cups and six League Cups

But his finest hour came in Lisbon on 25 May 1967 when Celtic defeated Italian giants Inter Milan 2-1.

In doing so they became the first British team to lift the European Cup.

McNeill went on to have two spells at the club as manager and led the club to eight honours.

These included a memorable league and cup double in 1988, the club’s centenary year.

His nickname was a nod to actor Cesar Romero, who starred as the getaway driver in the original Ocean’s Eleven, as McNeill had the same car at the time.

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The former Scotland defender, who won 29 caps for his country, also managed Clyde, Aberdeen, Manchester City and Aston Villa in the 1970s and 80s.

Tens of thousands of fans have already paid their respects to McNeill at his bronze statue outside Celtic Park, which was unveiled in 2015.

Celtic’s players will wear McNeill’s former number five on their shorts when they face Hearts in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park on Saturday 25 May.

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