The Croatian centre-back said the “favourite moment” of his Celtic career, and one that will remain with the 24-year-old all his days, he considered was set from when the team bus drove up the Celtic way and witnessed the shrine to Billy McNeill that had engulfed the statue to Celtic’s ultimate No.5, and the captain of the 1967 European Cup-winning side, since his death on Monday night. What followed on a day of celebration for the life of McNeill was no mere coincidence, Simunovic claimed.
“I was surprised on the bus before the game when I saw so many fans. I couldn’t have imagined something like that,” he said. “That gave me an impulse to give even more in this game. I believed it would be a special day for me because of the number five. For everyone, it meant a lot but for me it was special.
“The manager spoke to us about Billy before the game to help inspire us. Everyone knows how big a name he is at this club and the impact he had on Celtic. He was a leader, an amazing guy. Before the game we had a meeting where the manager said a few things about him. That motivated us even more.
“Some people will say that I’m lucky to score with the number five on 67 minutes. But I say I’m blessed. I believe in that.”
That the clock was showing 67 minutes when he netted his header was something that Simunovic, who pointed to the skies, was not immediately aware of. “First, when I scored, I didn’t even watch on screen,” explained the defender. “I had something on my mind and I’m going to keep that for myself, what I said. But, when they start with the ball from half pitch, I turned around and thought ‘you know, maybe it’s that minute’. And it actually was it. It made me even happier.”
Even after the game, there was a moment to treasure when Simunovic gave his No.5 shirt to the McNeill family.
“Trophies are also special, but for me this is something else,” the player said. “In having a chat with Billy’s family after [and giving the shirt] that gave me even more reasons to remember all of this.”