How Celtic legend Billy McNeill got his 'Cesar' nickname

Say the name 'Cesar' and the first person that will likely come to mind is Roman emperor Julius Caesar.

Billy McNeill, nicknamed Cesar, passed away aged 79. Picture: SNS
Billy McNeill, nicknamed Cesar, passed away aged 79. Picture: SNS

However, utter the name 'Cesar' around the corridors of Celtic Park, on the parks of Lennoxtown or the streets of Glasgow's East End and there is only one man who goes by that name: Billy McNeill.

Celtic confirmed on Tuesday morning that the legendary figure had passed away "surrounded by his family and loved ones" as a statement from the McNeill family read, having "fought bravely to the end, showing the strength and fortitude he always has done throughout his life".

Tributes have and continue to pour in with many Celtic fans simply stating "Hail Cesar" in honour of their departed captain, the first Briton to lift the European Cup, as he did as part of the revered Lisbon Lions side in 1967 after defeating Inter Milan in the final.

Billy McNeill, nicknamed Cesar, passed away aged 79. Picture: SNS

Yet, the origins of how McNeill was bestowed with such an alluring nickname differ depending on who you ask.

Duke Santos may be a familiar name with film buffs from a certain generation. It was the character played by Cesar Romero in the 1960's heist film Ocean's 11, starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Angie Dickinson.

And according to Professor Richard Cogdell it is Romero who the Celtic great was named after.

Speaking at Glasgow University when McNeill was presented with an honorary degree, he said: "Billy's nickname is Cesar. However, this doesn't come from any Roman connections, rather from a movie. In the original Ocean's 11, the actor Cesar Romero drove the getaway car.

"Billy McNeill was one of the few members of the Celtic team that had a car.

"How times have changed."

Fellow Lisbon Lion John Hughes confirmed the origin but noted that it "morphed" into ‘Caesar’ after the European Cup final.

He said, via CQN: "Big Billy just looked so imperious as he held aloft that huge trophy in the Portuguese capital with sunshine streaming down. To many of the Celtic supporters that is the most iconic image in the club’s history.

“So, what do you think? Caesar after a famous figure from history? Or a Grade B actor whose main claim to fame was appearing as ‘The Joker’ in the Batman TV series in the sixties?

“I think you can understand why anyone who knows Big Billy will refer to him as ‘Caesar’.”

That was backed up by Alex Gordon, who wrote ‘Billy McNeill: In Praise of Caesar’.

He said: “I interviewed over 40 significant personalities in Billy’s career, friends and foes alike, for the tribute and they also went with the Roman Emperor."

The author noted that he even asked McNeill's wife Liz but she was indifferent as she called him 'Billy'.