Footballer and Olympian

Footballer and Olympian

Born: May 22, 1939; Died: September 22, 2014

BILLY Neil, who has died aged 75 following a short illness, is one of the rarest creatures in Scottish football history: a genuine Olympian. As a 21-year-old Airdrieonians player, he was named in the Great Britain squad which travelled to the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.

During the tournament, he played one game, at right-back against the Italians, forming an all-Scottish full-back pairing with future full Scotland cap Davie Holt, then of Queen's Park, in a match, played in the Stadio Flaminio, which finished in a 2-2 draw. The Italian team contained such future stars as full-back Tarcisio Burgnich of Inter Milan and two even more illustrious Azzuri legends in Giovanni Trapattoni and Gianni Rivera.

This was the last time Great Britain qualified for the football tournament at the Games proper until their position as hosts got them into the 2012 London games.

On returning from Rome, Neil left Airdrie for Queen's Park, where he would go on to play more than 400 first team games in the famous black and white hoops, making him one of their top ten players in appearance terms.

The Spiders were then - as now - a lower league club, for whom successes were few and far between. Their best performance in his time came during their centenary year of 1967-68, when they finished fourth in the Second Division. He did, however, play in the legendary 1967 Scottish Cup quarter-final in which the unsung amateurs gave a Celtic team, just three days on from beating Vojvodina Novi Sad to reach the European Cup semi-final, and weeks away from immortality in Lisbon a huge fright in a titanic match which finished 5-3 to a side which contained 10 of the 11 Lisbon Lions.

This was a time of change for the club. As he arrived, Davie Holt and Jim Cruickshank left for Hearts, while the young Alex Ferguson had also just turned professional. Neil, however, would play his part in developing some good young players who would go on to enjoy successful professional careers, such as future Scotland goalkeeper Bobby Clark and Andy Roxburgh.

Neil also learned from the distinguished Queen's Park coaches he worked under, most notably Eddie Turnbull and Harold Davis, whilst he "enjoyed" a lengthy relationship with that Hampden stalwart as player and coach - Eddie Hunter.

He captained the club and, on hanging up his boots in 1970, he joined the club committee, where his straight talking did not always endear him to some of his stuffier fellow "blazers". He also supported the Spiders Former Players Association.

During his time with Scotland's founding football club, Neil mainly played centre-half, but, as the team's regular penalty-taker, he scored more than his share of goals. He was also a regular selection for the Scotland Amateur XI, winning in all 14 caps; he also played his part in Great Britain's unsuccessful attempts to quality for the 1964 and 1968 Olympics.

Records of the Great Britain Amateur team's games outwith the final Olympic Games tournaments are incomplete, but there is reason to believe Neil never lost in a GB shirt.

With Scotland, he was a stalwart of the side which won the European Amateur Championship in 1963, coming back from 0-2 down at half time to beat West Germany 5-2 in the final.

This success earned the Scotland squad, including Neil, an invitation to the Kenya Independence celebration tournament that year, in which they faced Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

He also toured with the famous amateur select side, Middlesex Wanderers, a sort of by-invitation-only footballing Barbarians club, bringing together the best amateur players in the British Isles, during a career in which he epitomised the Queen's Park motto of "The game for the game's sake"; while with Queen's, he visited Nigeria and Sierra Leone on football business.

He had been born in Airdrie and educated at Airdrie Academy, from where he moved seamlessly to Broomfield. Whilst at school, he won a Scotland Schoolboys cap at Under-18 level, against England; one of two Airdrie Academy pupils in the team. He joined the Royal Bank of Scotland on leaving school, and, at that time, this precluded him from turning professional as a footballer. With the bank he rose to become a respected bank inspector.

Away from football, his other principal sporting interest was golf. He was a long-time member of Whitecraigs Golf Club, where he was a former champion and past captain. Neil, who died in Edinburgh's Western Infirmary, is survived by his wife Sandra, daughter Valerie, son-in-law Alastair and granddaughters Kirsty and Lana.