IN the heat of Glasgow, they came in their thousands, to hail to Bhoy who led the champions in ’67.

Celtic supporters too young to remember Billy McNeill as a manager, let along as the club’s greatest captain and centre-back, braved the early drizzle, the sun came out at exactly the right moment, to get a decent spot to watch the current first-team and coaching staff, club directors, legends, plus the McNeill family, as they all gathered around the great man’s statue at 11am.

They were four of five deep at stages. At the Emirates Arena on the other side of London Road, hundreds stood behind a barrier to get a better view. There wasn’t much to see, not really, they just wanted to say they were there.

Neil Lennon and Scott Brown laid a wreath to the applause of all. Both men are Celtic legends. Both bowed their head in reverence. Some heroes are just that bit more than their peers.

Walking down the Celtic Way, to a warm reception, was Liz McNeill and other family members, plus Bertie Auld, Jim Craig, Bobby Lennox and John Clark. The only surviving Lions not there were Willie Wallace who lives in Australia and Stevie Chalmers, the man who scored the winning goal on May 25, 1967 and who tragically is fighting his own dementia battle.

That’s five of them gone now.

The statue, a magnificent tribute it must be said, sits roughly where the corner of the old school used to be. For decades, this was the spot where friends met before going to the game. It’s a nice idea that from now on, a meeting place will be where Billy McNeill is immortalised, holding aloft the European Cup.

Above the main stand, we were told to ‘Hail Cesar’ with a gold star. Celtic do these things well.

There was a moment when nobody quite knew what to do. People took pictures and shuffled from one foot to the other, as they as such formal occasions, hoping someone leads the way.

Then a loan voice began the Celtic Song. It finished with most joining in. A sing-song felt right in even these sad circumstances. After all, the family did want Billy’s name to be sang as they felt football stadiums should be full of noise.

This, however, was a respectful and emotional affair. A dignified tribute to the most dignified of men. How could it not be? The funeral next Friday will test even granite hearts and stiffest lips.