Billy Neil, footballer: Part of the last Great Britain football team to play in an Olympic Games on merit

Neil (second from left): he was part of the Scotland side that won the European Amateur title in 1963

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The Independent Online

Billy Neil was part of the last Great Britain team to take part in an Olympic football tournament on merit, unlike members of the 2012 side, which qualified for the London Games through their host status.

The tall defender, then playing for Airdrieonians but soon to become one of the top performers in the history of Queen’s Park, the famous amateur club based in Glasgow, featured in one match at the Rome Games of 1960, a 2-2 draw with the host nation. Neil played at right-back against Italy but missed the other two games, which brought defeat to Brazil and victory over the Republic of China, on the way to elimination at the group stage.

A former Scotland schoolboy international, Neil opted for banking after completing his education, but joined top-flight Airdrieonians as an amateur in 1956, making more than 50 senior appearances before switching to second-tier Queen’s Park in 1961. During nine years with the Spiders, who play at Hampden Park, he evolved into a stylish centre-half, tough and competitive but renowned for his fairness, playing more than 400 games.

One highlight was reaching the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup in 1967, where they were beaten 5-3 by a Celtic side two months away from being the first Britons to become European champions. Ten of Jock Stein’s Lisbon Lions faced Queen’s Park that day, and knew they had been in a game. In the League the principal achievement during the tenure of Neil, who served a stint as captain, was finishing fourth in the Second Division in 1967-68.

The stalwart defender, who collected 14 Scotland amateur international caps, was prominent as the team lifted the European amateur championship in 1963, fighting back from a 2-0 deficit to beat West Germany 5-2 in the final. Soon after that he featured in the tournament to celebrate Kenya’s independence and he was part of the Great Britain squad which failed to qualify for the Olympics in 1964 and 1968.

At a less rarefied level, he toured as part of the Middlesex Wanderers, an amateur select side which prided itself on exceptional levels of fair play. After retiring in 1970, he served on the Queen’s Park committee, taking a brisk interest in coaching and proving instrumental in the development of several fine players, including the future Scotland goalkeeper Bobby Clark.

Later, having spent his prime working years as a bank inspector, he insisted that he had no regrets. There had been offers to turn professional, including one from Stein when he was in charge of Dunfermline Athletic in the early 1960s, and there were whispers of an approach from Rangers. µ

William Neil, footballer and banker: born Airdrie, Lanarkshire 22 May 1939; married (one daughter); died 22 September 2014.

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