When Stein arrived at Parkhead Willie experienced several highlights as a Celt. In the 1966 League Cup final he turned a fine performance against Rangers. Before the game started Rangers fans released balloons and one of them was headed for the goal at the Celtic end. A young Celtic fan ran on the field and booted the balloon from the goal to a huge roar from the Celtic fans behind the Kings Park end goal. Incredibly, with Celtic leading 1-0 and under severe pressure with only minutes remaining, Alec Smith prodded the ball past Ronnie Simpson towards the Celtic goal where the balloon had headed earlier but Willie O’Neill saved the day by clearing in exactly the same way the young Celtic fan had done earlier !
Willie was fortunate enough to play against Real Madrid in the Bernabeau stadium in the great Alfredo Di Stefano’s testimonial game. Celtic won 1-0 but many Celtic players still recall the moment that Di Stefano nutmegged Willie, which is said to be something that never happened before.
He remained an important part of the first team squad and played, unusually at inside left, in Buenos Aires in Celtic’s ill fated tie against Racing Club of Argentina in the 1967 World Club championship. Days earlier he had come on as a substitute for Bertie Auld in the League Cup final at Hampden in which Celtic emerged victorious by 5-3.
In 1969 Stein decided that Willie would be best moving on in order to play regularly and he was transferred to Carlisle United in May 1969 where he gave great service to the Cumbrian club. A few years back I met a Carlisle fan in the Centerparcs complex and he waxed lyrical about Willie, John Gorman and John Halpin who were all great players for Carlisle and had came from Celtic.
In later years Willie was one of the most popular ex Celts and could be found serving pints in Bairds bar and entertaining the fans with his humour and stories from his playing days.
Willie O’Neill was hugely popular with the Celtic fans through the years as player and publican. Another one of the Lions has passed on and is a cause of great sorrow to the Celtic family.
Thanks for the memories Willie. May eternal light shine upon you and may you rest in peace.