Teenage full back John Neal joined the Tigers in July 1949 after manager Raich Carter spotted his talent while spending time in his hometown of Sunderland. Neal was born a few miles down the coast at Seaham and was attending Ryhope Secondary School when Carter spotted him playing for Siiksworth Colliery Welfare in the Wearside League. At just 17 years of age, Neal lived in a hostel in Hull set up by the Tigers and played reserve team football while waiting for his National Service to commence. He made his senior debut in April 1950 just a month before he was whisked away by the Army and he didn’t return to first team action until November 1952, by which time Carter had left the club to be replaced by Bob Jackson.
Jackson introduced Neal to a regular left back berth in the opening weeks of the 1953/54 season, freeing up regular left back Viggo Jensen to play at left half. After sixteen consecutive starts Neal dropped out of the side in late November 1953 and he started only three matches during the second half of the season. Neal remained on the fringes of Jackson’s first eleven during the 1954/55 season, starting five games in December and four games in April 1955.
At the start of the 1955/56 season Jackson was replaced by new boss Bob Brocklebank and Neal soon found himself playing regularly for the City first team for the first time. He missed only four of 36 senior fixtures between late August 1955 and early April 1956 but missed the closing weeks of the season as was handed a transfer during the 1956 close season.
John spent the 1956/57 season at Southern League side King’s Lynn and did well enough for the Norfolk side to earn a place back in the Football League when Division Three South side Swindon Town signed him in July 1957. In two seasons at the County Gound Neal missed only one League game, making 95 appearances, scoring two goals and carving a reputation as a capable no-nonsense full back who could also begin attacks. In July 1959 Neal attracted the attention of Aston Villa, who had just been relegated to the Second Division despite reaching the FA Cup semi-final a month earlier. With Neal missing only one League start all season Villa bounced straight back and won the Second Division title, while also reaching the FA Cup semi-final for a second consecutive year only to lose 0-1 to local rivals and eventual trophy winners Wolverhampton Wanderers – the same scoreline that Nottingham Forest had defeated Neal’s Villa side by in the semi-final a year earlier.
Neal was a regular starter during the 1960/61 season as Villa achieved a top half finish in the First Division and reached the inaugural Football League Cup Final, though Neal was absent for the semi-final win against Burnley who were beaten after three matches. During the 1961/62 season Neal started the majority of games in the first three months of the season – though he missed both legs of the League Cup final against Rotherham that was held over from the previous season – but by the end of October he was out of the Villa first team and started only two more games during the rest of the season. John made four starts for Aston Villa at the start of the 1962/63 season, taking his career tally for the Villa Park side to 114 senior starts, but in mid-November 1962, after being chased by three clubs, he signed for Division 3 side Southend United. He was first team regular for the Shrimpers for three years but fell out of favour in late-November 1965 – Neal left the club and hung up his boots during the 1966 close season having scored once in 112 senior starts for Southend.
After a year’s pause from the game Neal returned to football in March 1967 when he joined the coaching staff at Wrexham. By September 1968 he was elevated to First Team Manager at the Racecourse Ground, an appointment that unleashed a period of notable success for the Red Dragons. After getting promotion from Division Four to Division Three in the 1969/70 season, Neal helped Wrexham lift the Welsh Cup trophy in 1972 and 1975, both wins leading to qualification to the European Cup Winners’ Cup and ties against clubs from Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Sweden, Poland and Belgium. Neal’s tenure was regarded by some Wrexham fans as the finest period in the club’s history.
By May 1977 he had moulded Wrexham into an efficient side that competed at the upper reaches of the Division Three table, it was at this time that Neal was lured away to became first team manager at Middlesbrough. For four years at Ayresome Park Neal kept Boro in a solid position of safety in the First Division table while never competing for the league title. In May 1981 he made the move to Chelsea, who had just relieved Geoff Hurst from the hot seat, winning promotion to the First Division in his third season in charge and consolidating in sixth place for two top flight seasons. His management career drew to a close in June 1985 when illness forced his retirement and led to heart surgery a year later. John returned to live in the Wrexham area where he had managed the local team successfully for nine seasons, he died at the age of 82 in November 2014 at Rhosddu, a small settlement just north of Wrexham.
Date/Place of Birth: 3 April 1932, Seaham
Hull City First Game: 22 April 1950, Luton Town H (Division Two), 18 years, 19 days old
Hull City Final Game: 2 April 1956, Blackburn Rovers H (Division Two), 23 years, 365 days old
Silksworth Colliery Welfare (1949), Hull City (1949-1956), King’s Lynn (1956-1957), Swindon Town (1957-1959), Aston Villa (1959-1962), Southend United (1962-1966)
Hull City Record
Career: 62 apps, 1 goalsJohn Neal