As the 1960s gave way to the 1970s Hull City were going through a transformation – long standing manager Cliff Britton, who had piloted the club to fabulous achievements in the mid and late 1960s, had been given a boardroom job and the club had finished the 1969/70 season in the unsatisfactory position of having a group of directors pick the first team – a rather pre-World War 1 way to run a first team. City were on the lookout for a new manager that would build on the legacy of Britton and in July 1970 they found their man, though he didn’t fit the typical description of a first team manager. Terry Neill was a part of Arsenal’s defence that competed at the upper end of the First Division table and the 28 year old Irishman accepted the challenge of becoming Hull City’s player-manager in return for a 40% cut in wages and a brand new Jaguar sports car. It’s not a move that everyone would have made, but the Northern Irish international was an intelligent man who understood that he had to take his chances when he could in order to progress in the long term, a philosophy that eventually served him well.
Neill made his debut in the pre-season Watney Cup, which saw City make history when they competed in, and lost, football’s first ever penalty shoot-out. Neill slotted straight into the centre half position for the Tigers alongside Billy Wilkinson and Chris Simpkin and the club started the 1970/71 season brightly, going top of the table in October and staying in the top three until mid-March. A notorious victory at Sheffield United in March was followed by defeat against Oxford and when City lost the next game at Luton the side dropped out of the promotion positions and didn’t return. Neill had performed well in his first season of management, juggling playing with managing the squad, and prospects for the following season looked good.
Neill had already begun to rebuild the City squad he inherited, introducing young talent like Stuart Pearson and moving on some of the older heads, most notably the sale of club record goalscorer Chris Chilton to Coventry in August 1971. These changes were necessary but it became apparent that Neill was not to be afforded the same transfer kitty as his predecessor and he had to use his powers to nurture young talent and find gems cast off by other clubs – experienced signings Jimmy McGIll, John Kaye and Jeff Wealands showed that Terry had the necessary skills and networks to sign good players, but the squad took time to gel and Neill’s time was spread even thinner when he took on the role of Northern Ireland’s international team manager in September 1971. City started the 1971/72 season well and were fourth in the table after five games, but a run of just three league wins in four months saw the Tigers drifted towards the relegation places. Neill remained a first team starter during this season and City’s League form picked up after a fine FA Cup run that featured only Cities – Division Two front-runners Norwich and Chris Chilton’s First Division side Coventry were beaten before a narrow Fifth Round defeat to Stoke in controversal circumstances. Three consecutive wins in April 1972 saw the Tigers rise into mid-table and Neill had successfully managed his way out of his first sticky spell at the Tigers’ helm.
The 1972/73 season saw the Tigers inhabit the mid-table positions throughout, never compiling a run of wins that would lift them towards the promotion spots but never losing enough games to be threatened by relegation. For a club and fanbase used to success and challenging for promotion, it was a lesson in the realities of League football that some were unable to accept. Home gates fell and some of those who remained became frustrated. Neill continued to play in the heart of City’s defence supported by other experienced heads John Kaye and Ken Knighton and the club again made it to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup before losing out to Coventry. But by the 1973 close season there was a sense that Neill’s tenure at the club was not delivering as it should.
Terry responded by hanging up his boots and focussing on the management side for the 1973/74 season. Steve Deere was recruited to replace Neill and Chris Galvin was signed from Leeds to add guile to the City attack, where Stuart Pearson and veteran Ken Wagstaff were both a regular goalscorers. But the outcome was much the same – City were safe in mid-table and enjoyed a run in the League Cup that ended over two legs against Bill Shankly’s Liverpool, then two wins at the end of the season against London sides Crystal Palace and Fulham saw the Tigers finish ninth in the table. Consolidation yes, progress less so.
At the start of 1974/75 season City fans finally saw change, but not necessarily in the manner intended. Tottenham Hotspur’s aging manager Bill Nicholson was approaching the end of his tenure and a poor start to the season accelerated that demise. With Nicholson gone Tottenham were looking for a fresh start and it was Hull City’s Terry Neill that they turned to, appointing him with the City board’s blessing in September 1974. Neill’s defensive partner John Kaye took over the City reins and Neill’s grounding in football management at Hull stood him in good stead for what was to come.
William John Terence “Terry” Neill was born in Belfast during World War Two and played for Bangor City as a teenager. In December 1959 the 17 year old Neill, already a schoolboy international player, moved to First Division side Arsenal and after a year learning his trade in the Gunners’ reserves he made his first team debut in December 1960 against Sheffield Wednesday, scoring the equalising goal in a 1-1 draw. This quickly established Neill in the Arsenal first team though he missed a large chunk of the 1961/62 season due to injury. He was named as Arsenal captain at the age of 20 but struggled to re-establish his first team place during the 1962/63 and 1963/64 seasons. However in the 1964/65 season Neill was back as a first team regular and apart from missing a month of football in January he became a pivotal part of the Arsenal side for the next four seasons as they competed in the top half of the First Division. Arsenal were twice runners-up in the League Cup, to Billy Bremner’s Leeds in 1968 and to Swindon Town in 1969, though Neill was substitute in the former game and was not chosen for the Swindon final due to illness. By the late 1960s Neill was hampered by the effects of a bout of hepatitis that he contracted while on international duty, and he was a peripheral figure in the 1969/70 Arsenal side that won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. It was therefore little surprise when he left the club during the 1970 close season having scored 11 goals in 275 senior appearances for the Gunners.
Neill was appointed manager at Tottenham Hotspur in September 1974 and led the club for two seasons, in his first they narrowly avoided relegation to the Second Division then in his second he lifted the club to a top half finish and reached the semi-finals of the League Cup, losing to Newcastle United on aggregate. In July 1976, amid some controversy, Neill left Spurs to replace Bertie Mee as manager at his former club and North London rivals Arsenal. Over the next seven years Neill demonstrated his talent as football manager, piloting the Gunners to regular top five finishes, an FA Cup victory in 1979 in a see-saw final against Manchester United that was settled by Alan Sunderland’s late goal, two more trips to Wembley that ended in FA Cup Final defeat (to Ipswich in 1978 and to West Ham in 1980) and a long run in the 1979/80 European Cup Winners’ Cup that saw Neill’s Arsenal defeat Turkey’s Fenerbahce, East Germany’s 1FC Magdeburg, Sweden’s IFK Gothenburg and Italy’s Juventus before losing the Final on penalties to Spanish side Valencia at Brussels’ Heysel Stadium. By December 1983 Neill’s Arsenal were languishing in the bottom half of the First Division and a defeat at West Ham precipitated his sacking.
Terry withdrew from football following his dismissal from Arsenal, having managed his three clubs for a total of 711 games between 1970 and 1983. He used his talents to develop sports bars in North London and Holborn in the City of London. He was a genial host that welcomed Hull City fans into his fold throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He also provided expert commentary for Arsenal TV and set up his own media company.
Terry Neill was a Northern Ireland international from a young age, gaining his first senior cap in April 1961 against Italy after winning four caps at under-23 level and playing for Northern Ireland schoolboys. He became a regular choice for Northern Ireland over the next 12 years, becoming international captain in 1968 and part-time player-manager in 1971. His final cap against Wales in May 1973 took his tally to 59, for several years a Northern Ireland record, and he scored two international goals against Netherlands in March 1965 and the winner against England in May 1972.
Nationality: Northern Ireland
Date/Place of Birth: 8 May 1942, Belfast
Hull City First Game: 1 August 1970, Peterborough United A (Watney Cup First Round), 28 years, 85 days old
Hull City Final Game: 9 May 1973, Cardiff City A (Division Two), 31 years, 1 days old
Bangor City (1958-1959), Arsenal (1959-1970), Hull City (1970-1974)
Hull City Record
Career: 122 apps, 4 goalsTerry Neill
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