OCT 01] THE JIM BROWN COLUMN
City's Managers :
1993 - FEBRUARY 1995]
back now at the events of the mid 1990s it is probably fair to
say that Phil Neal should never have been appointed manager of
Neal was an honest man and a
solid manager in the lower divisions with Bolton Wanderers and a
good number 2 to both Bobby Gould at Coventry and Graham Taylor
with England. However he never quite seemed to have what it
takes to be a top manager.
Born in Irchester,
Northamptonshire in 1951 Neal started his playing career with
Northampton Town making his first team debut in August 1968. In
his six years at the County Ground he played 209 games, scoring
30 goals. Although a natural full-back his versatility enabled
him to play in many different positions for the Cobblers,
including stand-in goalkeeper.
During he time with Northampton
Neal played alongside former Coventry favourites Dietmar
Bruck and Trevor
Gould as well as current Villa manager John Gregory.
October 1974 Neal became new Liverpool manager Bob Paisley’s
first signing for £65,000. It was the start of a glittering
career at Anfield and he went on to win many honours. Seven
league championship medals, four European Cup winners medals
(the only Liverpool player to achieve that feat), four League
Cup winners, a UEFA Cup winners and 50 England caps.
Neal was an unspectacular but
sound right back and in ten seasons missed only one league game.
In total he made 635 first team appearances and scored 60 goals
for Liverpool. His final appearance for the Merseyside giants
was in fact against Coventry at Highfield Road in October 1985.
In 1985 after the disappointment
of being overlooked for the Liverpool manager’s job he was
appointed player-manager at Bolton. Neal took Bolton to the
final of the Freight/Rover trophy at Wembley in his first season
in charge but they lost to Bristol City.
After relegation in 1987 the
Trotters bounced straight back, then made the Third Division
play-offs in 1990 and 1991, in the latter year they lost a
Wembley play-off final to Tranmere. Neal however lost his job in
1992 after six and a half years in charge.
Gould appointed Neal as his assistant soon after his arrival
at Coventry in 1992 and the two men proved to be a good
combination. In their first season the side were rarely out of
the top eight and only finished 15th because of some slack
performances at the end of the season.
After the dull Butcher and Howe
eras Gould and Neal brought some fun back to the club with some
thrilling performances with characters like Peter
Quinn and Phil
Babb coming to the fore.
When Gould suddenly resigned
after a game at QPR in October 1993 Neal was made caretaker
manager and within weeks was given the job on a full-time basis
after substantial support from the players.
Neal steered the club
unspectacularly to 11th place in his first season with a good
end of the season culminating with a win over title-chasing
Blackburn, and a 0-0 draw with the champions at Old Trafford.
Money was not available for major transfers and his bargain
basement buys of Julian
Pickering and Sandy
Robertson were hardly classed as successful.
The following season started
badly and when Babb was sold for a massive fee the pressure was
on Neal to spend the money wisely. In one of the club’s
shrewdest signings ever he bought Manchester United reserve Dion
Dublin for £2 million, a fee that at the time looked
Dublin started paying dividends
immediately but an injury kept him out for six weeks and when he
returned City were sliding towards relegation. Other signings Paul
Pressley and Mike
Marsh were not up to the battle and Neal was not helped by
In February when the Sky Blues
went out of the FA Cup to Norwich the knives were out for Neal.
In other circumstances a win at Crystal Palace might have
brought breathing space to the embattled manager when it was
their first league win for twelve games. But, ominously, that
win arrived on the same day that Ron Atkinson agreed his pay-off
from Aston Villa, following his autumn sacking.
The following Tuesday Neal was
sacked, pausing only to deliver a broadside at the local media
and some of the fans.
Injuries and bad luck had
conspired to dethrone him but for many of the fans he had never
been the right man for the job.
Since leaving Coventry Neal has
had short but unsuccessful stints as manager at Cardiff and
Manchester City and as assistant at Peterborough. He currently
works in the media.
United (h) : drew 0-0 (Caretaker)
Palace (a) : won 2-0
win over Blackburn to end Rovers title hopes
home defeat to Spurs (Christmas 1994)
58 : won 18, drew 18, lost 22
win ratio 31.0%