485: William John Terence ‘Terry’ Neill – 1959-1970 and 1976-1983
Ulsterman Neill was something of a cup specialist during his time in charge of the club, guiding the side to four cup finals in seven and a half seasons, winning the 1979 FA Cup.
Born in Belfast on 8 May, 1942, he was with Bangor before moving to Arsenal in December 1959, his first team debut came on 23 December 1960 in which he scored versus Sheffield Wednesday.
Terry Neill replaced Vic Groves as captain to become Arsenal’s youngest permanent skipper. He was 20 years and 102 days old as he led the Gunners out at the start of the 1962/63 season against Leyton Orient in the league. Neill still holds this record, but he had captained Arsenal even earlier, in a friendly in Gothenburg on his 20th birthday – 8 May 1962 – during the 1961/62 summer tour.
By the end of the sixties he appeared in the 1968 League Cup final against Leeds, but while fortunes were improving on the pitch thanks to Don Howe’s increasing influence as coach, for Terry it was the beginning of the end of his playing time at Highbury. Jaundice and it’s complications, prevented Neill from playing in the 1969 League Cup final and the 1970 Fairs Cup final, in which Arsenal broke their 17 year trophy wait. Soon afterwards he moved to Hull City as player manager, and there he stopped playing in 1973 to concentrate on management.
Terry won 59 Northern Ireland caps between 1961 and 1973, and became his country’s manager from 1971 to 1975. After his first steps into management at Hull and Northern Ireland, he went to Tottenham in 1974, spending two seasons at White Hart Lane before his homecoming to the club where he made 254 appearances, scoring 8 goals for the club. Neill was just 34 years old when he took over from Bertie Mee in July 1976.
As manager he immediately set about improving the club’s fortunes with the big-money signing of striker Malcolm Macdonald, but it was the decision to bring back Don Howe as coach which was the more transformative move. He reached the FA Cup final for the first time in 1978, won it the following year in a dramatic final against Manchester United, and Arsenal were runners-up again the year after, losing to West Ham at Wembley. Also in 1980 Arsenal reached the European Cup Winners’ Cup final, but went down on penalties to Valencia.
The influential Liam Brady departed and Neill’s Arsenal struggled for the next couple of seasons, though they did reach the UEFA Cup in 1981/82, and the last four of both domestic cup competitions in 1982/83. Poor league form though led to his dismissal halfway through the following campaign. In his seven full seasons Arsenal had managed four top-six finishes, but dropped to tenth in 1982/83.
Although just 41 when he left the Gunners, he never managed again, though he did work for the club’s media team during the Arsène Wenger era. He was best known post football for his Terry Neill’s Sports Bars in London, and despite the quite vitriolic scenes at the end of his tenure and the fact he had been Spurs’ manager, the genial charismatic Irishman was highly popular with many, many Gooners.
His popularity was down in no small parts to his continued support for the Gunners and statements such as: “I’m an Arsenal man until I die”. Indeed the club in a statement on his death reciprocated the feelings: “Terry Neill’s status as both club captain and manager made him a major influence on 20th Century Arsenal. His fantastic contribution – and indeed his character – will always be appreciated by everyone associated with the club”.
Terry Neill died on 28 July 2022, aged 80.
Arsenal: The Complete Record 1886-2018