- Liverpool Legend & England International
Philip ‘Phil’ George Neal (born Irchester, Northants, February 20, 1951) is a much-decorated former footballer who is the only player to have appeared in the first five of Liverpool’s European Cup finals. He was a dependable full back.
Neal scored the crucial clinching penalty when the Anfield club beat Borussia Monchengladbach in Rome to win the trophy for the first time in 1977 and subsequently played in the club’s further successes in 1978 and 1981, beating FC Bruges and Real Madrid respectively, with both games ending 1-0.
In Liverpool’s fourth final in 1984, Neal scored again – this time from open play and again in Rome – as Liverpool drew 1-1 with A.S. Roma and won on a penalty shoot-out, during which Neal again scored. The following year he missed out on a phenomenal fifth winners’ medal when Juventus won 1-0 at Heysel in a match rendered meaningless because of the rioting beforehand in which 39 Juventus fans were killed and resulted in Liverpool’s banishment from European club football.
Neal had a one hundred per cent record of appearances for the club in European Cup finals until a generation later when the 2005 side reached the final and won.
A full back who joined the club in 1974 after making his name in English football’s lower divisions with Northampton Town, Neal was the first signing to be made by manager Bob Paisley, snapped up as a replacement for the ageing Chris Lawler. Although he played a few games on the left side of the defence, it was as an industrious, energetic right back that he made his name.
Neal won his first of a staggering eight League championships in 1976, along with the UEFA Cup. The following year, he was part of a side gunning for a unique treble of League, FA Cup and European Cup. The title was won, but Liverpool then lost the FA Cup final to Manchester United at Wembley. It was testament to Liverpool’s nerve and professionalism that they were able to put that disappointment behind them quickly to win that special first European Cup.
As proved with his late spot kick, Neal was a clinical penalty taker, a role he had taken on the previous season, although he did miss one in the hotbed of a Merseyside derby game against fierce rivals Everton. He took the penalties throughout his long Anfield career, bumping his goal tally to 60 in total, an impressive haul for a defensive player.
In 1978, Neal was in the Liverpool team which lost the League Cup final to Nottingham Forest but subequently retained their European crown. The following year they won back the League title and then retained it in 1980. In 1981, the club’s first League Cup came along before they added that third European Cup; and for the next two seasons Liverpool won both League and League Cup.
Throughout this time, Neal never missed a League game for the club. He played 365 consecutive matches for Liverpool from 1975 to 1983, finally seeing this sequence brought to a half after he suffered an injury which forced him out of one solitary match.
In 1984, Liverpool added their fourth and final European Cup to the League title and League Cup which they again retained. Neal maintained his place throughout this season and was rewarded with the captaincy by manager Joe Fagan after Graeme Souness departed for Sampdoria in the summer.
Unfortunately for Neal, his one season as captain turned out to be a year when Liverpool emerged trophyless and with their reputation after Heysel in tatters. Fagan quit as manager afterwards due to the grief and Neal lost the captaincy under new manager Kenny Dalglish, who instead gave it to Alan Hansen.
Neal started the season in his regular role but Dalglish soon replaced him with Steve Nicol, a young Scottish defender and Neal departed Anfield after 11 years, joining Bolton Wanderers as player manager. When Liverpool won the League again that season (on their way to a “double with the FA Cup) Neal was awarded an eighth and final championship medal, though it is a sad irony that the one domestic honour which eluded him, the FA Cup, was won by the club immediately before he arrived in 1974 and then immediately after he left in 1986, meaning he just missed out on both occasions.
He quit playing in 1989 after more than 700 League appearances, as well as 50 caps for England between 1976 and 1983, scoring five goals. Only Gary Neville has won more England caps as a right back.
Neal left Bolton to embark upon what turned out to be a memorable if infamous spell as a right-hand man to Graham Taylor during his spell in charge of the England team. Neal was frequently heard to parrot Taylor on every tactical idea he had, without ever coming up with suggestions of his own. This was captured on camera during a notorious fly on the wall documentary broadcast on Channel 4 after Taylor’s reign had ended in disappointing failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. Neal became a mild source of ridicule as a result, though he continued to work as a coach and manager. He spent two years in charge at Coventry City and subsequently had spells at Cardiff City and Manchester City.
In recent years, Neal has worked as a football pundit for various television and radio organisations.
Honours As Player
1975/76 League Championship and UEFA Cup with Liverpool FC
1976/77 Charity Shield/League Championship and European Cup with Liverpool FC
1977/78 Charity Shield/European Cup with Liverpool FC
1978/79 League Championship with Liverpool FC
1979/80 Charity Shield and League Championship with Liverpool FC
1980/81 Charity Shield/League Cup and European Cup with Liverpool FC
1981/82 League Cup and League Championship with Liverpool FC
1982/83 Charity Shield/League Cup and League Championship with Liverpool FC
1983/84 League Cup/League Championship and European Cup with Liverpool FC
1985/86 League Championship with Liverpool FC
Born: 29th February 1951, in Irchester Record: Northampton Town: 182+4 League apps, 29 goals Liverpool: 453+2 League apps, 41 goals Bolton Wanderers: 58+8 League apps, 3 goals England: 50 apps, 5 goals Overall career total: 915 League and Cup games, 94 goals