Terry Neill. Arsenal player and manager.

With the recent death of Terry Neill (1942-2022), another part of The Arsenal becomes history. Many who have a presence on the internet probably don’t know him, or if they did he might not have meant as much as he did to those of us who witnessed those years? And that’s fair enough. Carrie Fisher once said “fame is obscurity waiting”, and we ironically saw this when Debbie Reynolds, her mother died, it seemed that most people didn’t know who she was. Names and some moments may surivive, but mostly obscurity beckons?

Terry had been a long term player at Arsenal with 241 appearances (1960-1970), clocking up over a hundred games at Hull afterwards, with 59 caps for  N.Ireland / who he managed between 1971-75. 

Like many others Terry had come to the Arsenal from Tottenham (whom he managed between 1974 and 1976), and after the season that Arsenal flirted with relegation he started to build a new team, getting us back up to 8th. At this time many of the older 70s stalwarts were playing with younger players, new signings( ironically also let go by Tottenham) Pat Jennings, Malcolm Macdonald came in (and was golden boot winner two years running out of his three at Arsenal) but also we started to see the Arsenal Irish wizards come in and Terry formed a new team, or so it seemed to my very young eyes. Of course everyone seemed like a god, and even those with faults were excused immediately.

Sudenly there were many new changes; Alan Ball, Jimmy Rimmer, Wilf Rostron, Peter Simpson, John Radford and Arsenal favourite Geordie Armstrong left, and suddenly seemed as if a new 70s team had arrived, one that would take us on into the 80s?

After the soggy, humid, mishap versus Ipswich in the 1978 final, Arsenal approached the new coming season and all was clicking into place; sadly Supermac was injured against Rotherham in the league cup,and he left and on went the reshuffle, players who looked out of place in the ’78 final now looked in place. And we were a cup force to be reckoned with. Even after Liam left we finished a respectable third in the league.

 Yet later despite getting to semi finals of both cups in 82/83 we didn’t ever seem really like winning…or reaching a cup final again.

Although ’78 was a disappointment, ’79 was a moment of heaven, despite the fact it seemed we had thrown it all away. Then the CWC run in 1980, and the final with West Ham, after the titianc endless semi-final games versus Liverpool,which perhaps in someways was the beginning of then end of the TN era? We recall those games, but there were such magnificent moments on the way to those finals. And we played an extraordinary amount of games in the 79/80 season, something that I wish was more remembered as part of our history, even if we did lose both finals that season.

Sadly came the departures of my original heroes, and very soon there was a new Arsenal before my eyes, trying to find its way. The excellent Paul Davis, Kenny Sansom, Chris Whyte, Raphael Meade, Peter Nicholas, John Hawley, George Wood,Tony Woodcock, Vlad Petrovic, Tommy Caton (rip) and for ten seconds Clive Allen and of course North Bank hero Bonnie Prince Charlie all came in and did their best, a new kit with red trim also seemed new and modern. New mates, new heroes( yes I left a lot out but not out of disrespect, I just don’t have time to list every player) the arrival of Mr Adams, John Lukic who would go onto glory later…

We can’t sometimes see change as its happening? Often these players are forgotten as they didn’t make finals, but even if at times it wasn’t the greatest football ever it was a path onto something coming…and in those days I didn’t care, I loved The Arsenal unconditionally. And there were some moments of great football despite it seeming a barren time. And Terry was of course guiding it with Don Howe,Fred Street and Wilf Dixon trying to get us back as a unit and challenging again. They did try.

When Terry left Arsenal in the  83/84 season he was only 41 and subsequently left football, often only to be seen on documentaries or occasionally interviewed for his view point. To a young kid as I was then, it was a massive blow, he had been the manager when I started supporting, and when things change drastically as a kid, it seems the world is caving in. Will we go down? Quickly I was reassured by older people at my local sides Christmas party that it wouldn’t happened; this gave me my first big world sense of who Arsenal are, a club that has a long and proud history, that we are this tremendous huge force called The Arsenal.

I can still see Terry having a crafty oily outside the old elegant glass mangers hut at Highbury( the original one that was super cramped) during the game, and of course burnt in my mind is the photograph in the 1980/81 Arsenal handbook of Terry hugging Paul Vaessen after we beat Juventus in the CWC semi. What a moment that was.

 Another memory of him turning to John Devine with a look of disbelief after Mr.Sunderland had scored the winner in 1979…

To many Terry was not the best, fair enough, but neither was he the worst, far from it, he did seem a new hope, and was, and some how ushered us into a new time that directly led onto where we are now and of course held the torch in the Arsenal relay with a steady hand during his tenure, and gave us some highlights (“the ball floats over, its there Alan Sunderland, its 3-2 to Arsenal!)and memorable moments (losing to Walsall in the league cup), joy and tears, laughter and frustration but perhaps managers were lesser stars in those days, and as the landscape of the game has changed so much that those older days seem so far away now?

Slowly the lights of Highbury go out, but perhaps we can savour those memories a little while longer? Thank you, softly spoken Terry Neill,  a great servant to our club, both player and manager. And to me a true Arsenal hero. Gone but not yet forgotten.



16 comments on “Terry Neill. Arsenal player and manager.

  1. great piece Mills, it certainly was odd that no club persuaded him to take the reigns after his time at Arsenal, after all he did fairly well overall. It was sad that we had the loud fans force him out with their aggressive protests.
    Neill was very unfortunate he took over as the 71 double team was finished and most gone or going, he threw a few great signings at it like Jennings and supermac, and gave a whole host of young players a chance, he turned to young players anytime things were going wrong, some swam but most sank, many started brightly and looked like they would become stars, Vassen but for injury, not sure why Meade and Whyte (as we seen at leeds) should have been a bigger part of AFC history, loads of guys got a run out, Rix, Robson, o’shea, madden, cork, gorman, hill to name a few. He did try for some top players that could have pushed us to challenging for the title, such as Ruud Kroll the dutch master, he wanted Peter Reid from Bolton to replace Liam Brady, but AFC refused to stump up the extra £50 a week in wages that Reid said would have seen him come, Reid said AFC actually offered him less than he was on at Bolton, and that with the price of living in London he could not do it. And lets not forget he tried to sign Maradona, oh what could have been.
    Neill after seeing Brady go for a pittance, then seen Stapleton who was the best CF in the league at the time, turn down a £2M move to LFC in favor of a tribunal set £900k move to man utd, denying Neill of the funds he badly needed to replace him, what with his very likely replacement Vassen suffering a bad knee injury that did for him, just as it had McDonald before. Petrovic was a brilliant player, but oddly just as it seemed he was settling in and hitting form he was gone just six months in, this after the club fighting longer than that to get him signed in the first place. Charlie Nicholas was a massive signing but as both Charlie and Tony Woodcock both have said about us at that time, in training we played wonderful football through midfield, but for some unknown reason, probably pressure, when Saturday came our midfield would be bypassed and the ball hoofed up to our strike duo despite it not suiting either of them.
    Neill tried to sign Ray Wilkins from both Chelsea and again from Man Utd, Steve Coppell from Man Utd for a then UK record of £2M, but a knee injury stalled the deal and in the end finished Coppells career. He tried to do a double swoop for Mark Lawrenson and Michael Robinson from Brighton with Devine and Nelson going the other way but neither player could agree with Brighton, even though Nelson eventually joined them later on, it was too late for our deal, Lawreson went to Liverpool, and Robinson joined him there a season or so later.
    As I stated above he threw youth at it time and again, but was unfortunate he got the booth just as the next great batch of youth was about to come charging through, Adams, Keown, Thomas, Hayes, Caesar, Quinn, Rocastle.

    Neill tried all sorts of things to get the team firing, but Hawley only scored in spurts, Hankin was the oddest and probably the unfittest player ever to play for Arsenal, our need was so strong that he was given a very short go. A free transfer that surprised everyone, not lest the player himself, Ian Allinson, had a bigger impact on Arsenal’s history after Neill was gone, than he ever did while Terry was in charge.

    In many many ways Terry Neill was the nearly man of Arsenal, he almost built a great team, he wanted to build a great team, he never was given the backing needed, it was always one in one out, sort of thing, remember when we signed Hudson and people thought Ball, Hudson and Brady, oh what a midfield, but Ball was out, then Hudson was injured and out, and it was Brady and Price, with Talbot coming after, then Brady left it was a disaster for the team.
    Mills mentioned the epic FAC semi final run of games v Liverpool, these games showed we were oh so close to matching their level, but we were always that couple of players and another squad option or two as well from really going for the title, and as we know at that time, if you won the league in England, you had a good chance of being good enough for the European Cup success too. We really were close, but no cigar back then, I would say a lot closer than we are now.


  2. Brilliant Millsy, a great account of some of my early memories as well.
    Terry was nearly the best manager ever as he nearly took the spuds down and nearly won the league and CWC with us to go with the five minute final F.A.cup win.
    The or Irish link which became so successful seem to start in ernest around this time after manure and Liverpool had the monopoly previously. I think this was when Paddy started standing up over and over and over again from both sides of the border.
    I still have a flag from one of the cup finals with Terry Neil’s red and white army on it.
    My first game was 74 so although the 71 lads were heroes Terry’s teams were my first live sight of success.
    After losing the 1980 final I remember going to Highbury to see the thousands that went there just to see the coach off on its way to the European final. I don’t think the players could believe how many people turned up to see them off after they had just lost a final.
    Having seen the break up of the team led by Judas Stapleton it made Spiders win in the 89 team even more special.
    R.I.P. Terry thanks for the memories you were very special.


  3. Thanks Mills. That’s a great post and so good to hear such a personal history and the way your life played along to the Arsenal. I think the first time favourite players move on it comes as quite a shock, and nothing can ever compare with the glamour that those managers and players had when we were young. After a while we get used to it I suppose, but it’s never quite the same.
    Things may come and things may go but the art school dance goes on forever.


  4. Didn’t Terry do a lot of the match commentaries on the old Arsenal Channel on Sky?


  5. Great memories revived, thank you. I do remember the commentaries. What a great voice for radio and a true understated legend as a player and manager.


  6. I’m not sure how strong Sevilla were yesterday, but I doubt they expected to be 4 down after 20 minutes. I haven’t seen us play with such intensity for a long time and the players looked as if they were enjoying it. Mind you, it helped to be awarded a penalty we’d never get in a million years in the League!
    I do find it strange however that so much faith is being invested in Partey. Quite apart from the off-field situation (and quite apart is doing a lot of work there) he always seems to me a mistake waiting to happen given his ponderous turns into trouble. I’m not sure who we could get to replace him at this stage as I’m guessing he is valued for his physical presence as much as any skills or tactical acumen he might have. Unlike many of you here I do think Arteta is a good coach, so I’d love to know why Partey is seemingly so highly prized.


  7. What a wonderful article. Bought back a few memories.
    Terry Neill deserves a lot of credit for his time at Arsenal, probably more than he gets in some quarters. As has been mentioned, he certainly tried a few things and to get a few decent players. But guess all managers have players they want slip through their fingers, even Arsenals greatest manager.
    I always saw him as a decent manager, caught up in something of a transition, maybe a little confusion on how the team should play, and possibly not helped by those upstairs at the time, and as you mention, some of the great players he lost during his time, not always with him to blame. Some managers get the breaks, as quite a few Chelsea managers seem to, I don’t think TN ever really did. But there will always be that glorious sun drenched cup final . And a few players emerged under his watch who would become club legends.
    Strange he never worked as a manager or coach again, think he ended up running a pub in central London, I am guessing it was his decision to walk away from the game, he must have had offers?


  8. Xhaka rather good, again, yesterday. What a player he is . Surely, even his critics can see what he does?


  9. I think Arteta is a good coach Tim, just have my doubts if he is a good manager. And I agree, Parteys presence is > his skill.


  10. @Heady: Twitter is down on my side of the world and I had to send you an email at work. Check it out.


  11. Got far more emotional than I expected to about the England’s Lionesses win. Hopefully it will inspire more girls to want to play – and me to follow the Arsenal Women more closely.


  12. Folarin Balogun is close to joining Reims on loan


  13. David Ornstein
    🚨 Fulham have reached agreement with Arsenal to sign Bernd Leno. Fee in region of £8m. Final details being sorted between clubs. Personal terms in place. 30yo goalkeeper expected to undergo medical next week before completing move @TheAthleticUK
    #FFC #AFC


  14. so if Balogun is off on loan for the season, are Arsenal leaving themselves a bit short at striker, with only Jesus and Nketiah, do we need to sign another CF


  15. Striker wise I would imagine Martinelli would be our third choice striker and obviously Pepe hasn’t left yet. Saka can also play down the middle although only as a front facing striker.
    As regards to Leno this highlights the mistake with Martinez, imagine the money we would of got for Leno back then.
    Tim your absolutely right I too was surprisingly emotional watching the women’s triumph (must be an age thing) I also thought about Maria once again as such a fantastic supporter of the woman’s game she not only would of enjoyed it but deserved to see it. To miss out by such a small window time was cruel. Every time we have success at youth level or in the women’s game I will remember her.


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