Was Terry Neill a great manager? And doubts remain about Gabriel Jesus

By Tony Attwood

A past manager might be hated, loathed and detested in his day, but the chances are he will get a fulsome round of applause upon his passing.  And I know that, whenever called upon so to do, I have tried to show respect for those who have gone before.  Thus I have nothing against the round of applause for Terry Neill, who died at the age of 80, that was heard at the Arsenal stadium today.

But somehow, somewhere, should we not also note that actually, he wasn’t one of our best managers by any measure and the seven and a half years he had as manager took us nowhere in particular.

Neill returned to Arsenal as manager at the age of 34 in 1976.  In the year before he took over, Arsenal came 17th in the league, following the horrible, season-on-season decline in the club under the management of Bertie Mee.  On 16 December 1983, the day Neill was sacked, Arsenal were 16th and fans were in revolt.  The last league home crowd under Neill was 17,384 and Arsenal were haemorrhaging money.

True in the earlier years he had more success, taking us to season endings in positions between 3rd and 10th, and he won one major trophy – the FA Cup.

And yes he took us to two other FA Cup finals and the Cup Winners Cup final, but we lost all of those.

So I really am not saying that we should not pay proper respects to the departed, but it seems to me there is a dividing line somewhere which is being blurred.

On the day Terry Neill was sacked Arsenal were 16th in the League.  Arsenal had just won two of their last eight games.  The last four games were all defeats including a 1-2 home defeat against Walsall in the League Cup in which Arsenal put out their first team.  It rather diminished the value of the victory away to Tottenham in the previous round of the same competition.

So I guess I am saying, in death we remember the good and set aside the bad, and maybe that is right, especially as those who sacked Terry Neill have also long since gone.  But then, if that is the case, should we really be so angry with those who don’t quite live up to our expectations, when they are still alive, as many fans seem to be today.

In his final season at Arsenal, which lasted just 17 games, Terry Neill’s record was won seven, drawn nil, lost ten. That was considerably worse than Arsene Wenger achieved in his last season in which the media and some fans combined to hound him out of the club.  That season the club won 19, drew six and lost 13.

So Wenger was hounded out by “fans” who felt he was damaging the club and not delivering what was their due.   Were any of those “fans” applauding today in the memory of Terry Neill?  I suspect there were some – and if so I wonder if they pondered that point.

Clubs’ fortune rise and fall and Arsenal are unique for their longevity in the top division.   Alongside us in the season when Neill was sacked were Coventry City, (fourth at the moment Neill was forced out), Queens Park Rangers (fifth), Luton Town (seventh), West Bromwich Albion, Ipswich Town, Sunderland, Birmingham, Notts County (now in the fifth tier of English football) and Stoke City.  

Thus clubs rise and fall, even Arsenal, which since 1919 have never fallen down a division,  And yes we should acknowledge of course that Terry Neill as a player and a manager was part of that longevity.  But let us also not forget that the media railed against him, supported as ever by a fair number of Arsenal fans who wanted him removed from the club as quickly as possible.  Let us not pretend it was all sweetness and light – for if we do, how do we ever learn the lessons of history?

He gave us the one trophy the club won in a 15 year spell, and that we should celebrate, just as we should celebrate the lives of many, but some balance is needed somewhere.

But even if you profoundly disagree by my thoughts, let together also remember that on the day that Arsenal supporters applauded the life of Terry Neill, The Guardian ran this line: “Gabriel Jesus seems a more natural fit for Mikel Arteta’s plans at Arsenal than Alexandre Lacazette ever did, even if doubts remain about his finishing.”

It’s a funny old world.

11 Replies to “Was Terry Neill a great manager? And doubts remain about Gabriel Jesus”

  1. I still remember my first ever game in 1968 when Terry Neill, as a player hit the bar with a penalty. We went on to win 3-2 so not all was lost but I still remember the disappointment of that miss to this day.

    On the final topic you raise, i.e. the doubts over the finishing of Jesus…..yep, you’ve got to doubt a bloke who has only scored seven in five games!!

  2. Well Manure had God as a player, now we’ve got Jesus. Guess this ain’t bad, is it ?
    The only thing missing is playing Hell Bells on the sound system when he score…
    Then, as the owners also own an NFL club, this may not be so outlandish after all as it is part of so many games accross the US.

  3. @Mickey,

    fully agree that his record is somehow a deception, he ought have scored a few more but he was too lazy to play all games.

    And it is in no way not to be compared with the way Haaland played yesterday during the not trophy competition that allowed Pool! to covers itself with glory, game in which his contribution was stunning.

    Deadwood journalists

  4. @Mickey,

    just read a nice anagram on Berkampesque…

    The anagram for Odegard is Dear God.


  5. I thought Terry Neill was doing well until we lost Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton, which tore the heart out of the team. We never really replaced either.

    Things could’ve been different if Malcolm McDonald hadn’t retire through injury at a young age or if the we didn’t have Maradona’s work permit turned down due to the Falklands conflict.

    In Neill’s last season we had a horrendous run of injuries which meant that our team was a shadow of what it should’ve been. Remember that teams didn’t have a large squad of players then like they do today.

    At the end of the day, Terry Neill deserved a round of applause because he was a nice bloke who gave it his best shot, even though he never actually achieved greatness at the club. Things could’ve turned out differently if circumstances hadn’t conspired against him.

  6. An interesting stat from the BBC commentator at the start of the England-Germany match tonight:-

    “Leah Williamson has made no tackles in the previous five matches at Euro 2022”.

    It must be an Arsenal thing.

  7. I can remember watching Terry Neill during the Baker/Eastham era. That was a time of hope because of Baker/Eastham, but also a time of other big names who didn’t really do the biz, (Mel Charles, Ian Ure). Or was it the manager’s fault, (Billy Wright). I think Terry Neill probably did as well as his ability allowed as a player, which wasn’t great. I tend to agree with Mark, in that he was a bit unlucky as a manager. He built a team that had some excellent players, O’Leary, Brady, and Stapleton, but he also had some bad luck. You say he achieved only one trophy, the ’79 FA Cup win, but the three successive cup finals were exciting times. I can still vividly remember Alan Sunderland scoring the winner in the ’79 cup final, absolute elation! I see him as a decent bloke who served the club to the best of his abilities in several roles over quite a time span. I would certainly have applauded if I had been there on Saturday. He is part of my memories of the club stretching back to the 1950s. I still chuckle when I remember his comment about a dire display away at Middlesbrough. He said ‘we wouldn’t have beaten 11 dustbins today’. Yes, give the man a round of applause!

  8. Let us not forget that he brought Pat Jennings from the Spuds ! I’d remember Terry Neill as a decent enough manager . We were not going anywhere of note at that moment of time !
    I mostly remember us trying to fight off WBA for the top 4 spot , and often failing ! But I do remember him giving us (and me !) our first trophy , the FA Cup in 1979 , since the double win in 1970-71 .

  9. Just a query Tony regarding Arsene, tell me how many more seasons would you have liked to have seen Wenger continuing as Arsenal manager and would you have liked to still see him in charge at the Emirates today?

  10. Of the reports I have read of the sad demise of Terry Neill, your report is the only one to put the knife in.

  11. A rather curious way to respond to a piece that says
    “So I really am not saying that we should not pay proper respects to the departed, but it seems to me there is a dividing line somewhere which is being blurred.”

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