Belfast Telegraph

Neal hailed for Chelsea revival

John Neal has been hailed as the man who restored pride to Chelsea after it was announced the former Blues manager died on Sunday.

He passed away at the age of 82 after a long career in football which took in Hull, Swindon, Aston Villa and Southend as a player and Wrexham, Middlesbrough and Chelsea as a manager.

Neal took over Chelsea at a time when financial problems were crippling the club, but the manager's eye for a bargain - notably the small-fee signings of Kerry Dixon and Pat Nevin - helped get the Blues back on track both on and off the field.

That seems a far cry from the Chelsea of today, bankrolled by the billions of Roman Abramovich and a fixture in Premier League title races and cup competitions.

But a statement released to Press Association Sport from the Chelsea Supporters Trust paid tribute to the work Neal did in much more testing circumstances.

"John Neal managed Chelsea during an uncertain and difficult time in their history," a Trust spokesman said.

"They had no money, a crumbling ground and, when he took over in 1981, a dismal team languishing in Division Two. For the first two years of his reign the team continued to struggle but chairman Ken Bates had faith in him and in summer 1983 he cleared out the underachievers and brought in, comparatively cheaply, half a dozen hungry young players from the lower divisions and Scotland. The transformation was immediate.

"He bought players like Pat Nevin, Kerry Dixon, Joe McLaughlin and Nigel Spackman, merged them with home grown loyalists like John Bumstead and Colin Pates and created, in the 1983/84 promotion team, arguably the most vibrantly attacking team Chelsea have ever produced.

"Supporters lucky enough to see that team play still discuss it with reverence.

"The away support that season was unbelievable, thousands travelling all over the country to watch a slick, vibrant team win the Division Two title.

"Faith had been restored and, arguably, Chelsea have never looked back. Sadly John Neal had to retire in the summer of 1985 through ill health, a year after promotion, but he will be remembered by Chelsea supporters as a hard working, dedicated man who gave us back our pride, created a team we could be proud of and got Chelsea back into the top flight.

"'Johnny Neal's Blue and White Army' is still chanted now, a sign of the respect in which he is still held. RIP John Neal and thank you."

The club announced the news on Monday morning and gave their own fitting eulogy of his time at Chelsea.

"Chelsea Football Club is deeply saddened by the passing of John Neal, one of the most significant and loved managers in our history," the club said in a statement.

"To this day those years when the team that John built flourished remain among the very favourite Chelsea seasons for fans who lived through them.

"It is no exaggeration to suggest there might not be a Chelsea Football Club today had he not made such a success of dealing with crisis and getting the team back on its feet."

Appointed by Chelsea in 1981 as successor to Geoff Hurst, Neal prevented the Blues from slipping into the Third Division and in 1984 guided them to the Second Division title.

He had to stand down in 1985 due to heart surgery and was appointed to the club's board of directors and he never managed again.

Prior to being at Chelsea, Neal had made a huge impression at Wrexham.

Appointed in 1968, he twice took them into the European Cup Winners' Cup owing to their Welsh Cup successes, with brave defeats to Hajduk Split and Anderlecht ending their runs.

He spent four years with Middlesbrough after replacing Jack Charlton in 1977, before the start of his memorable spell at Stamford Bridge.

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