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NHS staff deserve meaningful rewards not just medals, says former Northern Ireland boss Terry Neill


Crucial work: Terry Neill has revealed that NHS heroics during the Covid-19 crisis has brought back memories of how wonderful medical staff saved his life as a child

Crucial work: Terry Neill has revealed that NHS heroics during the Covid-19 crisis has brought back memories of how wonderful medical staff saved his life as a child

Starring for Arsenal in 1967

Starring for Arsenal in 1967

Getty Images

Crucial work: Terry Neill has revealed that NHS heroics during the Covid-19 crisis has brought back memories of how wonderful medical staff saved his life as a child

Former Arsenal, Tottenham and Northern Ireland boss Terry Neill has revealed the heroics of the NHS staff during the coronavirus pandemic have brought memories back to him from decades ago when he was a young boy and caring doctors and surgeons saved his life.

Neill, now 77 and living with wife Sandra near Brighton, enjoyed a fabulous career. The Bangor native won 59 caps and shone with Arsenal for 11 years up until 1970 before joining Hull City, where he became player-manager.

He did the same double role for his country prior to being appointed boss of Spurs and then Arsenal, who he took to three FA Cup finals in a row between 1978 and 1980 and the Cup Winners' Cup decider 40 years ago.

Later he would work for Fifa, advise the government on football matters, run a popular sports bar in London and be heavily involved in a media management company in Covent Garden.

In reflective mood on lockdown because of Covid-19, Neill says none of that would have been possible without the quick thinking and expertise of NHS staff when he was just nine.

Neill says from that day he always saw those working for the NHS as the most important people in the country, insisting that they deserve a "meaningful thank you rather than just medals" as has been suggested in some quarters.

"With the coronavirus and all the praise that the NHS staff have rightly been receiving, it takes me back to when they saved my life at the age of nine," recalled Neill, dad to Tara and Abigail.

"I had a serious fall in the scout house in Bangor one Friday night when I ruptured all my intestines. If it hadn't been for Doctor Nixon, who was the local doctor, getting me into an ambulance to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast and the surgeons in the Royal saving me, I wouldn't be here.

"I remember it like it was yesterday with my sister (Phyllis) shouting at me, 'Don't die, don't die' and the bumps in the road in the ambulance from Bangor to Belfast. I still have the scar down my stomach.

"The surgeons and specialists did an incredible job in the Royal Victoria and saved my life. But for the quick thinking and brilliant work of the NHS staff, there would have been no Arsenal, Northern Ireland or any of that.

"Now the NHS staff are saving many more lives in this pandemic, doing their usual wonderful self-sacrificing and caring work.

"It is good to see people out applauding their efforts at 8pm every Thursday night but I really hope that they get a meaningful thank you rather than just receiving little medals here and there.

"It troubles me that so many of the world leaders have been slow to get the wheels in motion to help these remarkable people in the NHS in the fight against the coronavirus.

"Life and saving lives is the ultimate and the staff in hospitals and care homes are putting themselves on the frontline morning, noon and night.

"When this is all over I sincerely hope that they are considered and thought of correctly by the powers that be for what they are doing now and what they have done in the past. I cannot thank them enough. To me, they have always been the most important people in the country."

Neill is a people person and the life and soul of any party. He and wife of 50 years Sandra have been missing seeing their four grandchildren in lockdown and would like to visit his sister Phyllis back home, but the man who scored a winning goal for Northern Ireland at Wembley against England in 1972 says he is comfortable with the guidelines and social distancing in place.

"We are trying to be sensible. We will do shopping when we need to and go for a walk. You have to obey the rules and get on with it," said Neill.

"We miss our grandkids but you have to do the right thing. I love company and have always been in a team environment or with a bunch of pals but I am very happy as well with my own company. The isolation doesn't bother me because it is something we have to do to try and help.

"I still speak to my friends regularly through FaceTime and I like to read. My daughter Tara is in Washington DC and is the most kind and generous girl and keeps sending me over books. Quite a few are about President Trump and I also like to read horrors or thrillers. I go right across the sphere.

"I have also been watching some of the old games that have been on TV lately, though I leave the gardening to Sandra who is very good at it."

There is a growing desire and pressure for big time football to return on the pitch, but Neill warned: "In this situation, foremost in the minds of those making the decisions should be saving lives. Forget about winning games, promotion or relegation. The most important thing in the world right now is saving lives."

Belfast Telegraph