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John Neal (footballer)

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Full nameJohn Neal

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John Neal (born 3 April 1932 in County Durham) is a former English football player and manager.

Neal was a full-back whose playing career included numerous clubs, including Hull City, Southend United and Swindon Town. His career peaked at Aston Villa, with whom he won the Second Division championship in 1960 and the inaugural League Cup a year later.

In 1968, after retiring, Neal was appointed manager of Wrexham, leading the club into the quarter-finals of the Cup Winners' Cup in 1972 following a Welsh Cup triumph. Two years later, Neal also took the club to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. He later succeeded Jack Charlton at Middlesbrough but left after a disagreement with the board over transfer policy.

Neal was appointed manager of Chelsea in May 1981, with Ian McNeill as his assistant, and inherited a club in turmoil. His early years at the club were unsuccessful, with the side narrowly avoiding relegation to the Third Division during the 1982 83 season with a dramatic win against Bolton Wanderers. However, Neal also proved a shrewd judge of talent as he signed impressive players such as David Speedie, Kerry Dixon, Pat Nevin, Nigel Spackman and Eddie Niedzwiecki for a combined total of less than £500,000. In 1984, just a year after nearly falling to the Third Division, Chelsea were promoted as Second Division champions.

Upon returning to the top tier, the club consolidated its position under Neal and for a time were challenging for a place in Europe (though the events at Heysel that season would have rendered European qualification immaterial anyway). Having finished a nonetheless impressive 6th, Neal retired at the end of the season due to ill-health and underwent heart surgery in 1986. He now lives in Wrexham.

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