A sad day in the Chelsea family. John Neal, manager from 1981 to 1985 and later board member has passed away on Sunday. He was 82.
Paul Canoville, who was given his Chelsea debut by Neal back in the second division -- a move that carried with it far more significance than just giving youth a chance -- had the thankless task of breaking the news to the social media world.
Since most of us aren't quite old enough to have had a coherent thought or, even, been born during the days of John Neal's Blue and White Army, here's a relevant passage from club historian Rick Glanvill's official Chelsea biography.
Then came "one of the best managers," according to Ken Bates, who soon "inherited" him. John Neal had overturned the dour legacy of Jack Charlton at Middlesbrough, and quit after a boardroom row there. Neal's unpromising start to his career at the Bridge, including a preposterous 6-0 defeat at the hands of mighty Rotherham and culminating in a last-gasp avoidance of relegation to the Third Division in 1983, evolved into the brightest period at Chelsea for years.
"Without a doubt John Neal's greatest asset was that he could pick a good player," says Nigel Spackman, perhaps including himself, a £40,000 signing from Bournemouth in June 1982, in that observation. "You look at the players he signed in very difficult times, with little money, though backed by Ken Bates, and I bet if you examined them he didn't make a bad signing for the club: Eddie [Niedzwiecki, from Wrexham], big Joe [McLaughlin, Greenock Morton], Pat [Nevin, Clyde], Joey Jones, Speedo [David Speedie, Darlington], Mickey T [Thomas]. I think in today's market that's several million spent that they got on a shoestring. Except Kerry, who was another shrewd buy. John knew the way he wanted to play and he knew they were people who could do it for him."
"He also had the bottle to get rid of older players who had been around for years and years who he thought were dead wood. He wasn't a coach, he wasn't a talker, not a ranter and raver. But he had his way of doing things that was successful for him and it was successful for the club too."
John Neal led Chelsea to the second division title in 1983-84, a season up there with Premier League and Champions League title-winning seasons of 20+ years later for generations of fans. He was forced to retire from the game in 1985 due to heart problems.
John Neal of Chelsea receives the Division Two Trophy pic.twitter.com/GyJcmOOC6L— The League Magazine (@Theleaguemag) July 20, 2013
RIP John Neal.