Phil Neal: Right Man, Right Place

Phil Neal, Liverpool (Photo by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images)

Phil Neal was Bob Paisley’s first signing in October 1974. He cost £66,000 from Northampton Town. Paisley had intended to break Neal in as a replacement for the ageing Chris Lawler, meaning that he initially played at left back. However it would be his industrious and energetic displays at right back where he made his name. Phil made 23 appearances in season 1974/75 but Liverpool finished empty handed in Bob Paisley’s first season as Liverpool manager. The following season was different. Liverpool were pushed all the way in the First Division by QPR, but they won the Championship by one point. In Europe Liverpool went all the way to the UEFA Cup Final against Brugge. In the 1st leg at Anfield Liverpool came back from 2-0 down to win 3-2, with goals from Ray Kennedy, Jimmy Case and a Kevin Keegan penalty. In the 2nd leg in Belgium Kevin Keegan’s free kick earned Liverpool a 1-1 draw and they won their second UEFA Cup 4-3 on aggregate. Phil Neal also made his England debut against Wales in 1976 and would go on to earn 50 caps scoring 5 goals for his country.

1976 Phil Neal poses with the UEFA Cup, Charity Shield and First Division Championship

Phil was now firmly established as Liverpool’s right back, with his ability to bring the ball forward and sound defensive positioning a key feature of his play. He made 59 appearances in 1975/76 and scored 7 goals. Liverpool were favourites to retain the title in 1976/77 but they were pushed all the way by Manchester City eventually winning the Championship by a single point. Neal was now the Liverpool penalty taker and he scored an impressive 13 goals as Liverpool reached the FA Cup Final after beating Everton in a replay. The first game ended in a 2-2 draw but Everton had a late winner controversially disallowed by referee Clive Thomas. In Europe Liverpool overcame French Champions St Etienne in a memorable night at Anfield with ‘Super Sub’ David Fairclough scoring a famous winner. In the semi final Phil scored from the spot as Liverpool overcame FC Zurich 6-1 on aggregate. On the 21st May Manchester United ended hopes of a first League and Cup Double beating Bob Paisley’s men 2-1 at Wembley. Liverpool had just a few days to pick themselves up before the biggest game in their history.

On the 25th of May Liverpool faced West German Champions B.Monchengladbach in a repeat of the 1973 UEFA Cup Final which the Reds won 3-2 on aggregate. A crowd of 57,000 were in Rome with an estimated 40,000 of them Liverpool fans. Bob Paisley made just one change from the FA Cup Final with veteran Ian Callaghan replacing David Johnson. Liverpool took the lead in the 28th minute when Terry McDermott finished off a fine flowing move and Liverpool lead 1-0 at half time. The Germans pushed forward at the start of the second half and Denmark striker Alan Simonsen fired an equaliser. They almost took the lead but Ray Clemence made a great save to deny Uli Stielike a few minutes later. In the 64th minute Liverpool went ahead when Tommy Smith headed home Steve Heighway’s corner. Kevin Keegan playing his last game for Liverpool was a constant threat to the German defence and he was brought down by Berti Vogts to give Liverpool a penalty on 83 minutes. Phil Neal calmly sent the goalkeeper the wrong way from the spot and Liverpool won a famous 3-1 victory. Bob Paisley’s men were now Kings of Europe.

1977 European Cup Final Rome: Phil Neal scores a penalty against B.Monchengladbach

1977 Liverpool players celebrate winning the European Cup in Rome

In 1977/78 Liverpool retained the European Cup at Wembley as Kenny Dalglish’s goal was enough to beat Brugge. Phil did not miss a game and played 61 times that season scoring 6 goals. In 1978/79 Liverpool swept all before them winning the First Division with a record points total: P42 W30 D8 L4 F85 A16 PTS 68 which would be 98 points today under 3 points for a win. Liverpool were unbeaten at Anfield and many people regard the 1978/79 squad as Liverpool’s greatest ever team. Neal made another 54 appearances scoring 5 goals. In 1979/80 Phil was an ever present again as Liverpool retained the Championship two points clear of Manchester United.

1980 Phil Neal kisses the First Division Championship trophy at Anfield

Now firmly established in Ron Greenwood’s team, Phil appeared twice in Euro 1980 in Italy but England were eliminated after a 1-0 defeat to the hosts. 1980/81 was a very poor season by Liverpool’s high standards as they slumped to 5th place behind Champions Aston Villa. In the League Cup Liverpool beat West Ham 2-1 in a replay to win the trophy for the first time. In the European Cup Liverpool reached the semi final against Bayern Munich but a goal less draw in the 1st leg at Anfield set up a daunting 2nd leg in Munich. The Germans were so confident of victory that the distributed leaflets with directions to the Final in Paris. Liverpool had other ideas and substitute Howard Gayle tormented Bayern’s defence before skipper Ray Kennedy’s late away goal was enough to send Liverpool into another final.

On the 27th May 1981 Liverpool faced Real Madrid in the European Cup Final in Paris. In a tight game of few chances, it was Alan Kennedy who became the unlikely hero scoring the only goal from a narrow angle in the 82nd minute. Bob Paisley became the first manager to win the European Cup three times and it was Liverpool’s third win in three finals. It was a memorable night and the fans turned Paris red that night.

1981 European Cup Final Alan Kennedy and Phil Neal lift the European Cup in Paris

In 1981/82 Liverpool retained the League Cup beating Tottenham 3-1 at Wembley. In the league Liverpool were in 12th place going into 1982 but a long 16 game unbeaten run including 13 wins, saw Bob Paisley’s men Champions again. In the Summer Neal played in the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Phil was nicknamed ‘Zico’ by Liverpool fans the following season as his 11 goals in 1982/83 helped Liverpool retain the title and the League Cup again, beating Manchester United in Bob Paisley’s last game at Wembley. Phil Neal’s consistency was remarkable. He made a staggering 417 consecutive appearances for Liverpool from October 1976 to September 1983. He also made a club record 366 consecutive league appearances from December 1974 until September 1983.

In 1983/84 Joe Fagan took over from Bob Paisley but the trophies continued to roll in. Neal made a very impressive 64 appearances that season as Liverpool won their fourth League Cup in a row, beating Everton in a replay thanks to an early Graeme Souness goal. The Reds won the Championship for the third year in a row and in Europe, a string of fine away performances were enough to send Liverpool into their fourth European Cup Final.

On the 30th May 1984 Liverpool faced Roma in their own Olympic stadium. It was a daunting prospect but the Italians were under huge pressure to lift the trophy. In the 13th minute Phil Neal pounced on a loose ball in the box to fire Liverpool ahead. It was his second goal in a European Cup Final, ironically both were scored in Rome.

1984 European Cup Final Phil Neal scores to give Liverpool the lead in Rome

Roma fought back and equalised before half time. In the second half both teams probed each other but created few chances. Graeme Souness captaining Liverpool in his last game for the club dominated the midfield and slowed down the pace of the game. Mark Lawrenson and Alan Hansen superbly marshalled the Liverpool defence and the game went to penalties after a 1-1 draw. Steve Nicol blazed over the first spot kick and Roma took the lead. Neal stroked home his penalty as did Souness and Ian Rush. Bruce Grobbelaar’s ‘wobbly legs’ famously put off the Roma’s Conti and Graziani and that meant that if Alan Kennedy scored Liverpool would win. He sent the goalkeeper the wrong way to give Liverpool victory 4-2 on penalties. Joe Fagan became the first English manager to win a Treble: League Championship, League Cup and European Cup. It was arguably Liverpool’s greatest ever victory and it gave Phil his fourth winners medal. Neal was the only man to play in all four of Liverpool European Cup Finals.

1984 European Cup Final Phil Neal and Alan Kennedy lift the trophy in Rome.

In 1984/85 Phil Neal replaced Graeme Souness as Liverpool captain. However it was an unhappy season. Early exists in both the League Cup and FA Cup were followed by a poor league season as neighbours Everton stormed to the First Division Championship. In Europe Liverpool fought their way to their fifth European Cup Final but on a tragic night at the Heysel stadium in Brussels, Juventus won 1-0 in game overshadowed by rioting which resulted in the death of 39 fans. Joe Fagan resigned after the game and cried on his return to the airport. Liverpool and all English clubs were banned from Europe. Kenny Dalglish became Player/Manager much to Phil’s frustration, as he felt that he had been promised the job. With Steve Nicol now playing regularly at right back Neal left in November 1985 to become Bolton Wanderers manager. He had played 650 games and scored 59 goals for Liverpool. In total he won a total of 8 Championship’s, 4 European Cups, 1 UEFA Cup and 1 Super Cup, 4 League Cups and 5 Charity Shield’s making him one of the most decorated Englishmen ever to play the game.

In August 1985 Liverpool faced Everton in Phil Neal’s Testimonial at Anfield. A crowd of 23,000 paid their respects to one of the club’s all time greats.

Sport, Football, pic: 12th August 1985, Phil Neal Testimonial Match, Liverpool 2 v Everton 3, Liverpool’s Phil Neal waves to the crowd with his son Ashley, Phil Neal won 16 major honours with Liverpool and a total of 50 England international caps from the full back position (Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: