N is for Neal
After impressing at Northamptonshire-side Wellingborough Town, local product Phil Neal ignited his professional career at the Cobblers before going on to win 23 trophies as a regular at Liverpool and also collecting 50 caps for England while earning a place in the 1982 FIFA World Cup squad.
He played his first season in professional football under 1966 World Cup winner Ron Flowers, after the Cobblers signed Neal as a 17-year-old in 1968. The campaign ended with relegation and Neal saw less game time in the fourth tier.
However, the Irchester-born full-back eventually became a regular in claret and white, playing nearly 200 league matches during his six-year stay at the Cobblers, scoring 28 goals and proving to be one of the club’s most versatile players.
Having kept an eye on Neal’s progress, new Liverpool manager Bob Paisley visited Northampton to watch him play (albeit as a stand-in goalkeeper on one occasion). The then-FA Cup holders paid a reported £66,000 for his services in October 1974, which saw him move up three divisions to the top tier of English football – where he became one of the most decorated players the country has ever seen.
In 11 years on Merseyside, the defender won eight First Division titles as well as five FA Charity Shields, four League Cups, four European Cups (the equivalent of today’s UEFA Champions League), a UEFA Cup, and a UEFA Super Cup.
Neal made 650 appearances for Liverpool in all competitions, including over 360 consecutive league matches, setting a club record that stands to this day. He switched to Bolton Wanderers as a player-manager in 1985, taking his on-field league total past the 700-mark and establishing himself in the club’s hotseat for more than six seasons.
Having won more silverware at Bolton, Neal became an assistant to England manager Graham Taylor, and later managed Coventry City and Cardiff City before fulfilling a stint as caretaker boss at Manchester City. He then moved into media work and wrote two autobiographies on his playing career.