Sad to hear today of the passing of former Chelsea manager JOHN NEAL.
Neal oversaw an extraordinary period in Chelsea's history turning the club around into a major force in the top flight. After taking over the reigns of Geoff Hurst as manager in 1981, the following seasons were two of the most difficult seasons the club had ever seen.
Huge financial restrictions kept Neal's budget to its limits, but he had a canny knack of findings gems for little or no money. David Speedie, for instance, picked up from Darlington in 1982 for £70,000. Success was hard to find on the field though, only a memorable FA Cup win over Liverpool standing out.
The 1982/83 season almost ended in disaster, with the club's future hanging in the balance and relegation to the Third Division a real possibility for a long time.
Chairman Ken Bates kept faith with Neal and the summer of 1983 brought the best out of his bargain hunting and rebuilding skills. The following season turned into one of Chelsea's most entertaining seasons, as the team gelled quickly the results started coming. Amazingly they achieved the long-awaited return to the First Division by clinching the Second Division Championship.
Neal then carried on the good work on their return to the top flight, as an impressive 6th place finish and a League Cup Semi-Final appearance showed.
Sadly that was to be his last season as Chelsea manager, as ill-health prevented him from carrying on. He moved 'upstairs' to stay with the club, but somehow he seemed to slip away from the limelight. Perhaps not surprisingly, as the quietly spoken man would probably have preferred it.
John Neal will forever be part of Chelsea's history and the period he was in charge has become legend amongst the club's fans.
His career also took in successful stints as manager at Wrexham and Middlesbrough. He also enjoyed a productive playing career with Hull City, Swindon Town, Aston Villa and Southend United. He also won the first ever League Cup in 1961 as Villa beat Rotherham United.