Bob Davies reflects on Ian McNeill’s life and his time at Shrewsbury Town
Former Shrewsbury Town manager Ian McNeill has sadly passed away at the age of 85.
A proud Scot born in Glasgow, he had, in many ways, a long and distinguished career in football, operating as an inside forward for the likes of Aberdeen, Leicester City, Brighton, Southend and Dover before becoming player manager of Ross County, leading them to their first ever Highland League championship in 1965.
Two spells as manager of Wigan Athletic followed and he oversaw their elevation into the Football League in the later 1970s before taking a huge step up the ladder in 1981 when he became assistant manager to John Neal at Chelsea, who were then in the Second Division.
McNeill, though, was renowned for his ability to spot players with potential and he was instrumental his in discovering the likes of Pat Nevin, Joe McLaughlin, David Speedie and Kerry Dixon, who all went on to become legends at Stamford Bridge as they played vital parts in taking Chelsea to promotion in 1983-84.
When Neal was ill the following season McNeill took temporary charge of first team affairs at The Bridge.
It was in 1987 that McNeill arrived at the Gay Meadow to become manager in rather strange circumstances. After Chic Bates was dismissed ex-Norwich City boss Ken Brown was appointed as the Shrews’ boss but after only three weeks in the job he decided it wasn’t for him and he recommended McNeill for the role.
Although in the three years he was in the hot seat McNeill was successful in keeping them in Division Two by finishing in 18th position in his first season, they plunged to 22nd in 1988-89 and were relegated.
However, it was a string of off the field events which perhaps made for three tumultuous years for McNeill at Shrewsbury.
His ability to unearth talent was very much in evidence when he unveiled Victor Kasule, a winger of Scottish-Ugandan descent to the Gay Meadow faithful and he very soon became a darling of the fans.
But it was his off the field exploits which proved to be something of a nightmare for McNeill as one misdemeanour after another followed Kasule around.
He was possessed of amazing skill as a footballer but he very soon earned the reputation of being a prodigious drinker, which frequently got him into hot water with McNeill for breaking the club’s curfew in the days leading up to a match.
He also succeeded in turning over John McGinlay’s car, which he had taken without permission to go and buy some beer, and he broke his toe when celebrating a goal with a flamboyant somersault, although his version of events was somewhat different as he claimed to have been kicked at the moment he fired a shot at goal!
McNeill paid Meadowbank Thistle £35,000 for Kasule but he must have wondered many times whether it was money well spent as dozens of fans were regularly calling him to report alleged incidents of Kasule misbehaving around the town.
Kasule was very much a jack-the-lad, who in many ways made McNeill’s life hell, but for all that the one time Gay Meadow manager will be remembered with a great deal of fondness by the fans for his shrewdness in bringing the extraordinarily talented winger to the club and for the entertainment value provided by Kasule - on and off the field!
On departing the Gay Meadow McNeill became assistant manager to Bruce Rioch at Millwall before returning to what he was best at - talent spotting.
Bolton, Leeds, Norwich and Wigan were among the clubs who relied upon him to find them talent and perhaps his most memorable scouting mission was when he worked for George Graham at Leeds and discovered Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink playing for Boavista.
Ian McNeill’s funeral will be held at Aberdeen Crematorium Hazlehead (West Chapel) at 1:15pm on Monday October 16th.