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John Neal’s spell as manager of Wrexham between September 1968 and June 1977 marked a crucial era in the club’s history. Indeed, you could reasonably call him the father of the modern club, as it was he who established a reputation for developing youthful talent which would stand the club in good stead throughout the 1970s, while his success laid the foundations for the most magnificent season in our 150 year history.
As a result, the statistics generated by his time in the hot seat are impressive. Only one manager has been at the Racecourse helm longer than Neal, who held the post for eight seasons: Brian Flynn broke that club record during a tenure which fell just short of twelve years. Neal was also assistant to Alvan Williams before taking over from him though, and spent fourteen years at the club in total.
During that time Neal took charge of four hundred and five league matches. During that time he led the team to promotion, consolidated the club’s new position in Division Three and then led it to tilt at promotion to the league above which came agonisingly close to success. Considering the length of his spell in charge, his win percentage of 42.2% in highly impressive: only Andy Morrell has ever won over half his league games for the club.
Neal’s loss percentage is truly remarkable as he lost just 31.1% of his league games, which is quite a feat over such a long period of time. Indeed, only three men can claim to have lost less frequently in the league, and only one of them achieved that feat in the Football League as Neal did. That man is Jack Rowley, who lost just 28.8% of his games in the late 1960s, but to make a fair comparison one should bear in mind that he was only in charge for sixteen months.
The other two managers who have superior loss ratios are Dean Saunders, with 29.7%, and inevitably the man who dominates the managerial statistics, Morrell with 26.5%.
Beyond the figures, of course, Neal is the only man to lead the club to the last eight of a continental competition, when we reached the quarter finals of the European Cup Winners Cup in 1976 and lost narrowly to Anderlecht, and was the first manager to take Wrexham to the same stage in the FA Cup. With two Welsh Cup wins under his belt, as well as a defeat in the final, to add to the promotion earned in 1970, plus the development of young talents such as Joey Jones and Mickey Thomas, Neal’s reign certainly was a golden era.
But of course mere cold figures cannot go anywhere towards encapsulating the contribution made to Wrexham Football Club of a man whose commitment to its success was instrumental in raising it to the highest level in its history. In this most historic of years we have lost a man who was one of our true greats.