Amateur Star Who Defied Convention
We at Wolves Heroes have been saddened by news of the passing of Pat Neil, a man who made four League appearances for the club and achieved a piece of Molineux history.
The 79-year-old, who also made some unusual imprints in the life of Portsmouth, where he is best known, lost his long fight with leukaemia earlier this month.
What made him particularly unusual was the fact he served both camps only as an amateur and quit the game early to concentrate on a career in education, which brought him a quarter of a century’s employment as a deputy head and headmaster.
We are delighted to have interviewed Pat at length in the summer of 2011, albeit only by phone, and believe we did justice to him in our www.wolvesheroes.com/2011/05/29/thats-what-you-call-a-free-signing piece. Please copy and paste this link if clicking on it doesn’t work for you.
Among the mourners at the funeral at Havant Crematorium yesterday were former Wolves and Pompey centre-forward Ray Crawford and two other men firmly connected with the Fratton Park dressing room from past decades, John Milkins and Dave Munks.
“Pat spent more than 20 years as chairman of the former players’ association down here and was greatly respected for all the time he spent organising dinners, charity days and so on,” said the club’s assistant kit-man and historian, Barry Harris.
“He struggled in recent times with the illness and gave up the position two or three years ago. Alan Knight, our record-breaking former keeper, helps with the workload these days but has unfortunately been away in Turkey this week and had to miss the funeral.
“All Pat’s five children and 16 grandchildren were there and it was a lovely touch to see his and Maureen’s first great-grandson, who was born a couple of days after we all received this sad news, at the service as well.
“Pat lived in Waterlooville and was always interested in any Wolves news I had for him. He was very pleased when he heard I had taken Ray Crawford to the funeral of Peter Broadbent, who was one of my very favourite players.
“He remembered his time at Molineux among those guys very fondly, although he only played something like five first-team games for the club, including a floodlit friendly.”
The winger had played at 15 in the same England schoolboys team as Bobby Charlton and Wilf McGuinness and also became an amateur international while building a club career that saw him installed as Pompey’s youngest first-team player and then, soon afterwards, their youngest senior goalscorer.
There was dismay on the south coast when the winger turned up at Wolves, for whom he made a dramatic entrance by rifling in the goal against Red Banner that maintained the club’s unbeaten home record against foreign opposition. Keeping his place for the First Division game at Maine Road a few days later in December, 1956, he hit the decider in a 3-2 win against Manchester City.
Alas, the stiff competition in his chosen position provided by Jimmy Mullen, Harry Hooper and Norman Deeley restricted his opportunities and the way through become more difficult because of a compulsory national service stint spent first at Exeter and then in Cyprus.
Of his landmark Pompey goal during a 3-3 draw with Blackpool in front of a 37,072 crowd, he said: “‘I just hit the thing and it nearly burst the net!”
He scored another three goals in nine Portsmouth games before his amateur forms expired but he returned to play two more games for his home-city club in 1962-63.
In between, he moved away from the game to study at Cambridge University, playing along the way for famous amateur sides Corinthian Casuals and Pegasus and also later serving Poole and Bath, the latter with Malcolm Allison.
We were delighted to ring Pat last summer with the news that, following a recount in our Afobe to Zyro area, we realised he was the 500th man to play League football for Wolves.