The death of Dave Neville, one of our most successful and inspirational captains, on 26th August 2017 at the age of 75, was greeted with much sadness at Clarence Park.
Dave, after ten years with Finchley where he was captain, joined St Albans City in January 1968 during Sid Prosser’s first season as manager and went to make 281 appearances. City did not run a Reserve term under Prosser but filled the fixture list with extra cup ties, and it was in a 2-0 Premier Midweek League defeat at Hounslow on Wednesday 31stJanuary that Neville made his City debut. The following Tuesday saw Dave play his first game on home soil, as the Saints drew 1-1 with his former club, Finchley, again in the Premier Midweek League.
City ended the season in fifth place in the Isthmian League, their highest placing for 13 years and it was only the third time since 1930 that the Club had finished in the top five of the then single Division Isthmian League. Prosser’s second season at the Park, 1968-69, was a campaign of high drama for the Saints despite the side slipping down two places in the table. The team included some of the greatest City players since the glory days of the 1920s. Dave Lawrence was captain and also in the team were Phil Wood, Denis Gibbs, John Butterfield, Bill Broomfield, Bill Ratty and Bobby Childs. Prosser’s target was the Amateur Cup but a 2ndRound defeat at home to Hendon in front of 3,602 spectators put paid to that dream.
F.A. Cup glory
Compensation was found in the FA Cup where City progressed through to the 2ndRound proper for the first time in 43 years. After a fortuitous replay win over Wycombe Wanderers at the Park, Neville scored during a 3-2 win over Erith & Belvedere. County rivals Hitchin Town, then in the Athenian League, were seen off 2-0 at Top Field and a place in the 1stRound was clinched by a John Butterfield goal away to Southern League side Corby Town. A Bobby Childs penalty in front of over just over three and a half thousand people at Lower Mead earned the Saints a draw against fellow Isthmian’s Wealdstone. For the replay at Clarence Park 5,108 people saw City set up a 2ndRound tie with the Division Three professionals of Walsall courtesy of Dave Neville’s goal just after the interval; it was the highest profile strike of Dave’s 57 goals for the City.
A Bill Ratty goal just five minutes into the Walsall game looked as though it would be enough for Dave to be in a City side claiming its first Football League scalp since 1924. Sadly, Walsall equalised four minutes from time and in front of 10,600 spectators won the replay 3-1 the following Tuesday. It was the highest crowd in front of which Dave played whilst with St Albans but it would have been easily surpassed had City got through, as Tottenham Hotspur awaited the winners. A memorable season ended with Dave picking up three winners medals as City won the Herts Senior, Herts Charity and Wycombe Floodlight cups.
Amateur Cup heartbreak
Prior to the start of the 1969-70 season Dave lined up in a City side that drew 2-2 at Clarence Park with a Tottenham Hotspur team that included then record signing Martin Chivers, future Saints manager Jimmy Neighbour, and also John Pratt, father of midfielder David Pratt who played for 94 times St Albans. City’s most noteworthy addition to an already highly-rated squad for the new season was former Finchley and Barnet winger Tony Turley. The league position remained pretty much unchanged with the side finishing in sixth place, although the fifty-point barrier was reached for the first time under Prosser. The FA Cup proved to be far from lucrative with a 2-1 defeat at Erith & Belvedere coming in the 1stRound Qualifying, but that setback was comfortably offset as Neville and co enjoyed a wonderful run in the Amateur Cup. Three games were required to see off Wembley in the 1stRound before Harwich & Parkeston went the same way in Round Two. Northern League side Tow Law Town were brushed aside 4-0 at the Park before City moved to within touching distance of playing at Wembley with a 2-0 quarter-final win away to Wycombe Wanderers. Ten thousand and two hundred spectators crammed into the sloping Loakes Park ground to see City reach the last four on the back of goals from John Oxley and John Butterfield. In the semi-final City were pitted against Athenian League side Dagenham, managed by Ted Hardy, and with a poor performance were fortunate to force a replay with Butterfield scoring again during a 1-1 draw at The Den, Millwall. St Albans were in excellent form the replay at Luton Town’s Kenilworth Road ground but their finishing was found to be wanting and Prosser’s side, in going down 1-0, became the fourth City side to reach but fail to go beyond the semi-final of the Amateur Cup. For Neville it was the second time that he’d come within 90 minutes of reaching the Amateur Cup Final. In 1965 he was in the Finchley side that lost 4-1 to Hendon in the semi-final at Highbury. Also in the Finchley side that day were fellow one-time St Albans players Bill Ratty, Vic Lucas, Les Eason and Tony Turley.
Dave did add a second Herts Charity Cup winners medal to his collection before the season was out but the more prestigious London Senior Cup slipped through City’s fingers with a 4-2 defeat to Hitchin Town in the final at Southbury Road, Enfield; Les Burgess scored both of the City goals.
Title challenge but more Amateur Cup misery
After the good FA Cup run of 1968-69 and then Amateur Cup run of 1969-70, St Albans City were fancied for honours during the 1970-71 campaign with the Amateur Cup again high on the agenda. An own goal by Bromley defender Danny McAllister salvaged a 3-3 1stRound draw for City at Hayes Lane before Neville, now the City captain and affectionately known as ‘Chopper’, headed in the opening goal during a 4-0 victory in the replay, it was his first goal in the competition for St Albans. For the 2ndRound City had to make the short journey to face Boreham Wood. Although struggling in the Athenian League Vinny Cook’s Wood side were building a good reputation as cup-fighters. Neville headed City into a first half lead but in the biggest shock of the Round Wood, in front of a then record attendance at Broughinge Road of 2,500, snatched a sensational 2-1 victory. City, one of the tournament favourites, were out and the pain of that defeat lingered for the rest of the campaign.
City made good progress in the FA Cup with Neville leading the side to victory over Marlow and then, against the odds, a 3-2 replay win away to Southern League side Bedford Town. Leighton Town provided stubborn resistance before succumbing 2-1 at the Park to set up a final qualifying round tie at fellow Isthmian’s Hendon. There was a certain amount of ill-feeling between the clubs at this time, in no small part due to Hendon players being regularly picked for England while Prosser’s talented side was continually overlooked. The sides drew 0-0 at Claremont Road before Hendon won a stormy replay at Clarence Park three days later, 2-1. Hendon goalkeeper John Swannell was attacked as was the Hendon supporters coach.
St Albans form in the Isthmian League was consistent throughout the season with Prosser’s side scoring the club’s highest number of league goals for 44 years and conceding the least for 49 years. Unfortunately, such form was not enough to deny Wycombe Wanderers the title but the champions were beaten at the Park and the double was completed over second placed Sutton United. The home game with Sutton saw City trailing two-nil with six minutes remaining before the Saints stormed to an astonishing 4-2 victory with defender Les Burgess sparking the goal rush. Three days later Dave ended a personal run of 13 games without a goal when scoring four times during a 10-0 Mithras Cup win over Ruislip Manor – City had already won the 1stleg 7-0.
St Albans City 1970-71:
Back Mike Pardey, John Oxley, Les Burgess, Trevor Howard, Ray Bloxham, Paul White, Phil Wood
Front: Les Picking, Roger Grant, Bobby Childs, Dave Neville (Captain), John Butterfield, Tony Roberts
Inset: Paul Collett. Mascot: Stephen Eldridge.
The league title and Amateur Cup may have passed City by but the season did not end trophy-less as a Bobby Childs header defeated Enfield in the London Senior Cup final at Barnet. The London Senior Cup was a prestigious competition at this time and the photograph of Dave Neville grinning broadly with his front teeth clearly missing as he holds the cup aloft at Underhill is one of the abiding images of the era. Chopper lost his teeth not when playing football but cricket whilst still at school.
City’s final match of the season, Dave’s 200thfor the club, saw him on the scoresheet as Hitchin Town were defeated 2-1 at Top Field in the semi-final of the Herts Charity Cup; the final was held over until the early weeks of the following season when a goal by teenager Stewart Atkins saw off Cheshunt and enabled Neville to add another winners medal to the growing collection. At the conclusion of the 1970-71 campaign Dave and the rest of the First team squad headed off, with their partners, for a one-week holiday in Spain.
City Dream Fades
The 1971-72 season was the last of Sid Prosser’s first spell with St Albans City and cracks had begun to appear during the campaign. The title challenge of the previous season did not materialise with City finishing in seventh place, 15 points (two for a win) adrift of champions Wycombe who were beaten at Clarence Park by a wonder goal by Neville following a pass by John Mitchell. The following Saturday saw Chopper on the scoresheet again as Oxford City went down 8-0 at the Park with Mitchell scoring four.
City’s FA Cup campaign ended abruptly with a 3-0 Preliminary Round defeat at Romford and our Amateur Cup run again failed to get past the Second Round. Harwich & Parkeston, on the back of a spectacular display by goalkeeper and future manager Tony Armstrong, held out for a draw on the Essex coast but went down 4-0 at the Park with Dave finally ending their resistance with a glorious strike from fully 35 yards. But the run ended amid controversy and in a blood bath at Slough Town’s Dolphin Stadium. Fewer than 20 minutes had passed when Neville, who scored the first City goal, was kicked and Bill Ratty ran across to help his team mate only to be given a broken jaw in a clash with Slough captain Roger Day. The Athenian League club secured a 3-2 victory with a highly disputed penalty four minutes from time. Hendon ended City’s reign as London Senior Cup holders but Neville did step forward to collect the Mithras Cup and Herts Charity Cup.
With the likes of John Butterfield, Bobby Childs and Tony Turley having long since left the scene St Albans were in decline and Prosser announced his departure shortly before the end of the 1971-72 season. Dave Neville took over as caretaker manager and kicked off with a surprise 2-0 win at Claremont Road that ended Hendon’s year-long unbeaten home record. His run as boss lasted for just eight games and included five wins. In his final game before John Drabwell was appointed as manager, Neville scored the goal against Ilford that took City through to the Mithras Cup final in which he scored twice during a 4-0 1stLeg win at home to Tilbury. He scored five times in the final seven games of the season including notching the deciding goal in the last match of the season; a 2-1 win over Boreham Wood in the final of the Herts Charity Cup.
Side breaks up and Chopper moves on
Phil Wood joined the exodus from Clarence Park during the summer of 1972 and, just like Butterfield and Turley, soon became an England international. Neville stuck with the Saints but Drabwell’s rebuilding of the team went disastrously wrong and following a 3-0 Isthmian League defeat at Hitchin Town on 10thOctober Chopper, along with Roger Grant, quit the club. Drabwell was dismissed the following month.
After leaving Clarence Park Chopper signed for Hayes who were in their second season as members of the Isthmian League. Neville later returned to his former club Finchley and went onto manage the north London club but did don the City colours one last time on 14thMay 1977, as a member of the City Past team that beat the Present team 4-3 in Phil Wood’s Testimonial match.
Dave was born in Wood Green on 10thFebruary 1942 and played for the Wood Green District Schoolboys as well as Middlesex and London Schools. He had a trial with Arsenal and during ten-years with Finchley played representative matches for Middlesex, London and the FA Amateur XI. He worked as a draughtsman throughout his life based in Deptford.
He was married to Jill with the couple having godchildren and with his second wife Joan he had a son, Jonathan. He had two brothers, Stephen and Mick. After retiring, Dave and Joan bought a house in Austria and he became a most proficient skier.
Dave Neville passed away on 26thAugust 2017, after battling against Alzheimer’s, the funeral was held at Enfield Crematorium on Wednesday, 13thSeptember, at 12.30pm. The family displayed a St Albans City flag at the wake to mark the significance that the Club had in his life. Amongst the mourners was a teammate of Dave’s from the Sid Prosser era, John Oxley.