Star-spotter Ian McNeill had an eye for a player
One of Ian McNeill’s biggest Town success stories didn’t even know where Shrewsbury was.
Striker John McGinlay was persuaded to move to Gay Meadow by McNeill, Town’s former boss who passed away last Friday, aged 85.
But it is little surprise, given both McNeill’s track record at finding gems and McGinlay’s for finding the net, that their spell together at the Meadow is recalled fondly.
Glaswegian boss McNeill joined Shrewsbury in December 1987 on the recommendation of Ken Brown, his predecessor. Brown was still reeling from his dismissal at former club Norwich so, after seven days in charge, decided to quit and recommended McNeill to Town bosses.
McNeill and McGinlay spent just under a year together but would meet again at Bolton Wanderers, where McNeill was chief scout.
It is no surprise that McNeill, a former player-boss at Ross County and Wigan chief, plucked McGinlay from Scottish club Elgin City.
“Ian had watched me a few times because I’d been scoring goals, and his son – also called Ian – had come up to see me play again,” said McGinlay.
“Gerry Gow, who had been my manager at Yeovil Town, had just taken a job at Weymouth and said he wanted to sign me. In fact, I was due to pick him up at the airport.
“Ian read in the paper about the deal and the next thing I know I’m being told a chap called McNeill wants to sign me – I thought it was Billy and I was going to Celtic.
“When they told me it was Shrewsbury, I’ll be honest, I had no idea where that was.
“I spoke to Ian on the phone, he told me what he had planned. I still had to pick Gerry up and tell him I wasn’t going to sign.”
McGinlay made his debut from the bench at Walsall in February 1989 and netted five times before the end of the 88/89 season – including three in three consecutive games – but was unable to save Town from relegation.
He would go on to thrash in 29 goals in 65 appearances for Town before leaving in July 1990. The striker, who went on to become a club legend at Bolton, was one in a long line of exciting players McNeill brought to Shrewsbury.
Vic Kasule, Dougie Bell and Tony Kelly were others, meaning that despite the club’s relegation back to the third tier in 1988/89, the time is still remembered for some talented footballers.
McGinlay explained how McNeill would ‘think nothing’ of driving 300 miles to watch a reserve game if he’d had a tip off.
His Bolton record at uncovering gems is eye-catching. Owen Coyle, Mixu Paatelainen, Alan Thompson, David Lee, Gudni Bergsson and Sasa Curcic to name a few.
He brought David Speedie, Gordon Durie and Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink to Elland Road while Leeds scout.
Even later in his life, McNeill was ahead of the game. According to Bruce Rioch, who he was assistant under at Millwall before they worked together at Bolton, he had an ‘unparalleled’ eye for a player.
“Some years later we were guests in the boardroom at Bolton and talking about this kid, Cristiano Ronaldo, who had just signed at Manchester United,” said Rioch.
“A lot of people thought he was a bit flashy and didn’t have enough substance but Ian piped up and said ‘this boy will be the star of football one day.’ And how right he was.”
McNeill is survived by his wife, Sheila, son Ian and daughter Carole. His funeral will be held in his hometown of Aberdeen on Monday. McGinlay and former Town centre-back David Moyes are due to attend.
McGinlay added. “I took my son, Craig, and visited my dad’s grave and then to see him Ian his 80th birthday. He was in great spirits and telling stories about all the lads he’d worked with.”