The Encylopedia of British Football

Andy Neil

Andrew (Andy) Neil was born in Kilmarnock on 18th November 1895. He played local football in Scotland before joining Brighton & Hove Albion in 1920. Neil spent four seasons at Brighton and during this time scored 22 goals in 129 games.

In March 1924, Leslie Knighton was the manager of Woolwich Arsenal, paid £3,000 for Neil. He made his debut against Nottingham Forest on 15th March 1924. However, he was unable to hold his place in the first-team and spent most of the season in the reserves.

Henry Norris sacked Leslie Knighton at the end of the 1924-25 season. In the summer of 1925 Herbert Chapman, the highly successful manager of Huddersfield Town, was persuaded to join Arsenal. Whereas Huddersfield had won the championship, Arsenal had narrowly escaped relegation by finishing in 20th position.

At that time most teams played in the 2-3-5 formation. This system dominated football until 1925 when the Football Association decided to change the offside rule. The change reduced the number of opposition players that an attacker needed between himself and the goal-line from three to two. Charlie Buchan suggested to Herbert Chapman, that the team should exploit this change in the law to create a new playing formation. At that time the centre-half played a much more attacking role. Buchan argued that the club should now have a more defence-minded player in that position and that he, rather than the two full-backs, should take responsibility for the offside trap. Buchan added that the full-backs should play just in front of the centre-half whereas one of the inside-forwards should act as a link between attack and defence. The formation was therefore changed from 2-3-5 to 3-3-4.

Herbert Chapman did not accept Buchan's suggestion at first. However, after Newcastle United beat Arsenal 7-0, Chapman called a player conference. According to Tom Whittaker, Buchan suggested: "Why not have a defensive centre-half, or third full-back, to block the gap down the middle?" Buchan added that one of the inside-forwards should drop back and become a link between defence and attack. This later became known as the "WM" formation.

Charlie Buchan wanted to play the roving inside-forward role. However, Herbert Chapman disagreed and selected veteran Andy Neil to become the link man in the system. At the time Neil was playing in the third-team. Chapman argued that Neil was "as slow as a funeral but has ball control" and could pass the ball accurately.

In the 1925-26 season Arsenal finished in second-place to Chapman's old club, Huddersfield Town. Top scorer was Jimmy Brain who established a new club record with 33 goals. Neil played in 27 games that season. However, the following year he lost his place to Jimmy Ramsey.

Andy Neil returned to Brighton & Hove Albion in March 1926. After playing 38 games for the club he joined Queen's Park Rangers. Over the next few years he played in 106 games for QPR.

Andy Neil died in 1941.