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Former Hull and Arsenal boss gives his verdict on FA Cup final

PUBLISHED: 07:11 16 May 2014 | UPDATED: 09:51 16 May 2014

Terry Neill as player-manager of Hull City in 1971

Terry Neill as player-manager of Hull City in 1971

PA Archive/Press Association Images

Arsenal face Hull City in Saturday’s FA Cup final – and Terry Neill managed both clubs, with the highlight of his career coming when his Arsenal side beat Manchester United 3-2 in the 1979 final. Jem Maidment caught up with him ahead of the Wembley showdown...

People forget Hull is where you started your management career..

“It is a club and a city that will always have a special place in my heart. I always say I worked for the two best chairmen in football; Denis Hill-Wood at the Arsenal – the ‘Old Man’ as we affectionately called him – and Harold Needler at Hull.

It was 1970 and I had hepatitis, which forced me out of the Arsenal team for quite a few months and was unlikely to get back in as the Double team began to take shape. I’d taken my coaching badges and was looking to make the move into management when Bertie Mee told me Hull wanted me as player-manager.

I met Mr Needler a few times – he had a house down in Sloane Square for when he was on business in London – and I liked him a lot so I decided to take up the offer. I’m pleased I did.”

How long were you at Hull for?

“Four years and I really enjoyed it. We were in Division Two and finished a few points off promotion in my first season. We also had a couple of good FA Cup runs but, in all honesty, I inherited an ageing side so I couldn’t do as much as I liked. I sorted the infrastructure out and improved the training facilities massively too. It was a great learning experience, but the other problem I found up there was that I don’t think the locals every truly believed that they could make it to the top flight because they had underachieved for so long.

It is a big city and the support there – or potential support – is huge. You could see that even in 1970. Thankfully now they are a Premier League side – and an established one at that – in a great stadium with big crowds. I always knew the potential was there and it is great it is being fulfilled.”

So are you a little torn as to who you want to win on Saturday?

“I spent far longer at Arsenal and everyone knows where my allegiances lie – I want Arsenal to bring the Cup back to north London. It has been too long. But I am absolutely delighted Hull are in the final – it has been 84 years since they last even got to the semis so it is about time! It is an intriguing final and one that is very personal to me.”

How do you see the game panning out?

“As I said, it is an intriguing one. Arsenal should win this – and they now have their best players back and have won their last five – but Hull’s manager Steve Bruce knows all about the FA Cup. He won a few with Manchester United and has managed lots of teams in the competition. In addition, the pressure is all on Arsenal.

Bruce is an impressive manager who improves clubs, no two ways about it – he knows what he is doing. Hopefully, though, it is the real Arsenal team who turn up – if that is the case they will win the match.

But we all remember the Carling Cup final against Birmingham when that was presented as a formality. Arsenal didn’t turn up and that defeat damaged them.

Bruce will make it very tough and the one thing I will say is they will have to fight to earn the right to play their natural game. If they win they will get huge coverage because the longer this run without a trophy goes on the more the media and the fans will focus on it negatively.”

Will you be there?

“Yes, of course, I am absolutely delighted that the FA have invited me as their guest. I am truly honoured – despite what some people think, the FA do get some things right!”

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