EXCLUSIVE: Terry Neill's love affair with Arsenal and Hull

Arsenal may be his first love, but Hull City, the next visitors to The Emirates Stadium, will always hold a special place in the heart of Terry Neill. The Northern Irishman is the only person to have managed the two clubs and remains, nearly 40 years on,

Arsenal may be his first love, but Hull City, the next visitors to The Emirates Stadium, will always hold a special place in the heart of Terry Neill.

The Northern Irishman is the only person to have managed the two clubs and remains, nearly 40 years on, indebted to the footballing outpost on the east Yorkshire coast for kickstarting his managerial career.

"Arsenal versus Hull City was a top-flight fixture I was hoping to see in my time at Hull, but, alas, it wasn't to be," Neill told Ham&High Series Sport ahead of Saturday's match.

"I am genuinely delighted that it has finally happened and I was there with my wife Sandra cheering them on at Wembley in the play-off final win over Bristol City last May after receiving a kind invitation from the club.

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"The fact is, I have nothing but wonderful memories of my time at Hull. I was a young man who was given the perfect base to learn the trade.

"I had four years up there and still, after all these years, keep in touch with people from my time at the club - it was a super experience."

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Neill had left Highbury in the summer of 1970 after nine years as a player to move north and become player-manager at the old Boothferry Park at the tender age of 28.

It was a huge gamble for both club and player, but one that worked well, especially in his first season when he nearly guided the Tigers to the old Division One at his first attempt.

Neill recalls: "I very nearly did it [gained promotion] in that first season, 1970-71. We led the Division Two table for quite a while with a talented side.

"In fact, my first match in charge was a Watney Cup tie against Manchester United, who had the likes of George Best and Bobby Charlton in the side.

"It went to extra time and we beat them on penalties in front of 25,000 fans, highlighting our potential.

"The problem was I inherited an ageing squad, albeit a very good one, and the run-in proved too much for us all.

"I have few regrets in my footballing life, but if I have one it is that I couldn't get Hull into the top flight for the first time in their history.

"That said, if we had managed to pull it off we would have had a mammoth task just staying in Division One the following season."

Neill says that "potential" he discovered in that first match for Hull remains enormous.

"Until this season Hull were the biggest city in western Europe - not just England - not to have hosted top-flight football," said Neill.

"They are passionate fans up there and there's plenty of them. Hull people have great pride in their city and their sport.

"That is why I would loved to have given it to them all those years back. But they are there now and have a very good manager in Phil Brown. I think back to my old chairman there Harold Needler and I remember a truly great man. Harold and [former Arsenal chairman] Denis Hill-Wood were like father figures to me.

"Both were very knowledgeable people, self-effacing and very decent human beings and allowed me to get on with the job. Thinking back I was spoilt rotten working for those kind of men."

The current Hull side, with two Premier League wins under their belt already, have impressed Neill. In fact, all three promoted sides have. "They have not just waltzed into the Premier League. Hull in particular have shown their intent, they know what to expect in the coming season and have rolled their sleeves up and worked hard to get points on the board. West Brom and Stoke are the same.

"Their manager knows they must get points on the board quickly. Hull got a tanking at home to Wigan but have responded well with four points from games against Newcastle and Everton. "Phil [Brown] will be endeavouring to make his side as hard to beat as possible. He's doing very well."

Turning his attentions to table-toppers Arsenal, Neill has been equally impressed with their start to the campaign - and is left scratching his head at some of the criticism that has come Arsene Wenger's way because of his reliance on youngsters.

"I would say this," he smiled. "When you look at Arsene's record and the methods that have won him trophies, you cannot say anything other than the man gets it right. I watched the Bolton game last weekend. That was a tough place for us to go not so long ago, but we swept past them in that first half.

"When we play we are as good as anyone in the world. If we can keep the injury list small this season - and last season it was the worst in the top four - we have a very good chance for the title.

"We had three tough away games in succession last week and came away with six Premier League points and a draw in Kiev in the Champions League - that could be a defining week for our season.

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