LSSC legends: Brian O’Neil
Our latest ‘LSSC legend’ was a proper cult hero. Brian O’Neil played in the early 70’s side that included some real characters – Channon, Paine, Davies, McGrath, Hollywood, etc. He epitomised that side playing with enthusiasm, character and no little skill.
Brian was one of our guests at the recent ex-Saints evening and surprisingly kept his shirt tucked in – the customary smile was still there though!
Brian O’Neil hailed from Bedlington, a mining town in Northumberland and was spotted by legendary Geordie talent scout Jack Hixon, who, amongst others, uncovered Ralph Coates, Dave Thomas (not that one), Steve Bruce and sent Alan Shearer and Neil Maddison to The Dell.
O’Neil signed for Burnley in 1961 despite interest from Arsenal and went onto win England under 23 and Football League caps. In the mid-sixties, Burnley were a force who regularly qualified for European football.
Brian had become a firm favourite at Turf Moor (many blamed their relegation from Division 1 the following season on the deal) before becoming Southampton’s record signing of £75,000 in May 1970.
His ebullient character and terrier-like midfield play appealed to team-mates and supporters alike. Nicknamed ‘Buddha’, he was frequently in trouble with referees for his over zealousness and received several suspensions, including a spell of nine weeks in 1973. Nevertheless his resilience and energy were an inspiration to others and he always played the game with a smile – shirt hanging out and socks rolled down. Team-mates were always on the lookout for Brian as it was alleged that he never owned his own boots and would steal theirs.
O’Neil had a thunderous shot and if that didn’t succeed, Channon or Stokes were always on hand to snap up the rebounds.
Brian adored his manager, Ted Bates, and he would carry out his instructions to the letter. During one particular pre-match team talk at Bramall Lane, Bates was expressing how influential Sheffield United’s new star, Tony Currie, was proving to be. ‘Look after him’, Bates instructed Brian. Two minutes into the game, Currie was flat on his back following a ferocious O’Neil challenge. He looked across to the dugout to see Ted Bates standing up with a beaming smile and thumbs up!
However, Lawrie McMenemy was a different story who on taking over soon looked to overhaul the squad; O’Neil was one of many of the early 70’s team to move on.
Third Division Huddersfield snapped him up for a fee of £40,000 and he was immediately appointed skipper. O’Neil spent two seasons at Leeds Road before moving to Devon as Player-Manager at Western League side Bideford despite offers to join Jimmy Gabriel in the North American League with Seattle Sounders.
His time at Bideford got off to a slow start but after having bought in some experienced players from Exeter and Bristol City they went on a fantastic run which ended in second place along with extensive cup runs. However, boardroom interference saw O’Neil leave and take up a playing role with Taunton Town in the Southern League which he combined with working in the building trade.
Brian now lives in Southampton and still regularly attends St Marys.
Back in the early 70’s, O’Neil bought a successful racehorse with his team-mate, Mick Channon. Of course the latter is now one of the country’s top trainers and Brian regularly helps out at the stables in Berkshire.
But surely the peak of his career came in Amsterdam in 1989 when he represented London Saints FC on their end of season tour!
Brian O’Neil factfile
Born: 4th January 1944. Bedlington, Northumberland
Appearances and goals
1963-70: Burnley 282 (25)
1970-74: Southampton 173 (19)
1974-76: Huddersfield Town 66 (3)
1977-78: Taunton Town
Sep/Oct ’10: Jason Dodd
Jul/Aug ’10: Peter Shilton
June ’10: Tony Knapp
May ’10: Nick Holmes
April ’10: Derek Reeves
March ’10: Bobby Stokes
February ’10: John Sydenham
January ’10: Jimmy Case
December ’09: Alan Ball
November ’09: George O’Brien
October ’09: Francis Benali
September ’09: Steve Williams
August ’09: Terry Paine
July ’09: Charlie Wayman
June ’09: Jimmy Steele
May ’09: Matt Le Tissier
April ’09: Antti Niemi
March ’09: Steve Moran
February ’09: Ted Bates
January ’09: Marian Pahars
December ’08: Mick Channon
November ’08: Ivan Golac
October ’08: Ron Davies
September ’08: Chris Marsden
August ’08: Danny Wallace
July ’08: John McGrath