Legend can't get enough

CAMERON MAXWELL -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:04 AM ET

Phil Neal may be 53 years old but he hasn't lost a bit of his passion when it comes to soccer.

Talking to Neal, one of England's most decorated players, one gets the sense he's never lost the competitive fire that made him one of the best in the 1970s and 80s.

The former Liverpool star will be returning to Calgary Jan. 23 for the Legends of Soccer Canadian tour. His Liverpool mates will take on the Manchester United Masters and teams from Calgary and Edmonton at the 'Dome.

Neal won four European Cup medals (1976-77, 1977-78, 1980-81, 1983-84) and one UEFA Cup (1975-76), as well as eight League Championship medals and 50 caps with England. And he's still as enthusiastic as ever about the game.

"I never wanted to miss a day of training because things were so exciting. We were always going for trophies and double trophies and trebbles ... and it carried on," said Neal of his passion for soccer.

"It was exciting, just like a buzz, an adrenaline buzz that a boxer gets. When he's done, he wants to know when the next fight is.

"It's an ongoing thing. It's so exciting and it's hard to describe it, like when an actor wins an Oscar, then the next year you reproduce the performance and go on and on and it's such a buzz."

Certainly he's had his share of highs over the years but Neal was also on hand for one of soccer's blackest days.

After winning the European Cup in 1984 with a 1-0 (5-4 penalty kicks) win over Roma, Neal took over the Liverpool captaincy the following season with a great chance to become one of a handful of players to win five cups.

Sure enough, the Reds made it into the final on May 29, 1985 in Brussels, Belgium, against Juventus. It should have been one of the greatest nights in the club's history.

But about an hour before the scheduled kick-off time, tempers flared between fans separated by a chicken-wire fence. After a sustained period of objects raining down on the Reds end, some Liverpool fans charged at their Italian counterparts and, as chaos took over, Juventus fans fled and a crush ensued.

A wall blocking their escape collapsed on top of them and thirty-nine football supporters died where they fell. Later that night, Juventus won the European Cup 1-0, courtesy of a debatable penalty by Michel Platini.

"I'd been made captain and I was really hoping to hoist that cup over my head, it would have been a great moment...," said Neal, who after the match called the events of that day "sickening."

As far as highlights go, Neal said a penalty kick he scored in Liverpool's 1977 European Cup triumph, 3-1 over Borussia Moenchengladbach in Rome, ranks right up there.

"We were 2-1 up and under pressure and it was Kevin Keegan's last game and he got brought down (in the box) and I was given the task of putting the penalty away," recalled Neal, who scored 60 goals in his career.

"That was the beginning of the belief we had that we were invincible. We went into Europe and were unrivaled for seven or eight years."

To a certain degree, the Liverpoolers still believe that and that's why the Legends of Soccer event promises some intense competition.

The 20 legendary players from Man U and Liverpool, including United's Viv Anderson, will be in town before the event, doing some coaching clinics.

Tickets go on sale Dec. 8 at Ticketmaster.


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