John O’Neill was still a Loughborough undergraduate, playing for Leicester City on a non-contract basis while completing his economics studies, when Jock Wallace gave him an unexpected first-team nod for the opening game of 1978-79 at Turf Moor.
The gamble soon paid off, for John quickly developed into a cool, polished central defender. Already capped at Under-21 level for Northern Ireland prior to his League bow, he soon began adding full caps on a regular basis as his fine reading of the game brought him the added responsibility of the City captaincy.
Occasionally criticised for an apparently over-casual on field approach, and sometimes embarrassed by a relative lack of pace, John nonetheless saved Leicester many a goal against with his intelligent interventions, and the experience gained in two World Cup campaigns for his country stood City’s defense in good stead during the up and down struggles of the early 80’s.
in 1986, he surpassed Gordon Banks record as the most capped City player (eventually playing 39 times for his country) but a year later was allowed to move to Loftus Road for £150,000. As QPR enjoyed a brief flurry of Division One success, John was restricted to only tow League appearances, and then suffering a crippling knee injury after only 34 minutes of his Norwich debut at Wimbledon, and some months later have to concede his career had come to a sadly premature end.
Norwich very honorably held a testimonial match on his behalf in May 1989, and John’s subsequent involvement in the game seems to have amounted only to a tow-year spell as manager of League of Ireland side Finn Harps from Fabruary 1990.
Having then conetrated on a wine and spirits business in Derry, he hit the headlines in October 1994 with a High Court action for negligence against John Fashanu and Wimbledon FC (arasing from the tackle that put him out of the game), which terminated with and out-of-court settlement of £70,000 in John’s favour.
He has since been on the board at Derry City and also done commentary work alongside Jack Fullerton, covering the Northern Ireland full internationals. He might be one player and captain highly underestimated in quality as his achievements were phenomenal over a decade at Leicester City.
- Full Name: John Patrick O’Neill
- Position: Defender
- Date of Birth: 11.03.1958
- Birthplace: Derry
- Nation: N Ireland
- Caps / Goals: 39/2
- Major League Career:
- 1977-87, Leicester City (313/10)
- 1987, Queens Park Rangers (2/0)
- 1987-88, Norwich City (1/0)