Denis Neville was a defender who played for Fulham between 1932 and 1946. His career at
Fulham was interrupted by the war during which he was active with the British army in
Africa and Italy. After his playing career had ended he began his coaching career with
Danish club Odense and then coached the Danish football team in the 1948 Olympics which
claimed the bronze medal. Next he had spells in Italy with Atlanta and in Belgium with
Berchem Sport before working in India for the English FA.
In 1955 he joined Sparta Rotterdam. Sparta had enjoyed a period of glory in the early 20th
century winning five Dutch titles between 1909 and 1915 under Edgar Chadwick but had
had little success since then. In the time with the club Neville would transform them into
one of the top clubs in the country and win three major trophies.
In his first season with the club Neville led them to the Hoofdklasse A title but Sparta
finished in last place in the four team title play-off. In 1956-57 Sparta finished 8th in the first ever Eredivisie season but dropped to 9th the season after. They did win the Dutch Cup that season though following a 4-3 win over Volendam in the final. In 1958-59 Sparta performed consistently well throughout the season and after the penultimate round of matches were top of the Eredivisie having lost only three games.
Their final fixture was away to Amsterdam side DWS/A in the Olympic Stadium. Ad
Verhoeven put Sparta ahead then Joop Daniëls (top scorer that season with 23 goals) added two more before an own goal by the DWS/A goalkeeper made the final score 4-0 ensuringthat Sparta finished three points ahead of 2nd place Rapid JC. It was their first Dutch title for 44 years.
Sparta’s title meant that they qualified for the 1959-60 European Cup and in the 1st round of that competition they needed an extra game to overcome Swedish club IFK Gothenburg
after two 3-1 results. In the Quarter-finals they were drawn against Scottish champions
Rangers and in the home fixture, despite two goals by Piet de Vries, lost 3-2. In the return
match they came away from Glasgow with a 1-0 win thanks to Tonny van Ede’s goal eight
minutes from the end. As there was no away-goals rule then an extra game was needed to
decide the tie and this was played two weeks later at Highbury, home of Arsenal.
Sparta took a sixth minute lead through Verhoeven but the same player then put through his own net and Rangers added two more goals (including another own goal) in the second half. Tinus Bosselaar pulled a goal back with fourteen minutes left but Sparta couldn’t find an equaliser and went out of the competition.
In the Eredivisie Sparta were very disappointing and could not find anything close to their
previous season’s form, subsequently ending up in 7th place sixteen points behind 1st place
Ajax. They improved in 1960-61, finishing 4th, but were still well behind city rivals
Feyenoord, who took the title. In 1961-62 they slipped to 9th place but added a second Dutch Cup to their trophy cabinet thanks to a 1-0 win over 1st Division DHC after an extra-time goal by Piet van Miert. They also reached the Quarter-finals of the Intertoto Cup where they were thrashed 6-1 by Czech club Slovan Bratislava.
In Neville’s final season with Sparta they claimed 3rd place, only three points behind
champions PSV. Neville then decided to leave the club and move to 1st Division SHS. He
was replaced by the Scot Bill Thompson. Sparta would go on to win the Dutch Cup for the
third time in 1966 but after Neville left they never again reached the heights they had during his time in charge.
At SHS Neville did well in his first season with the club just missing out on promotion to
the Eredivisie by one point. In 1964-65 SHS (now re-named Holland Sport) dropped down
to 13th place. In September he also took the job of Dutch national coach on a temporary
basis until he was replaced by Georg Kessler in November 1965. In the 1965-66 season
Holland Sport again disappointed, finishing 11th, and at the end of the season Neville left the club and returned to England where he had a spell with non-league Canvey Island FC.
In 1978 Neville returned to the Netherlands and managed the 4th Class amateur club TOGB from Berkel en Rodenrijs, a small town just north of Rotterdam. He died in a Rotterdam nursing home in 1995 at the age of 79 and six years later had a stand in Sparta’s Het Kasteel (“The Castle”) ground named after him.