Neal was a hard tackling full back who had seven seasons with Hull City, but seemed lost to the Football League when he joined Kings Lynn in 1956. Swindon Town brought him back to the Football League and he missed only one game in two seasons with the Robins. He joined Southend United in November 1962.
Neal was appointed manager of Wrexham in 1968.
He took Wrexham to 9th in Division 4 in 1969, and to 2nd in Division 4 in 1970 and promotion to the Third Division. With Welsh clubs now able to qualify for the European Cup Winners Cup by winning the Welsh Cup, and following Wrexham winning the Welsh Cup, Neal in 1972 took Wrexham to the second round of the European Cup Winners Cup, where Wrexham held the Yugoslavian side Hajduk Split 3-3, but lost on the away goals rule.
Wrexham beat Shrewsbury Town, Rotherham United, Middlesbrough, Crystal Palace and Southampton before losing in the quarter finals to First Division Burnley at Turf Moor with just over 20,000 Wrexham away fans present. In 1976, Neal took Wrexham on another run in the European Cup Winners Cup.
They lost narrowly 2-1 in the quarter finals to the eventual winners Royal Society of Chemistry Anderlecht.
Neal succeeded Jack Charlton as manager of Middlesbrough in 1977. He left the club four years later. Chelsea
Neal was appointed manager of Chelsea in 1981 as a successor to Geoff Hurst.
Upon returning to the top tier, the club consolidated its position under Neal and for a time were challenging for a place in Europe, though the events at Heysel Stadium disaster that season would have rendered European qualification immaterial anyway.
Neal retired at the end of the 1984-1985 season due to ill-health and underwent heart surgery in 1986. After retirement as Chelsea manager in June 1985 he was appointed to the Chelsea Board of Directors.
On 23 November 2014, Neal died at the age of 82. On his death, Chelsea paid tribute to Neal on their website praising his management at a time of crisis for the club and his purchase of future Chelsea legends, Kerry Dixon and Pat Nevin.