Obituary: Neil Hague (1949-2022)
Neil Hague enjoyed a one-year spell at Leeds Road during the 1976-77 season—a spell which included 30 appearances and two goals. He also enjoyed longer spells at Rotherham United, Plymouth Argyle and A.F.C. Bournemouth before his arrival at Town. Hague sadly passed away on 24th July, 2022, at the age of 72.
Neil Hague (Heritage Number 475) was born in Thurcroft in 1949 and was a pupil at Thurcroft Secondary Modern. He played for Rotherham Boys as a youth and then signed for Rotherham United when he was 17 years old. With just days to go until his 18th birthday, in December 1967, Hague made his professional debut against Millwall. Manager Tommy Docherty, in his first game in charge, unexpectedly threw Hague into the first team and gave him the job of man marking Eamonn Dunphy.
It seemed to work because Rotherham came away with a 0-0 draw on the day. As the 1967-68 season wore on, Hague won two England Youth caps, playing at centre-half and then left-back. Hague’s early versatility defined his career. Although he was primarily a centre-half, he would also play at left-back, in midfield and up front.
Hague played 170 games and scored 23 goals for The Millers in a four-year spell at Millmoor. In a bizarre twist of fate, his final match for the club came against Plymouth Argyle, where he was introduced as a substitute and scored the winning goal in a 4-3 victory. Just days later, The Pilgrims bought Hague for a fee of £13,000.
He was a popular player during his time on the south coast and was again noted for his flexibility, mainly playing as a centre-half but also getting the nod further up the pitch on occasion. He played 113 matches and scored 17 goals at Home Park, winning the Player of the Year award during the 1972-73 season, having finished second in the top scorers list with 12 goals to his name (just one behind top scorer Alan Walsh). Hague proved quite adept at set pieces during his time at the club, mainly scoring headers from free kicks.
After three years at the club, and despite being virtually ever-present for much of his time there, he departed in 1974 to sign for A.F.C. Bournemouth in a deal that saw teammate Derek Rickard move with him for a combined fee of £15,000.
Hague spent two years at Dean Court, playing 89 games and scoring seven goals before he arrived at Leeds Road in May 1976 on a free transfer. At the time, Town were managed by Tom Johnston, then in his second spell at the club and his first full season at the helm, having taken over from Bobby Collins the previous December. In the preceding season, Town had missed out on promotion by just two points, finishing 5th in the Fourth Division with a defence that was breached just 41 times.
When he arrived at the club, Hague was described as a defender or a striker. He initially played as a centre-forward in a pre-season friendly with Oldham Athletic but then featured as a centre-half in another pre-season match against Turkish club Galatasaray. He would begin the season at centre-half, replacing Chris Simpkin and partnering Steve Baines in the heart of the Town defence.
Despite the near-miss in the previous season, Town had an indifferent start to the season and were mostly sat in mid-table during those early months. Hague started the season playing at centre-half alongside Baines and would remain in the side for the rest of the year, ever-present in the Fourth Division and missing just two cup matches. He even popped up with some important goals, scoring the winners in a 2-1 triumph over Workington in November and a 1-0 victory against Scunthorpe United in December.
Hague was still ever-present in the league and the form had picked up considerably, with Town now kicking around in the top half. After featuring in a home friendly against Bolton Wanderers at the end of January, Hague played no further part that season and was replaced at centre-half by the young Peter Hart.
As the season progressed, Town looked like they were making a real go of another promotion push and as they went into April, they found themselves in 5th position. Sadly, it all fell apart as Johnston’s side failed to register a win in any of their last nine matches and eventually slipped to 9th, nine points off Bradford City in 4th.
At the end of the season, Hague left Leeds Road on a free transfer and signed for Darlington after playing 30 games and scoring two goals for Town in his only season at the club. While his spell at the club was only short, supporters of a certain age will remember a reliable centre-half who never let the team down and who had a great left foot. Some of his fellow professionals also have kind words to say about him, mentioning that he had a great sense of humour and was always kind to the younger lads in the side.
Hague then enjoyed a two-year spell at Darlington, playing 80 league matches and scoring four goals between 1977 and 1979. He left Feethams at the end of the 1978-79 season and by 1980 had joined his former Bournemouth teammate Harry Redknapp in America at the Phoenix Fire club. Redknapp was a coach at the club. However, it folded in the pre-season of the 1980 season and no league games were played.
Hague remained in the U.S., enjoying short spells in Columbus and Los Angeles before he hung up his boots in 1981. He also briefly ran soccer camps in California before returning to England and settling in his native Yorkshire where he became a builder. He eventually moved back down to Plymouth in 1984 and set up a successful property development business in the area.
Our thoughts and condolences go out to Neil’s family and friends at this sad time.