Published on 11 July 2017
In the fiercely tribal world of North East football it’s virtually unheard of for a Sunderland fan to put on the black and white strip of Newcastle United – but that’s exactly what proud Mackem Emily Neal did, and this week she stepped back onto the hallowed turf of the Stadium of Light to collect her degree.
“From a young age my dad got me into playing football, and he use to coach me and support me,” explains Emily, 24, from Sunderland. “He was the person who motivated me to do well in my football career.”
Sadly Emily’s dad passed away when she was 18, so never got to see her play professionally, or collect her degree in BSc Sports Coaching. But, Emily explains, it is her dad’s enthusiasm and love for the game - and for her - that has driven her to study hard, and take every opportunity – even if those opportunities haven’t quite led where she expected.
“My dad is definitely who inspired me to go back into education and into coaching football. He is also what motivated me to do well with my football.
“When I got the offer to play for Newcastle, it did sting a bit putting the shirt on as a lifetime Mackem. But I knew the opportunity meant more than the badge on the shirt. I knew I would be doing my dad proud.”
Emily has real football pedigree – her grandfather, John Neal, played seven seasons for Hull City, and was manager of Wrexham from 1968 to 1977. He succeeded Jack Charlton as manager of Middlesbrough, and managed Chelsea from 1981 until his retirement in 1985.
“My grandpa was the Chelsea manager in the 80s, so I’ve definitely come from a big footballing family,” added Emily. “He is definitely one of the reasons for wanting to do well within football, and inspired me to captain the University’s Women’s Football Team – which is definitely the proudest moment of my time at Sunderland.”
Now Emily is returning to Newcastle United WFC for the 2017-18 season playing centre back, and is hoping to pursue a career in Sports Development. With her family background, and her commitment to the sport she loves, she’s sure to do her family, her city and her region, proud.