Neil Danns

Former Player Remembers: Neil Danns

Earlier this summer, former Leicester City midfielder Neil Danns spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his football career, in which he has so far played nearly 600 games for a total of 12 clubs.
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He is also captain of Guyana. He led them to the CONCACAF Gold Cup finals in 2019 and is within two matches of qualifying for next year’s finals too.

Neil joined Sven-Göran Eriksson’s Leicester City from Crystal Palace in July 2011 and played in the prestigious pre-season friendly against Real Madrid soon after his arrival.

Born in Liverpool, he was on schoolboy forms at Anfield and spent two years at the FA’s School of Excellence at Lilleshall. In 2001, he was a Youth Cup finalist with Blackburn Rovers whose manager, Graeme Souness, gave him his Premier League debut in September 2002. After loan spells at Blackpool and Hartlepool United, Neil signed for Colchester United, initially on loan, and was in their side which won promotion to the second tier for the first time in their history in 2006.

In June 2006, he joined Birmingham City.

Thinking back, Neil recalled: “I was signed by Birmingham after gaining promotion to the Championship with Colchester. I think they paid £500,000 rising to £750,000. Birmingham had just been relegated from the Premier League but we got promoted straight back. This led to an influx of new players and it was tough getting into the team. I wanted to play football and it was a great opportunity when Neil Warnock signed me for Palace in January 2008.

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Neil Danns
Neil Danns

Neil's impressive performances for Crystal Palace alerted Leicester City.

“They signed me for the same price range that Birmingham had paid for me. However, within the first couple of weeks I got injured and ended up being out for nearly a year. Being new to the club, it put pressure on me. It was really frustrating. It was the first major injury I’d had in my career, and I wasn’t used to not playing football for so long. It was a groin injury and I ended up needing an operation. When I recovered, I scored 21 goals from midfield in my time at Palace, so it was a really good time for me.”

However, in 2009/10, Crystal Place went into administration.

“I was there through it all,” Neil recalled. “I was one of the players offered up for transfer by the administrators because I was doing so well. Swansea were interested, but Neil Warnock told me that administrators couldn’t force me to go, so I stuck by Neil and turned down the offer to talk to Swansea. It was a tough season and I could have jumped ship and left, but Neil Warnock had shown loyalty to me during the time I was injured, so I decided to stay. We had 10 points deducted but we survived relegation by drawing 1-1 with Sheffield Wednesday in the last match of the season and they went down instead.

“The Palace fans were great with me,” Neil continued. “I think they could see the sort of player I was. I’d always given 100 per cent commitment. I had a lot of respect for the fans and the feeling was reciprocated.”

Dougie Freedman was Crystal Palace’s manager for Neil’s final season at Selhurst Park (2010/11). He made 38 appearances, scoring nine times that season, but decided to move to Leicester City in July 2011.

“My contract had run out at Crystal Palace,” Neil explained. “They offered me a new one, but I’d been through the whole scenario with administration and the club’s future was still a little bit in doubt. I had a lot of offers. I was on the verge of signing for either Rangers or Celtic. Luckily I never signed for Rangers because it was the season when all the crazy stuff happened there and they were sent down. I was on my way to talk to Celtic when I had a call from my agent saying that Leicester were interested. It was a good offer to move to Celtic, but I’d moved for most of my career and Leicester wasn’t as far away. Sven-Göran Eriksson was at Leicester, who was a massive name. Also I was so excited when I heard about the plans that the Club had and about the players they were going to bring in.

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Neil Danns
Neil Danns

Danns made his home debut for the Foxes against Real Madrid in the summer of 2011.

“This was the foundation of where Leicester is at the moment,” Neil reflected, “so I’m glad I made the decision to go to Leicester and play a little part in the rebuilding of the Club.

“There were loads of good players at Leicester. Looking back now we probably brought in too many players at once for success to happen straight away, but when you look back some of those players were there when the team won the league, and a lot have gone on to achieve amazing things. In the end success happened in a time frame that probably no one would have expected anyway, so to be part of that was good. I can look back now and think that I was part of that.”

Sven left in the Club three months after Neil had come to Leicester.

“That was a weird one,” Neil continued. “He’d obviously brought in a lot of players and everyone expected everything to happen straight away, but as we all know, that is never the case. Time is needed for a team to gel, so he probably had the pressure on him because he had spent so much money, but fair play to him, he brought in a lot of new players that laid some of the foundations for the Club’s future success. When he went it was a bit disappointing, but you could understand where the decision was coming from.”

The following month, in November 2011, Nigel Pearson returned for his second spell as Leicester City’s manager.

“Nigel Pearson was a great guy,” Neil remembered. “He took on the squad and improved it. He played me in most games that season. I think I scored six goals in 37 matches, which wasn’t bad from midfield. I also had the opportunity to captain the side on a few occasions.”

I’d also like to thank and congratulate the fans of Leicester City and the Club for their achievements in the last few years. As I said earlier it was a privilege to be part of the building of that and I always look back on that time with fond memories.

Neil Danns

In the season that Leicester City won the Championship title, Neil went on loan to Bolton Wanderers who were managed by his old Crystal Palace boss, Dougie Freedman. He stayed there all season and when his Leicester City contract expired, he signed a one-year contract at Bolton, later extended to two years.

Neil Lennon took over as manager of the Trotters in October 2014, and he described Neil as being a pivotal player in his side. The following season, Lennon was sacked and at the end of the season, Bolton Wanderers were relegated.

Three seasons at Bury followed, which included another loan spell at Blackpool. Relegated in 2018, Neil captained Bury back to League 1 in 2019, but financial problems resulted in Bury being expelled from the league last season.

“That was a very, very bad time,” Neil reflected. “I had to witness players not being paid. I was lucky enough to have had a career where I’d looked after myself, but it was really bad. It was really crazy captaining the side to promotion, not being paid for seven months and then getting expelled from the league.”

Neil spent the rest of the season at Tranmere Rovers, but they lost their league status.

“Although Tranmere had won their last four games to take them three points from safety with a game in hand and with five games to go, the season finished early due to COVID-19 and we were relegated out of the league. I’m still under contract at Tranmere. I think I’ll play another campaign which will take me to 38. It’s a privilege just to be playing.”

Neil then went on to talk about his international career as captain of Guyana.

“I was approached by Guyana about six years ago when I was 31,” he said. “My grandfather was from there. I never met him because he passed when my dad was young. I didn’t know much about the country so when the opportunity came I jumped at the chance to learn about the country and its culture. When I first went there the standard wasn’t very good, not just on the pitch but off it too. But I stuck with it. The standard got better and better and we achieved something I never thought was possible. We got to a major tournament for the first time in the country’s history.”

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Neil Danns
Neil Danns

Danns and Bury celebrated promotion from the fourth tier in 2019.

Neil was referring to the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup finals, a tournament to determine the champions of North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

“Captaining the country in their first major tournament game against the USA in the group stage was unbelievable. Then we played Panama, who had drawn with Brazil a couple of months earlier, and we gave them a really good game. We lost that one 4-2, but we were in most of the game. I scored two goals against them which was brilliant. Then we played Trinidad and Tobago and should have won that game really, but drew 1-1. I scored probably one of the best goals of my career in that game, so we ended up finishing third in the group. Everyone expected us to go there and get absolutely battered by everyone, but we finished third in a group out of four, behind the USA and Panama, who were both at the last World Cup.

“I’m still playing for Guyana. I’ve played three times this year for them. We beat Jamaica, so that just shows how far we’ve actually come. We are now in the play-offs for next year’s Gold Cup. Being two games away from qualifying for another Gold Cup is unbelievable.”

Neil concluded in reflective mood.

“When I look back now, at my age, I’ve gained five promotions in my career and I’ve got to play with some fantastic players. I was just a young lad from a rough area of Liverpool and I’ve been given the opportunity to travel the world and play in front of millions of people. When you look back there’s nothing you can do but smile.

“I’d also like to thank and congratulate the fans of Leicester City and the Club for their achievements in the last few years. As I said earlier, it was a privilege to be part of the building of that and I always look back on that time with fond memories.”

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