Colourful goalkeeper who made up for lack of stature with acts of acrobatic brilliance
Gerry Neef, footballer
Born: 30 October, 1946, in Hausham, Germany.
Died: 23 February, 2010, in Nuremburg, Germany, aged 63
GOALKEEPER Gerry Neef was one of the best-remembered of a raft of foreign mercenaries brought to Ibrox in the late 1960s as Rangers attempted to keep pace with Jock Stein's distinctly home-grown Celtic team of the time.
He spent four years at Rangers after Davie White recruited the former policeman from amateur football in Dsseldorf in the spring of 1969; but he managed a mere 48 games in that time and was only first choice for slightly more than half a season, his fortunes dipping after Willie Waddell returned to succeed White as manager later that year.
When he signed for Rangers he did not have the experience of either Norrie Martin, who had been with the club for ten years, or Danish internationalist Erik Sorensen, yet he was seen at the time as a more-dependable option that the other two keepers.
Waddell clearly didn't rate him too highly. Barely had he settled into the manager's office at Ibrox than he was attempting unsuccessfully to lure Scotland goalkeeper Bobby Clark from Aberdeen, before changing tack and signing Peter McCloy from Motherwell.
Neef accepted his demotion with good grace, quietly playing away in the reserves and making the most of his infrequent first team appearances, before being released at the end of the 1972-73 season.
He then returned to Germany, where Hans Tilkowski, the West German goalkeeper in the 1966 World Cup final recruited him for 1FC Nuremberg, for whom he played out his career at a time when that club was in something of a decline and out of the top-flight in West Germany.
Neef might well have remained a forgotten figure, if it were not for Melanie, his daughter from a marriage to a Scots girl, growing up to become one of Scotland and Great Britain's top athletes of the mid-1990s. A 400-metre runner, Scottish and British champion, she gained extra publicity on the back of being the daughter of a former Rangers goalkeeper.
Where Neef will rank in the pecking order of Rangers goalkeepers is a moot point. He was not the biggest keeper, but made amends for his lack of height with at times acrobatic brilliance, a carry-over from his youth when, like that other German goalkeeping export to Great Britain, Bert Trautman of Manchester City, he had played handball.
Neef was no Andy Goram or Chris Woods; unlike Rangers' other German goalkeeper, Stefan Klos, he never represented his country and he was never a fixture in the yellow jersey like Billy Ritchie, Jerry Dawson, successor Peter McCloy and so forth. He did not feature in a domestic cup final during his Ibrox years, but this is perhaps indicative of how Rangers trailed Celtic at the time rather than personal failings.
Occasionally fallible – his error handed Celtic victory in a League Cup tie at Parkhead in August, 1969 – he also had moments and matches of inspired brilliance. Exactly a month on from his Parkhead travails, ten-man Celtic put Rangers to the sword back at Ibrox, however, thanks to a series of magnificent saves from Neef, in conditions of incessant rain, not helpful to goalkeepers, the visitors had to settle for a 1-0 win.
The news of Waddell's unsuccessful bid for Clark broke on the eve of the Ne'erday game of 1970 and this seemed to inspire Neef to another commanding performance, which perhaps demonstrates his mental toughness.
The mental strength of his personality was surely tested in the aftermath of his participation in the Ibrox Disaster game of 2 January, 1971. This melancholic match was his final big game for Rangers, although he was to be one of the reserves on the bench when the club won the European Cup Winner's Cup, in Barcelona the next year.
Neef was a colourful character, but behind the sometimes flamboyant goalkeeping, he clearly had reserves of Germanic steel. It is difficult to imagine him as the red-top fodder of some later Rangers goalkeepers.
Some say the pragmatic football nations – England, Argentina, Italy and Germany for instance, usually have good goalkeepers – while the passionate nations such as Brazil, Spain and Scotland don't. Good German goalkeepers such as Neef should therefore be celebrated for what they bring to apparently barren ground such as Scottish football.