Initially a centre forward, Inverkeithing, Fife born centre half Johnny McNeil began his football career with Scottish League club Bo’ness in 1924 and played for Musselburgh Bruntonians from where he was signed by Heart of Midlothian in September 1925, making his debut for The Jambos in a 3-0 win over Partick Thistle at Tynecastle the following month. He scored consistently in his debut season for Hearts, but was allowed to join Raith Rovers on loan in January 1927. His stayed with Raith until the season end when returned to Hearts but scored twice more in only two further appearances before being sold to First Division club Portsmouth in December 1928 after 20 goals in 31 appearances.
McNeil made his Football League debut a few days later at Sheffield United playing centre forward and when given the opportunity was a regular scorer, scoring 7 goals in 11 matches until he lost his place the following February, and having scored once more in only 3 further matches the following September he joined Second Division club Reading in January 1930, where he again found opportunities limited, making only 5 appearances for The Royals during the second half of the 1930-31 campaign before converting to centre half. McNeil was a regular in Reading’s 1930-31 side but they were relegated at the season end, and he played only 5 more matches for Reading in the late summer of 1931 before a move to non league Guildford City in July 1932 after 4 goals in 42 appearances for The Royals.
After a season with Guildford he joined Highland League club Inverness Caledonian in July 1933 before returning to Football League action with Plymouth Argyle in August 1934, where he enjoyed four seasons of regular football playing more than 30 League matches each campaign, eventually losing his place in September 1938 and playing only twice more for Argyle later in their 1938-39 campaign, having scored 13 goals in 144 appearances for The Pilgrims. He finally joined Clapton Orient in the 1939 close season, and had played in each of their opening 3 matches of the new season when the outbreak of the Second World War forced the abandonment of the season and the War effectively ended his playing career.
He later managed Merthyr Tydfil until June 1947, when he was appointed as manager of Torquay United. His first season was not a great success, Torquay finishing in 18th place, but the following two seasons saw finishes in 9th and 5th places and the discovery of future Torquay greats Don Mills and Sammy Collins. He resigned in March 1950 to take the manager’s job at Second Division Bury, not before complaining about the low attendances at Plainmoor, even when the team was doing relatively well. His time at Gigg Lane saw Bury constantly battle against relegation, albeit to his credit successfully, until he left in November 1953.