Govan, Glasgow born centre-half Robert “Bobby” Neill began his football career with Glasgow Ashfield in 1893 and joined Scottish League Hibernian in 1894. In April 1895 Neill was loaned to Liverpool from Hibernian as they were missing several regulars for the Test match against Bury in the 1894-95 season. Liverpool lost 1-0 and were relegated to the Second Division.
Unusually short for a centre half at only 5 foot 4 inches, Neill continued his career at Hibernian and made his Scotland international debut against Wales at Carolina Port, Dundee on 21st March 1896 where he scored two goals in a 4-0 win. Liverpool, having returned to the First Division at first time of asking, then bought the twenty year-old Neill in May 1896 after Hibs suffered a 3-1 loss to Hearts in the 1896 Scottish Cup Final. Following his arrival he was so described by the Athletic News: “Neill is a clever little half back, quiet and unassuming in style, but very quick and effective.”
Liverpool finished in a creditable fifth place in the 1896-97 season. Neill finally replaced Joe McQue in the first eleven making his Football League debut in a 3-4 defeat at Sunderland in October, after being in the reserves for the first six weeks of the campaign. He was said to be certainly the most expensive reserve in Liverpool’s ranks. Neill scored two League goals for Liverpool, with one more coming in the FA Cup against West Bromwich Albion in February 1897, making 26 appearances.
He returned to Scotland after just one season at Anfield because of family bereavement and had quite a successful career with Glasgow Rangers where in seven years he won four Scottish League Championships and one Scottish Cup. According to the Dundee Courier “he had a most winsome manner, and he was a prime public favourite. He was beloved by his clubmates, and admired by his opponents for the beauty and fairness of his play.” He was capped a second time for Scotland while with Rangers, playing in a 5-2 win over Wales at Pittodrie in February 1900. He made 109 appearances over 7 seasons at Rangers and scored 28 goals before finishing his career with a spell at Airdrieonians in 1904 before at some point moving to Canada.
In 1909, the Montreal Daily Witness described him as “Thick-set and sturdy, with the arm of a Hercules, it is easy to understand why Robert Neill occupied a prominent place in the Association game in ‘Bonnie Scotland’.” The Montreal newspaper conducted an interview, a pretty rare one for a footballer from the 19th century. “I played football for seven years. The dear old Glasgow Rangers was my team, and I also played for Liverpool previous to that. Edinburgh Hibernian also claimed me for some time,” Neill said. “My most exciting match took place in 1897, when for Liverpool I played in the semi-final of the English Cup. We were defeated by a narrow margin.” Apparently Neill was still turning out for local sides in some capacity. “I am somewhat tired of football, though I have played for Westmount here and the M.A.A.A. [Montreal Amateur Athletic Association]. Still, I may take it up again.” Four years later Robert Neill died in his hometown of Govan, Glasgow in March 1913, aged only 37.