Since its establishment in 1968, Wakehurst Soccer Club has produced many fine players. Names such as WAYNE PIERCE, ROSS ETHERINGTON, MICHAEL LOKE and ROB SMITHIES are always at top of list.
All of these players were outstanding juniors, Manly Warringah Youth League players and went on to play for Manly at First Grade level in the State League. Pierce & E therington were also multiple State Representatives at junior level. However, Wakehurst’s best player & the outstanding player produced in Manly Warringah is current Socceroo & West Ham captain LUCAS NEILL.
Lucas’ career began in 1985 at Wakehurst in the Under 7 Leopards where his coach at the time thought he had some potential. Lucas wasn’t seen again in the Forest for two years as his family relocated to England.
On the family’s return to their home in Frenchs Forest, Lucas’ talent was quickly recognized and he was welcomed in to the Under 10 First Division side. This team added the Under 10 Championship to the Under 9 title they had won in 1987. They went on to compete in the New South Wales Champion of Champions where they went one step further than they had the previous year, losing the final to Revesby Workers.
It was obvious that Lucas was good enough to play representative soccer as were most of his team mates. He was first chosen as an Under 11 Manly player in 1989 & continued to play for them for 5 years until he was an Under 15 in 1993.
As a result of his outstanding displays for Manly, Lucas was chosen in the New South Wales Under 13 team to compete in the 1991 National Championships in Cairns. Continued impressive development in his overall game saw Lucas chosen for the Under 14 Nationals in 1992 in Melbourne where they were runners up & the Under 15 titles in Brisbane in 1993 where they were again crowned National Champions.
At the Under 15 Nationals in Brisbane, RON SMITH, head coach at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) invited Lucas to trial. Offered a position at this elite sporting facility, he moved to Canberra in November 1993 to take up his scholarship at the AIS. Lucas was a live-in student under going intensive training & competing in the National Soccer League (NSL) Youth League while continuing his studies & completing his Higher School Certificate in 1995. During the two years he spent at this exceptional finishing school for future Socceroos, some of his team mates included HAYDEN FOXE, DANNY MILOSEVIC & CON BLATSIS, all of whom represented Australia in the Under 20 World Cup in Malaysia in 1997 & the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
Late in 1995 an opportunity to trial in England came up & it was not long before Lucas had signed with Milwall Football Club where he made his Division 1 debut on 17 February 1996. Over the next five years Lucas became a favorite with the vocal Lions fans & would play more than 170 games for them.
It was not long before Lucas’ on field performances soon caught the eye of the scouts. A reported 2 million pound offer from Glasgow Rangers was rejected by Milwall. Lucas himself rejected the offer of a position in the Ireland team which he was eligible for by virtue of his father Ed’s Irish heritage. Lucas’ goal was always to play for Australia & it was about this time he caught the eye of recently appointed Socceroo coach TERRY VENEABLES. In June 1996 at 18 years of age he was selected to play for the “Overseas Travellers” against the “True Blues” in a series of selection trials for the 1998 World Cup.
On 9 October 1996 Lucas became the second youngest player to HARRY KEWELL when he made his first Socceroo appearance v Saudi Arabia (0-0).
In 1997 he was selected for the Under 20 World Cup in Malaysia.
In 2000 he was again chosen to represent his country. This time at the Sydney Olympics.
In September 2001 Lucas had an opportunity to trial before Blackburn Rovers “boss” GRAHAM SOUNESS & inside a week he was signed at a bargain basement price of one million pounds & had made his first grade debut in the English Premier League (EPL).
He was selected by Socceroo coach FRANK FARINA for the ill-fated World Cup Qualifiers v Uruguay in November 2001 but had to withdraw because of injury.
In the 2001/02 season Lucas played a total of 35 games for Blackburn Rovers all in the first team.
In the 2002/03 season he played 45 games and again as an indication of how well he had been playing, all of those games were again in the first team. His performances were recognized with the several “man of the match” awards & was selected several times in the Opta Index Team of the Week. Even greater recognition was to follow with his selection in the Opta Index Team of the Season alongside the likes of VAN NISTELROOY, HENRY, SCHOLES, VIERA & KEANE.
Lucas had well and truly cemented a place in the Blackburn Rovers first team. Over the 5 seasons he spent at Ewood Park, Lucas played some 227 games and scored 8 goals. As an indication of the high regard the manager MARK HUGHES had for Lucas he gave him the captain’s armband.
In February 2003 Lucas was selected in arguably the strongest Socceroo team ever. Captained by PAUL OKON, the team included HARRY KEWELL, MARK VIDUKA, CRAIG MOORE, BRETT EMERTON & MARK SCHWARTZER. In one of the greatest days in Australian football, the Socceroos recorded an unforgettable historic 3-1 victory over England. He has been a fixture in the Socceroo squad since that match.
In 2005 Lucas played in the FIFA Confederations Cup in Germany.
Throughout his career as a youth, all his coaches attempted to make a striker out of him. Eventually all of them recognized that his skill on the ball, flair & vision could best be utilized as an attacking midfielder. Playing at the highest level in the EPL he found his niche as a right back getting forward in attack whenever possible. Blackburn coach GRAHAM SOUNESS and Socceroo coach at the time, FRANK FARINA seemed more than happy to use him in this role.
The appointment of the Dutch maestro GUUS HIDDINK as Socceroo coach heralded a new era in Australian football and in the blossoming in to full bloom of the career of Lucas as an international footballer. After taking charge only a matter of months previous, it is now history how the Hiddink inspired Socceroos defeated Uruguay in that unforgettable encounter in Sydney in November 2005 to ensure Australia’s participation in the World Cup for the first time since 1974.
Directing the traffic from the centre of defence in a new role for him was LUCAS NEILL. Such was the confidence Hiddink had in Lucas’ ability and leadership skills that he wore the captain’s armband on more than one occasion.
Australia’s magnificent performances at the 2006 World Cup in Germany have been well documented. The outstanding performance of Lucas in each of the four games played has been recognized by all. The unfortunate second round exit of the Socceroos was the 29th cap he has earned. The emergence of outstanding footballers like TIM CAHILL, VINCE GRELLA & MARCO BRESCIANO as world class players should ensure continued success in the Asian Football Confederation & future World Cups.
Playing for Australia in the World Cup saw Lucas achieve a huge personal goal & in so doing match the achievements of former Blackburn team mates TUGAY, HAKAN UNSAL & HAKAN SUKOR (Turkey) DAMIEN DUFF ( Ireland) & BRAD FRIEDEL (USA) who all experienced the exhilaration of competing in the 2002 World Cup.
As a consequence of his outstanding performances at the World Cup Lucas’ services were being sought by some of the biggest clubs in Europe including Barcelona & Liverpool. Assistant Socceroo coach to Hiddink, JOHAN NEESKENS, who was soon to sign as FRANK RIJKAARD’S assistant a Barcelona was very keen to secure Lucas’ signature.
After much deliberation it was in the January transfer window of 2007 that Lucas signed an extremely lucrative contract with West Ham United F.C.
Later that year he captained the Socceroos in the ill fated assault on the Asian Cup where he made his 36th appearance for the Socceroos.
The appointment in early 2008 of another wily Dutchman in PIM VERBEEK to coach the Socceroos to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was generally seen to be a good appointment. Pim has been quick to recognize the valuable contribution Lucas has made & will continue to make by handing him the captain’s armband again.
It has been an exciting journey for the boy from Wakehurst and there is more to come!