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John Nicholson and Alan Tyers look at pundits and commentators and pin down what makes them good, what makes them bad, and what makes them ugly. This week, it's Pat 'Wee Pat' Nevin...
With his delicate features and rather startling glasses, has the look of a once-fashionable lesbian arts administrator who has let time pass her by. Favours a slim suit and an open-neck shirt, with a penchant for a silk shirt that, while definitely not a blouse, is certainly not entirely unadjacent to the blouse ballpark. Small, precise in movements and looks, calls to mind a smartly turned-out ant that is on its way to an important leaf-eating function and wants to look its best without other ants remarking that it has overdressed and what does it think it is, some sort of beetle?
Pat has two major roles - as a Radio Five stalwart and as the regular expert pundit on BBC Scotland's Sportscene. Will forever be associated with Chelsea, for whom he was such a popular and exciting winger in the 1980s. North of the border, he is a supporter of Hibs (like half this column). Famously, away from football, he is that rarest of creatures: a footballer with actual music taste and an appreciation of a cultural life beyond the sport. We suspect he could talk for a long time about the Jesus And Mary Chain or the Cocteau Twins and let's face it, you couldn't say that about many pundits.
Strengths and Weaknesses
In his Scottish role, manages to be positive about the fare on display without making unreasonable claims for its quality. Scottish football is not a big world (though you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise if you read the papers in the country) and Pat knows pretty much all there is to know about it. He is able to communicate his ideas about the teams and their performances with equanimity and some style.
Showed moral courage in 2011 when, giving evidence to MSPs at Holyrood for a justice committee report on bigotry in Scottish football, he said (quoted in The Scotsman):
"I supported Celtic for most of my life. But one day, I found myself sitting in the stand with my son, who had started to take an interest in football, hearing the song 'Ooh ah, up the RA'. I could not accept bringing up my son alongside that, so I was driven away from the club that I loved. I was very disappointed about that."
Needless to say, some disagreed with his stance and let him know.
Hard to find too many weaknesses in his armour. Some find his slightly nebbish, middle-classness a little grating but frankly, that's unjustified.
Tactical genius or tactics truck?
To his credit, we think, Pat has sat in a version of the Tactics Truck while doing live work on Five, peering out of the gloom with only the reflective glow of a VT monitor to illuminate him. We always feel his greatest strengths are on bigger issues than the analysis of tactical set-ups.
Leg squeezer geezer?
Pat, as befits someone who can see the world beyond dressing rooms and golf clubs, does not give off the "Show us your medals" air nor does he imply that the only people a former footballer could possibly respect are other former footballers. Does not emit the alpha-male strutting so necessary to be a proper leg squeezer. However, would know exactly what one was, again, something that the real LSG would not be aware of.
Having voluntarily decided to go and watch Hibs on a regular basis, Pat is obviously in possession of a sense of humour, if not all his mental faculties. One imagines that having a conversation with him would be like having a conversation with an actual adult and that at no point would he attempt to cut off your tie or poo in your coffee. We also imagine that many an ex-player looks upon him as an exotic creature what with all the reading of books and love of early 80s indie over R'n'B.
We've often felt that the burden to avoid cliché weighs most heavily on the educated and erudite pundit. They're all too aware of default expressions and are naturally keen to distance themselves from those who find independent thought and sentence construction difficult. Yet football is often the same old rubbish over and over again, and finding new ways to say old things is not easy, which is one of the reasons why clichés develop. Nevin uses stock phrases sometimes, but he would always acknowledge that fact and that's as much as anyone can expect.
Why does he get gigs?
Bright, affable, has a broad range of knowledge. Having done time as Motherwell chief executive, as well as his career as a player, he is more well-positioned than most to see both sides of the fence. Media types love a clever footballer, too: look at the way Socky Le Saux has basically built an entire second career as a go-to sensitive/anti-homophobia type largely as a result of having once mentioned in passing that he reads The Guardian, even though his actual football work is relatively mundane. Scottish but not overwhelmingly so, Pat fills many roles with a quiet efficiency and is always a welcome presence on our telly.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
See extracts from Alan's new book 'Tutenkhamen's Tracksuit: The History of Sport in 100ish Objects' here.
Check out John's new series of crime novels about life, death, sex and UEFA Cup football, here.