A Football365 love letter to… Pat Nevin

Date published: Saturday 5th August 2017 10:40

Johnny has pulled out his love stick again and is poking it at a wee man who is listening to the Blue Nile on his Walkman, that’ll be Pat Nevin then…


Why the Love?
Across a playing career of 19 years he was capped 28 times for Scotland and made 660 appearances for Clyde, Chelsea, Everton, Tranmere Rovers, Kilmarnock and Motherwell. Nevin was always a well-liked player, being what we always used to call “a jinky winger” back when there was romance in the game. Was twice Chelsea player of the year. Worth remembering that was was in the mid-80s when you could tackle a jinky winger with a chainsaw and only get a yellow card.

Slight in stature and at 5 ft 6 in not the tallest, but they built them tough in Glasgow in the 1960s. That he suffered few major injuries in his career is testament to his ability to stay out of trouble and see the over-the-top violent lunge before it snapped something. And fans always love a little guy who gets whacked but just gets up and goes again.

After retiring he was chief executive at Motherwell with mixed results and he went into broadcasting and writing, doing a regular column in the Chelsea programme. Now a constant on 5live and the BBC, but having also done stints on Five when they used to do the Europa League.

I’m sure I remember him on that channel sitting in the bleak darkness of what was surely Andy Townsend’s old Tactics Truck, his ghostly face only illuminated by a TV screen, as he did some half-time analysis.

These days his warm, friendly, cheerful tones are most often heard on the radio where he brings learning and perception to proceedings.


Superhero Skills
While at Chelsea he defended teammate Paul Canoville against the sort of racist abuse that was widespread and normalised in the early 1980. Talking about it later, Nevin said:

“People said it was a different time but not for me. There was a game where we beat Palace and he was abused by Chelsea fans. I got the winner and the press wanted to speak to me and I said ‘I’m not talking about the game, I want to talk about the disgusting abuse; a player shouldn’t be booed because of his colour’. It was all over the papers.”

Later, Paul said how much this helped his situation:

“I respected Pat and was honoured when he came out and said what he said. I didn’t want to come out on the pitch. I would warm up inside the changing room and go out just before. I hated being a sub…When I warmed up it was ‘sit down you n*gger’. I was getting hardcore abuse. But he (Pat) scored, and he made that statement and boy did people take notice. It eased things for me. I had family members saying ‘why are you playing for them?’ But that helped massively.”

It might not sound much now, but back in 1984 when the racists could be very vocal and aggressive, it took real balls to do that and to do so as a 21-year-old speaks of inner steel of the Scotsman.

When it comes to broadcasting, Pat is one of the grown-ups we’re always glad to see or hear. His west of Scotland accent has an amused warmth to it and like all such men, he can drop into the “wits up wi’ yoor coupon?” vernacular at any time, which is always a useful skill for a broadcaster, because it adds tone, depth and colour to your work.

A man with an arts degree and a fondness for indie music, in having hinterland he stands out from the crowd of ex-players for whom a golf day is as culturally adventurous as a day might get. Nevin doesn’t believe just shouting something loudly in a radio studio gives it more heft or truth. Rarely states the obvious. Does very well not to be scathing of those who he shares broadcasting time with who appear to operate on default group thinking. Indeed, he’s the pundit most often asked onto the Today programme on Radio4 to explain some footballing issue because he can be relied on to speak in a educated way and without cliche or mumbling obfuscation.

I can do no better than quote someone who worked with him. Former 5live producer Phil Wye got in touch with me to say this:

“As pundits go, he’s erudite, thoughtful, well informed and – as a production insight – “low maintenance.” Always chirpy, prepared to travel far and wide to enjoy his football. A total team player, is wee Pat: “Could you be on-site at Wembley by 11.40am Pat for on-air at 12? I know the match doesn’t kick-off til 5, but you know…ah, you can? Brilliant, thanks so much.”

“Those contributions, and appearing in breakfast programme two-ways at 7am after getting back to a European hotel at 1am after a CL or Scotland match away somewhere. He’s not selective, he does it all with enthusiasm and great reliability.

“He’s relaxed company, no ounce of ego. A fine man, one you can always count on. I greatly enjoyed his company & his on-air analysis, as I know the 5L commentators continue to do so.
He’s a great guy, ‘well-lived’ I’d say. An elite level player who’s been smart enough to later stretch himself from football CEO, Newsnight guest, broadcast pundit, columnist and DJ.

“Fascinating and eclectic, is Mr Nevin.”

What a great tribute that is. We should all aim for such standards in life.

Does very well not to be scathing of those who he shares broadcasting time with who operate on football default group think. Indeed, he’s the pundit most often asked onto the Today programme on Radio 4 to explain some footballing issue because he can be relied on to speak in a educated way and without cliche or mumbling obfuscation.

Wrote a book with a psychologist while he was at Tranmere Rovers, to better understand the footballer’s psyche. Transferred his allegiances from Celtic to Hibernian for various stated reasons, amongst them the pro-IRA chanting in front of his children. Inevitably this didn’t go down too well with some people, as any west of Scotland boy would certainly have known. His words of justification have long since been picked apart, but it’s fair to say some antagonism towards him remains in certain quarters.

Talking about his pundit work in an interview in 2013 he said:

“I’m there for no other reason than to enlighten you on something, because of my ‘expertise’, that you might not have spotted. I’m bored senseless with talking about a goal that goes in: the cliches are obvious. But if I can tell you something that makes you think ‘I never knew that’, that’s entirely the reason I do it.”

And that’s why we love him.


Style Guru?
As a youngster, once sported a mutant mullet which appeared to be at least three different haircuts on the same head, or was possibly a hat of some sort.

Developed a rather lovely chiselled, moody, sexiness and at times it did appear as though Pat could have been in the Jesus and Mary Chain.

I think he looks like a university professor who would take a module on the nature of socialist feminism’s impact on working class male identity in a non-collectivist, patriarchal global capitalist socio-economic hegemony.


Proper Football Man Rating
No, no, no. He’s the very antithesis of the PFM, despite playing back when everything was great unlike now. Back when jinky wingers were there to be hoofed up into the air.

See, this is where the game’s gone, Jeff. All these blokes what have got exams an’ that comin’ on the telly, takin’ our jobs by being smart. It’s not fair, Jeff. I’m not clever and I don’t want to be because it hurts me head.

Football punditry should be based on just saying things what you’ve heard but don’t know are true. That’s all you do. You don’t do research or any of that nonsense. You should never check on a fact if you played the game, ‘cos it just makes you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about.

To the PFM talking about football with Pat would feel like talking to a teacher and they don’t like that at all because you can’t grab a teacher’s leg. Not after that incident with Miss, anyway.

Taking pleasure in music, art and literature is all backs against the wall no disrespect pal stuff, for the PFMs who prefer showing an expensive watch to women in nightclubs as a leisure activity.

Mind you though, he is a wee fella and the boys love to throw the smallest boy in the room over the roof of their house. He’d also fit in a wheelbarrow very nicely for a post-drinking jaunt across an abandoned retail park.

Then again the small lads cannae hold their drink and the clever ones know it damages your brain cells, which is why every PFM loves a belt form Reidy’s flask of hydrochloric banana alcohol toothpaste, brandy and Deep Heat cocktail.

And even though Pat is Scottish and thus owns a liver which is innately capable of metabolising extraordinary amount of alcohol before breakfast, the boys worry if they go out with him, he’ll end up doing a psychological profile of them or worse still, making them listen to the entire Cocteau Twins back catalogue. What’s wrong with Climie Fisher, Jeff?


What The People Say
In recent years, football media bosses have increasingly begun, at last, to serve the sizeable audience who wanted to have their football analysis and insight performed by someone who was articulate, thoughtful and amusing.

It was an audience that really had had enough of ex-players asserting nonsense as truth, and using their ex-pro status to assert the veracity of their words. Pat’s ascent up the curve of football media has both coincided with and led this progress. He has proved to an industry that always seemed cynical of intellect that it is not mutually exclusive with football. So it’s no surprise how many people love Mr N’s output and have always felt grateful for it.

– Lovely player, interesting thoughts on wider game, probably only white player to speak out against racism in 80s (by own fans).

– Of all the football pundits I’ve chatted to/interviewed, he is by far the nicest

– Saw him DJing at much missed Roadhouse in Manchester with Colin Murray a few years ago. They know their indie. And Perry Groves was there!

– “Football is what I do, not what I am”. Great quote. Likes Teenage Fanclub and has a season ticket at Easter Road.

– Now a Hibs fan and therefore the best on tv.

– Got that intelligent,interesting but witty vibe about him, similar to ol’ Strach for entertainment value.

– Intelligent, amusing, interesting, entertaining and loves his indie bands. One of, if not the best, pundits on the radio

– Intelligent, witty, knowledgeable, loves obscure 80s and 90s indie bands. Seem to remember his first Chelsea wages went on a trip to Paris to see the Cocteau Twins. Also a DJ. Love listening to him & his tales of demanding to be taken off in a friendly so he could see New Order

– A hipster before there were hipsters.

– He isn’t afraid to make an outlandish claim (I just read that he thinks Michy Batshuayi is more clinical than Harry Kane). I respect that.

– He told a story once about going round Morrissey’s house with Norman Whiteside. I’d have loved to have been a fly one the wall at that!

– First exposure to him was as a pundit on C5’s early footy coverage. Possibly the first I saw to shun cliche and PFMing on any level.

– He’s ace. Has depth and intelligence and self- awareness. Anti PFM-bantersaurus.

– I knew I’d like him as soon as I found out about his musical and newspaper tastes 30 odd years ago and I’ve not been disappointed

– Smart, interesting, understated. Minimal PFM infection. Criminally underused in media. Can imagine enjoying his company – rare for ex-player

– Always brilliant on Fighting Talk. Should be given a far larger scope as he is head and shoulders above the usual ex pros on the Beeb.

– 1: He’s brilliant, engaging, articulate and intelligent. 2: He’s the only pundit I can imagine actually liking if I met him.


Future Days
Still only 53, a long career in broadcasting and journalism surely lies ahead of him. Let’s hope so. He brings a unique flavour to football media and is a welcome bulwark against the idiocracy which needs supervising at all times.


John Nicholson

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