Reviewed by Rob Sawyer
The Accidental Footballer is Pat Nevin's first conventional biography, coming almost a quarter of a century after the more left-field In Ma Head, Son!, which he co-authored with the psychologist George Sic.
The memoir takes us through a happy upbringing with four siblings in Easterhouse, to the east of Glasgow. Patrick Senior and Mary Nevin, Pat's loving and quietly principled parents, emerge as heroes in the story — giving their son the moral compass that has served him well. The warm glow of the adolescent memories is sometimes shattered by the subjects of sexual grooming in youth football (Pat, himself, was not a victim), religious sectarianism (which stalled his father's career progression) and gang warfare. Hilariously, in retrospect, the latter once impinged on, but failed to stop, a youth football match that he was playing in. For me, the star of these early passages is Shandy, the Nevin's church-attending and public transport-savvy family pet, who would have qualified for the canine equivalent of Mensa, had it existed.
Pat canters through his teenage footballing development as a goal-grabbing centre-forward (he didn't become a so-called ‘tricky winger' until he joined Chelsea) with an insatiable appetite for playing and improving — aided and encouraged by his father. Early encounters with two future Everton managers are documented. One gave him valuable advice on his ball-kicking technique. The other told him, in no uncertain terms (accompanied by a now well-known death stare), never to ‘bottle' a challenge again.
As the book title intimates — although Pat adored playing football — he never planned to become a professional, as he had his sights on further education and a career as a teacher. Even being released by his beloved Celtic as a teenager failed to perturb him. But fate and the subtly guiding hand his father were always conspiring to push him down the professional football career route. Combining polytechnic studies with life as a part-time pro at Clyde under Craig Brown, offered the best of both worlds, as Pat continued to study for his degree in business management. But his sparking form for the Bully Wee brought him to Chelsea's attention and, eventually, they got their man.
Pat rolls back the years to those halcyon days in his first couple of years in the Smoke. There was the thrill of discovering a vibrant new city and thriving as a winger in an entertaining promotion-winning team. Pat credits John Neal, the Chelsea manager, and one-time protégé of Joe Mercer at Aston Villa, for his man-manager skills and attacking football ethos. The finely-honed goalscoring instincts of Kerry Dixon and the incessant moaning (but effectiveness on the pitch) of David Speedie are well documented. But the contributions of less-celebrated players like Tony McAndrew and Colin Pates to the team's success are also underlined. Ken Bates' contract negotiating tactics also raise a chuckle (as does Pat's streetwise response to the club chairman). Bates was the man behind an incomprehensible post-season tour of Saddam Hussein-era Iraq. Naturally, with his inquisitive nature, Pat managed to go off-piste, ending up in an ‘historic' area of Baghdad whilst all but one of his teammates stayed at their hotel, enjoying the free bar in the basement.
Off the pitch the Scot fell in love with the capital, developing a circle of friends far removed from the football realm. These included ‘alternative' radio DJ John Peel, people from the world of ballet and members of his beloved Cocteau Twins. As the chapter titles hint at, music and the arts are close to the author's heart and feature heavily in the book. The reader is left with the strong impression of a man who was (and still is) — comfortable in his own skin and unconcerned at not fitting the footballer stereotype. In fact, Pat describes how he consciously eschewed the conventional ‘celebrity' fame game. There are amusing tales of dossing down overnight in Manchester's Piccadilly Station after a visit to the Hacienda nightclub, attending countless ‘indie' gigs in the more obscure London venues, co-curating an exhibition at an art gallery on the Southbank and being serenaded in Sofia by Bulgarian folk singers.
A change of manager and coach, and a change to more ‘traditional' tactics, saw things turn sour at the Bridge. The long ball tactics espoused by the coaching staff were an anathema to a man who believes that football, above all else, should be a form of entertainment. With the Pensioners relegated, and the ‘tricky winger' (an ‘oft-used' press label — even though he'd never sought to be a wide man) out of contract — a move to Paris Saint Germain was on the cards. However, a call from Toffees manager Colin Harvey changed all that.
Readers of this website will, in all probability, give the chronicling of Pat's Goodison years the greatest attention. His admiration for Harvey shines through (in much the same way it does for John Neal) — as does frustration that some players failed to give their all for Harvey when form deserted the team in the 1990/91 season.
Having fought back in record time from an ACL injury suffered in only his fourth outing for the Toffees, Pat and Everton did come tantalisingly close to winning silverware at times. The Scot puts forward the argument that a schism that developed between the Goodison old guard (who had enjoyed great success several years earlier) and incomers such as Stuart McCall, Neil McDonald, Tony Cottee and Martin Keown had a negative impact on the pitch. These marginal losses in performance, he believes, were the difference between success and near-misses.
Some big characters that Pay encountered at Everton are covered. There was the supremely talented but injury-hampered Norman Whiteside, and the mickey-taking Neville Southall — who could not abide being beaten, even in training sessions (cue Pat and his famous ‘scooped' finishes). Away from football, the author describes the further opportunities offered in the North West to indulge his passions, DJing (at Radio City) and having an audience at the Bowdon home of a certain Steven Patrick Morrissey, before the wordsmith's views went decidedly off-message. Pat also writes movingly about the impact of the Hillsborough disaster on both sides of the city (his elation of scoring the FA Cup semi-final winner was immediately ended when news reached Villa Park of the developing catastrophe in South Yorkshire).
This autobiography is very much Pat in his own words; you can almost hear his gentle Glaswegian lilt as you read the passages. He is frank about his life in football, and beyond. Although never seeking to settle scores, he does not shy away from addressing the less savoury elements of a life in the sport he loves. At Chelsea there was racist abuse directed by supporters at teammate Paul Canoville — prompting Pat to make a public stand, rather than brushing it under the carpet (which was the more typical response). He also touches on homophobia — something that clubmate Graeme Le Saux (another of the more openly intellectual footballers of the era) was the misguided target of. The candour includes an insight into the issues that, in his assessment, held Everton back during Howard Kendall's second spell there as manager. A fitness-fanatic and dedicated-professional (albeit, he stresses, not holier than thou), Pat struggled to accept what he perceived to be a drop in training standards, and the impairing influence of alcohol on both manager and players.
The Scot could not convince the incoming boss that he was a ‘Kendall player' and regularly found himself out of the first eleven — in spite of being, in his opinion, at the top of his game. By Pat's own admission, he stayed a season too long in trying, vainly, to win round the Toffees' manager. So, when he should have been at the peak of his career, he found himself dropping down to join Tranmere on loan in the spring of 1992. This became a permanent move, but only after a, marvelously recounted, ‘persistent' wooing by Galatasaray. The Istanbul team may have offered the world — but their transfer target eventually eschewed the Bosporus in favour of the Mersey. The switch to the Wirral brought an end to an increasingly despondent spell at Goodison Park. It had its highlights, notably in the first two seasons under Colin Harvey which included trips to Wembley, but it turned into a case of what might have been.
A Scotland career which saw him narrowly miss out on the 1986 and 1990 World Cup finals but play at Euro 92 with a stress fracture of the leg — is covered. International duty also gave Pat a first — and lasting — impression of a young and headstrong Duncan Ferguson. The anecdote will raise a wry smile with readers of an Everton persuasion. Cameos are made in the tome by the likes of Jock Stein, Alex Ferguson and Gordon Taylor. Although the latter is now often maligned, Pat makes a strong case for what the PFA supremo did for players in the 1980s and 1990s
By his own admission, Pat rediscovered the thrill of playing attacking, attractive football in a happy squad environment at Prenton Park. However, Roverites will be disappointed as the memoir effectively ends in 1992. But fret not, the author is currently bashing away at a keyboard in the Scottish borders. It is hoped that volume two will emerge in due course, taking in Johnny King's ‘trip to the moon', the PFA chairmanship, a playing swansong north of the border, plus football administration, media work and raising a family.
To conclude, this is a refreshingly honest and thought-provoking autobiography. As deftly delivered as some of Pat's ball skills in his 1980's heyday, its lightness of touch and self-deprecating humour balances the heavier subjects tackled and several moments of poignancy. Especially touching is the passage about the late John McNaught, and Pat's unstinting efforts to unearth playing match footage of the former Chelsea player for his family.
By Pat's own admission, Chelsea will always be his club south of the border (an explanation of why he switched his Scottish allegiance from Celtic to Hibernian will come in the second installment of his memoirs), but the affection he holds for Everton and Tranmere is clear. Those are feelings, I'm sure, reciprocated by supporters of his clubs on either side of the River Mersey.
Pat Nevin: The Accidental Footballer — A Memoir is published by Monoray on 20 May, 2021.
Reader Comments (26)
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1 Posted 20/05/2021 at 10:33:33
He was a very good player, but never really did it for us. I remember him ripping us to pieces for Chelsea at Goodison just before Christmas 1984, in what I think was our last home defeat of the season. But he was injured in his early days for us, then I think he suffered a debilitating illness from which he took a long time to recover - at times, kicking the ball more than 5 yards looked an effort for him.
This will be worth a read.
2 Posted 20/05/2021 at 12:51:29
Later on when Kendall had made it obvious he didn't rate Pat, I saw him one cold miserable winters day, up and down the wing for Everton reserves doing the best he could, playing very well. I wrote him a letter a few days later, praising him but asking how he felt in giving his all in such very drab conditions for the reserves, when he should have, IMO, been in the first team.
A few weeks later, I'd forgot about writing to him, I received a letter, which still makes me smile, it was on what looked like an old green envelope, torn around the edges, and on it Pat said, thank you for taking the time to write to me and the main theme was “ No matter who I play for, first team or reserves I always try to do my best because I am still paid the same wages no matter what.
Like Peter(1), I will also endeavour to get this book, you never forget nice people and I think Pat Nevin is one, and always the same man, no side to him at all.
3 Posted 20/05/2021 at 13:11:23
The memory is fading and I don't want to Google, but did he play for the Chelsea team at Goodison that had not long been promoted around 87-ish?
We frustratingly drew 2 - 2, Chelsea wore some some of green / turquoise strip and it was the match Pat van den Hauwe got away with totally flooring David Speedie off the ball.
4 Posted 20/05/2021 at 14:13:31
Even though he was on crutches, he still wanted to watch his team mates from the stands.
He not only signed our match programmes, we were all 6th formers â€“ and all forming our own musical tastes â€“ he discussed it in depth with each of the four of us, listening, chatting and giving back the Scouse wit with interest.
The team coach (as in bus), eventually sent someone over to retrieve him, as the persistent horn blowing had no impact.
It was a shame Howard Kendall II didn't give him a chance, but throughout his career, Kendall made his mind up on players pretty quickly and seldom changed it.
I look forward to reading this. I heard him on Radio 5 this morning talking about it, and in typical fashion he was self-deprecating, talking about the forthcoming Euros instead. Your review, Rob, has convinced me it's worth getting â€“ not that I ever doubted it would be an interesting read.
5 Posted 20/05/2021 at 14:23:41
Even in his first stint, he quickly realised and made decisions on players, even his own signings.
6 Posted 20/05/2021 at 14:43:29
You're correct: Everton drew 2-2, Colin Pates scored near the end, when they were down to 10 men, following the dismissal of McAllister. The games between Chelsea and Everton were quite feisty in those days, but at least Everton beat them at Stamford Bridge and we went on to win the league.
I don't know what colour the Chelsea strip is... Greyish Green?
7 Posted 20/05/2021 at 14:46:59
8 Posted 20/05/2021 at 15:34:47
What are the chances of travelling to an event and sitting two seats away from an Everton supporter?
9 Posted 20/05/2021 at 18:14:27
In his public profile he has all but erased us from his memory and has taken the BBC directive to promote the filth.
Maybe Kendall knew something that we didn't.
There are very few ex-Toffees who I have contempt for, but Nevin is near the top of the list. I have more respect for Barmby - at least he was honest !
10 Posted 20/05/2021 at 18:19:50
11 Posted 20/05/2021 at 18:24:47
"There are very few ex-Toffees who I have contempt for, but Nevin is near the top of the list". There's a contradiction in there, surely?
12 Posted 20/05/2021 at 18:31:25
13 Posted 20/05/2021 at 18:36:47
There are many occasions when a certain penalty has been denied for Everton at the other place, but I seem to remember that it was Nevin in the first cup match who was denied a stonewall penalty. If you go to around 9min 30sec in the linked video you can see if it was a legitimate claim
14 Posted 20/05/2021 at 18:40:43
15 Posted 20/05/2021 at 18:44:07
Having just watched it again, to see if it really was as blatant as I remembered it, I can't understand why the Referee (Neil Midgely?) didn't award it, even from his vantage point. I was behind that goal and everybody shouted penalty immediately.
16 Posted 20/05/2021 at 19:14:38
17 Posted 20/05/2021 at 19:19:30
18 Posted 20/05/2021 at 20:03:05
I returned home to discover our family had been hit by a disaster. I prefer not to go into the details, but would like to say that by a quirk of fate we subsequently befriended referee Neil Midgeley, who was very generous with his time helping a charity we established. He may have had shortcomings as a referee but he was a lovely guy. (I still gave him stick about the penalty whenever I met him!).
19 Posted 20/05/2021 at 21:02:51
There was a shocking few years were Lawrenson was pulling players shirts, when we were wiping the floor with them, Hansen getting away with hand balls, and the diabolical disallowed Wayne Clarke header.
Throw in Don Hutchinsons disallowed goal at our place, and where does time go, and at least we got some better luck this season v the RS at Goodison.
Hopefully this weekend will pan out for Everton.
20 Posted 20/05/2021 at 21:17:08
21 Posted 20/05/2021 at 22:49:30
22 Posted 21/05/2021 at 23:38:29
It would have seemed odd if he'd done otherwise and if this was us operating at that level and Carragher or Souness were reluctant to pay compliments, we'd be quick to jump on them.
He's just been honest and never been disrespectful towards us either as, when we do well, you can tell he gets a kick out of it.
As a player, he probably should have won more a little like his team mate Kerry Dixon.
One thing that always surprises me is that HK didn't like him. After coming in for his second managerial spell, HK was obsessed with a Spanish style with technical but diminutive players like Beardsley, Ward, Cottee, Beagrie, Warzycha, Ebbrell (we were linked with Hagi at the time as well!) but Nevin was sidelined?
23 Posted 22/05/2021 at 00:49:07
In the days of the rigid 4-4-2, Kendall mostly preferred his "wide"players to be ones that could also play central, and would probably have preferred to play central, given the option. Like Sheedy for example, who definitely would have preferred centre mid. But in those days it was never going to happen. Sheedy did a bit of central in 86/87 when injuries kicked in. He was excellent.
As I understand it, Kendalls thinking was that you'd get the width but they'd also play wide narrow to keep it kind of compact so you'd not get strung out. They generally needed to have the legs to work up and down and preferably have a few goals in them. If the legs weren't on one side then they definitely had to be on the other. Like Trevor Steven, Mark Ward, or Kevin Richardson - who played central everywhere else as far as I know.
When Kendall sold Beardsley he spent the money on Graham Stuart and played him right mid. Hard working, up and down, few goals in him, play central at a push. Even fucking Preki preferred to play centre mid!!
When Kendall came back for the second time I knew Nevin and Beagrie may as well have packed their bags straight away. There was no way Kendall was going to have them. I thought both were a shocking waste of money anyway. I didn't rate Nevin. And Beagrie? Christ. Self-indulgent, greedy, unproductive. Played like he was in the school yard. In fact, apart from Keown and Hinchcliffe I'm not sure Colin had many successes in the market. Most were really poor and really expensive. Good God, I've just thought of Mike Milligan
24 Posted 22/05/2021 at 20:33:50
Just listened to the Roger Armstrong interview; very good to listen.
25 Posted 23/05/2021 at 08:41:16
I suspect Pat is something of a Marmite type of guy, but to me he comes across as dedicated and principled.
Well worth a read.
26 Posted 23/05/2021 at 08:55:31
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