Why I love Pat Nevin

I remember when I fell in love with Pat Nevin. It was in the playground and somebody was passing round a 1985 Panini sticker album. I turned straight to the Chelsea page to see my heroes.

There was Kerry Dixon, bluffly handsome with golden hair, azure eyes and self-confident grin. There was Colin Pates, a brick-wall centre-back with disco dancer hair. There was Doug Rougvie with a nose that looked like it had lost an argument with a spade.

And there was Pat Nevin. Pasty-faced, greasy-haired, nervous, thin and sullen. He looked like a smackhead. Who wouldn’t fall in love?

I only saw Nevin play once for Chelsea, a 3-0 victory at Watford in 1988 about which I remember little, but his legend loomed large over the following years. By the time I started watching Chelsea regularly the next season, the club were in the Second Division and Nevin was at Everton, but my bible, the Chelsea Independent fanzine, spoke of little else.

They drooled over Nevin’s dribble against Newcastle, when he beat eight players in a slalom run that took him from one end of the pitch to the other. They marvelled at his free kick against Sheffield Wednesday, when he chipped the ball over the defensive wall, ran round the other side and lofted a perfect cross on to David Speedie’s goalscoring noggin. They giggled at his famous penalty miss against Manchester City.

The love seemed mutual. When Nevin was injured playing for Tranmere, he attended a Chelsea-Everton game at Goodison Park and paid to go in the Chelsea end. This was important. Chelsea fans, then as now, were despised, but if somebody like Nevin loved us, maybe there was hope, maybe there was redemption,

And Nevin was the sort of player that fans love – an exciting, creative, unpredictable dribbler, but there was more to it than this. Nevin was smart. Nevin was cool. Nevin was different.

He angrily attacked his own supporters for their racist, violent and anti-semitic predilections – to the delight of the left-wing students at the Chelsea Independent. He read French and Russian literature. His favourite bands were Joy Division, Jesus And Mary Chain and the Cocteau Twins. He once insisted on being substituted at half-time in a friendly so he could attend a gig. He brought Brechtian principles to the club programme when he interviewed himself – yes, himself – for a player profile. He was friends with John Peel. For the teenager who read Camus and listened to Sonic Youth it was a no-brainer: if you could be a footballer, you’d be Pat Nevin.

NME described Nevin as the first post-punk footballer, although it may have been more accurate to say he was the first art school footballer. He was also the last. 

When at Everton, Nevin gave a lengthy to the Chelsea Independent, and talked at length about football, music and literature, and what it was like drinking in Soho with George Melly. I’d never heard of Melly, but here I was, learning about jazz and the counterculture from a footballer, in a fanzine. Would that happen now? 

When I interviewed Colin Pates – who is not a stupid man, by any means -he still seemed bemused by the fact Nevin would read books on the way to away games rather than play cards. Nevin, though, never seemed to get bullied about his interests. He was clever, but he was also proudly working-class and therefore more acceptable to other footballers and more capable of sticking up for himself than the middle-class Guardian-reading Graeme Le Saux who followed him as Chelsea’s token intellectual.

In the early 1990s, I finally got to see Nevin play at Stamford Bridge. He was wearing an Everton kit, but when he scored the Shed gave him a standing ovation – the only time I have ever seen Chelsea fans applaud an opposition goal. Pat Nevin was a very intelligent footballer and when he was around, fans seemed to use their brains a little bit more as well.


15 responses to “Why I love Pat Nevin

  1. best things as an everton player were the ‘scoops’. also joe worral denied him an DEFINITE penalty at anfield. the turd. a fine player

  2. And don’t forget In Ma Head, Son!

    Pat’s one of the highlights of a generally classy group of studio pundits up here on Sportscene (programme with the world’s most depressing suicide-blue set). Obviously this is not a golden age for the Scottish leagues, but the quality of the discussion, with Nevin well to the fore, almost makes up for the quality of the actual football, and if the Scottish clubs continue to play local lads as they’ve been doing lately, who knows, there might be something better to talk about given time.

  3. James – what did you think of ‘In Ma Head, Son!’?

    I always thought it was a good idea, that didn’t quite come off. Not read it for years though.

    I’m glad Pat’s a good pundit – he’s good on Radio 5 and does a column for Chelsea website – but always slightly disappointed he didn’t go on to do something totally unexpected, beyond the odd DJing slot.

    Biff – glad to hear that Nevin was appreciated at Everton, have heard mixed things about him from Evertonians over the years.

  4. Many years past, late 80s, I was (very) loosely associated with a new fine art magazine called Modern Painters (still going, I think) edited by the late Peter Fuller. I remember being both incredulous and impressed in equal measure when they told me PN was writing an article for them. It was very high-brow.

  5. Pete,

    I’m right at the front of the queue jostling you in my devotion and man love for the wee fella.

    Always very impressed with him on Radio 5 Live, be it debating or summarising. The problem is, he all too readily shows how tawdry most of the shower that pass for experts and pundits really are (Jimmy Armfield and one or two others are notable exceptions).

    Pundits are very much part of the hoo hah that goes with the game. Good ones increase the whole experience of watching and talking about football.

    Pity they’re rarer than a virgin in the Vatican.

  6. Spent a year as a student in London in 1984-85 and watched lots of football, when I wasn’t playing for the University’s fifth team. Went to games at all the big grounds and most of the smaller ones, including several matches at the Bridge. Loved watching Pat play, and would have paid to watch him warming up – he spent so much time just doing tricks and playing with the ball. Watching you felt he almost had to be dragged off to go and get ready to play the game. Saw several of the games in the League Cup run, although we were late getting into the Walsall replay. When the whistle went for kick-off we were still queuing outside and moments later we heard another big cheer, and another just through the turnstiles and a third at the top of the stairs to the back of the Shed. Looking at the scoreboard when we got into the ground it was 3-0. Which was how it finished – we missed all the goals !!

  7. I was a huge fan of Pat’s, despite the fact that I’m a Queens Park Rangers fan. I saw him play one of his first games for Chelsea in a pre season friendly v QPR at Stamford Bridge – that was for Second division Chelsea v First division QPR, a pretty hard concept for anyone under the age of 30 to get their head around I suspect. He’s 3 weeks younger than me which makes him 10 days younger than Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins – a classic band and big fave of Pat’s. A great player and someone who is now in a very small and elite group – football pundits who talk sense.

  8. martin63, when he joined everton he did a show on local commercial station radio city, ended them all with a cocteaus song (cant stand them myself)

  9. Couple of good Pat and his music articles:
    and this one has a great story about his pay negotiations with Ken Bates and confirms that New Order were the band he wanted to see after his half time substitution:

  10. Pingback: Not all sportsmen are idiots « Wait until next year

  11. Pat Nevin becoming more and more Blues ledg – more and more he owns us

  12. That was a class read mate. Especially whilst listening to New Order.

  13. I love Pat. He was my hero when I was 17 for exactly the reasons in this fine article.

  14. Pingback: John Terry | The Great Wen

  15. Pat was my all time footbal hero, I saw him many times and I have one episode etched into my memory from Stamford Bridge. I used to stand in the Shed End, and one night under the floodlights he did something I have never ever seen before or since. He got just wide of the penalty area with the ball and stood there stationary with the ball. As a defender closed in to challenge, he just did some weird swivel with his hips and the defender fell over. The ball was stationary the whole time, absolutely brilliant. He’s a good lad as well.

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