Pat Nevin’s father taught him football by spying on Jock Stein’s Celtic training sessions.
Patrick Snr worked on the railways and was a decent boxer, but the drills stolen from Stein and prepared for his son every night in Glasgow’s tough East End were perhaps his greatest work.
When Nevin was playing for his first big club, Chelsea, in the mid-1980s, his dad would come to watch.
Pat Nevin expressed himself wonderfully with a football and now does so as a pundit
The former Chelsea winger was renowned for his dribbling ability during his career
He used to leave before the final whistle to get home but Nevin had his own way of saying goodbye. ‘I used to do one dribble every single game, just for him,’ Nevin said, smiling. ‘It was a message. Hello, goodbye and thanks.
‘Sometimes it was a mazy run from my own box. Sometimes it involved going round the same man three times. Then I’d look up. There you are dad, for you.
‘Sometimes there would be a goal on the end of it. Usually not. But it was cool because he had taught me all of it.’
Nevin was a talented, expressive forward most notably for Chelsea, Everton, Tranmere and Scotland.
These days, he is a diverse broadcaster, predominantly for BBC radio. But if the story about his father smacks a little of innocence, then there was some of that. Nevin always loved football but never wished it to define him.
‘I was never really part of what you may call the game,’ he said. ‘I didn’t care for money and never wanted to be famous, a horrible thought.’
Now 55, Nevin was asked recently why he had never been a manager. He replied: ‘Because I like life.’
Nevin, pictured playing for Scotland, was an unusual character compared to his team-mates
They called Nevin lots of things in the 1980s and not all of them were nice. Playing for Chelsea at West Ham, he was called a ‘poof’ by a supporter in the Chicken Run and responded by blowing him a kiss. ‘He was furious but behind him they were all laughing,’ said Nevin.
The player who left Clyde for Chelsea at 19 was certainly different. At first he said no as he was part-way through a university degree.
Nevin’s interest in indie music, art and literature set him apart from his peers and in some ways still does. On Saturday after co-commentating on Chelsea’s game with Manchester United, he will DJ at the Shacklewell Arms in Dalston, East London. It will finish at 3am and he will commentate on Everton v Crystal Palace later that day. ‘I like driving,’ he shrugged. ‘I can listen to podcasts and music.’
Dubbed a ‘football intellectual’ by the late Tony Gubba of the BBC and ‘Britain’s first post-Punk footballer’ by the NME, Nevin wore his long hair and a leather jacket as symbols of wilful individuality at a time when to be different in English football was almost sinful.
He shared a flat in London with the NME editor, wrote a column for the music newspaper, didn’t drink beer — he prefers wine — and spent his spare time in the studio with iconic radio DJ John Peel. The two remained close until Peel’s death in 2004.
The BBC commentator aims to convey analysis that supporters might not have thought about
During his time at the Blues, Nevin used to perform one dribble a game for his father
In the Chelsea dressing room — a place inhabited by players such as Kerry Dixon and David Speedie —they called him ‘weirdo’ and it was only partly in jest.
Nevin is a small, slight man with glasses. So how did he cope?
‘I guess it came from strength of personality from my parents and education,’ he told Sportsmail this week. ‘And I was from Glasgow’s East End, tougher than I looked.
‘People took the mick and I was like, “Really? Is that the best you can do?” When you don’t back down it blindsides them. Then there is a bit of respect for this wee bloke in the corner. Maybe I should have gone to the bad nightclubs with them at least once.
‘Yeah, maybe I was a weirdo. Actually I went once and I was introduced to Elton John. One of the players made an horrendous comment to him, homophobic. It crushed him. So I gave the lad a piece of my mind. He backed off.
‘One night a nice girl tried to chat me up and the lads were egging me on. But I had a girlfriend — she is my wife now — so I said I wasn’t interested and the lads asked me if I was gay.
‘Sometimes I revelled in the difference, but there were things I didn’t let on about. On a Thursday morning at training, would I tell them I had spent the night before at the royal ballet at Covent Garden? No, of course not.’
Nevin was successful at Chelsea. He played almost 200 league games, was Player of the Year twice and popularity came with it. He was indulged by manager John Neal, too. Nevin once left a pre-season game at half-time to go to a Cocteau Twins gig and would wear headphones while Neal gave his team talk.
‘It was my first Walkman and only I had one,’ he said. ‘But John was great. Once we had scored three, he let me do whatever I liked with the ball. Party time. And I think he knew about the dribble I used to do for my dad.’
In 1984, after scoring in a Friday win at Manchester City, Nevin skipped the team bus home to go to the town’s famous Hacienda nightclub, sleeping on the platform at Piccadilly Station before travelling south.
Once, with Chelsea leading the same opposition 4-0, he took one of the worst penalties of all time, off a half-yard run-up. So many people ask him about it, he got the clip uploaded to YouTube. He may have had a harder time had he not been such a valuable player.
The Scot was only slight but had a force of personality and character in the dressing room
Nevin enjoyed culture more than many of his contemporaries but never felt superior
Left back Graeme Le Saux emerged from the youth system and was less lucky. ‘He floundered for a while but used to come and do cultural stuff with me and friends around London,’ recalled Nevin.
‘He could see I was different and that gave him the encouragement to be different too.’
Nevin never dreamed of being a footballer and was prepared to walk away if it went wrong.
‘I had a 19-year career by accident,’ he explained. Nevin believes this allowed him to play without pressure but learned quickly it was not like that for most. He was PFA chairman in the 1990s and by that time had tired of some of the labels attached to him.
‘Yes, I liked books and movies and had a moral position but that didn’t make me an intellectual or smarter than the rest,’ he said. ‘And I loved some of them. Neville Southall at Everton was one of the funniest men I ever met.
‘Some people talk down about footballers, but those people would never survive in a dressing room. The strength of personality you need is extraordinary.
‘The humour is biting but the competitiveness is off the scale. So talk down to these people if you like, but you have no idea how hard they have fought to get there. Some of them crack.
‘Alcohol, drugs, gambling. Symptoms of this extraordinary pressure. I was lucky I wasn’t under it. But are these lads thick? No, I can’t see it.
‘There is an embarrassment that I probably thought that when I first went to Chelsea. Why were they not interested in politics like I was? But then after six months I realised I was being an arrogant git. Those lads were impressive in terms of what they went through. More so than me, for sure.’
As a youngster he was taught drills that his father observed Jock Stein implementing
Nevin always thought of his football career as a bonus, almost a happy accident
Nevin was once released by a major broadcaster because he was losing his hair. ‘They said that if I wanted to continue I had to get a hair transplant,’ he laughed.
‘But people in the media don’t normally tell you that you’re dumped. They just stop calling.
‘It’s brutal and maybe people take it too personally. I don’t. I am the weirdo again. But there is no certainty in this business and it’s not always about who is the best. It may be about who is most famous or who looks good. I’m out on the wing again but that’s OK.’
Nevin’s intention on radio is to ‘tell people things they may not know’.
‘I have no interest in the fame side of football. What a player does on a Tuesday needs to be bloody interesting if I am to care. But I have rolled with my media career and I have been lucky and I’ll never demean real journalism.
‘I wouldn’t want to get 800 words from a press conference with someone who said three words of interest. That is hard!’
Nevin remains a Chelsea fan and writes for the match programme — always with a musical theme. He gets paid more for this than he did when playing for the club.
His observations on the Premier League are fascinating.
On Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, he said: ‘I asked him years ago who he was talking to during his press conferences. Are you talking to the guys in front of you? The board? The fans? The opposition? The referee?
‘He said, “First I am talking to my players. Second I am talking to my players. Third I am talking to my players”. So I don’t know about some of his messages this season. Is he getting it right? It hasn’t looked it.
‘But I have watched him really closely over the years and time and again he has done things I didn’t expect. The guy is brilliant. He is. So he may surprise us yet.’
Nevin believes what Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri has done this season is astonishing.
Nevin played for Everton, Chelsea, Tranmere, Clyde, Kilmarnock and Motherwell
‘To trash the whole ethic and do this totally different thing and have it working immediately is amazing,’ he said. ‘I thought it wouldn’t last and I still think that. But I am weakening on that…’
Having spent time with former Chelsea captain John Terry, Nevin believes he will be the next great English manager. Had they played together the two men may not have dove-tailed in a dressing room, but Nevin said: ‘He is an extraordinary personality. I have watched him and everybody responds to him. How many people do you meet that — after you have known them for a while — have any kind of aura at all? Not many. Top managers should have it. They don’t. Top players should have it. They don’t. John has it. He does.
‘I have been so taken aback by him. It’s a weird thing and there is no fear in it. He is not intimidating people, it’s the opposite. He draws people in. John is an extreme personality and he is a stick-on to be a great manager.’
With that, it is time for lunch at Manchester’s Home cinema and theatre complex that sits on Tony Wilson Place. The late Wilson — founder of Factory Records — was another of Nevin’s influences.
These days he is friends with the film director Ken Loach, has been to Morrissey’s house and is on the judging panel for Music Book of the Year.
Nevin still takes stances on issues others may avoid. He stopped supporting Celtic because of the sectarianism, doesn’t hide his interests or views, and revealed he advised Juan Mata to leave Chelsea when Mourinho arrived for the second time.
The 55-year-old’s interests are diverse and his views on the Premier League are fascinating
He has written a play and may well write another, but as he takes the long drive home to the Scottish Borders on Sunday, it is likely to be football that consumes him.
‘I remember what it was like to know you were going to beat a man as soon as you got the ball,’ he said with a smile.
‘That feeling. You can’t beat it. I watch Eden Hazard now and he must feel that. Hazard could play for any team in the world.
‘That was what I loved about football. It was expressive and creative, like art. By the time I was nine, I could dribble without having to look at the ball. My dad taught me that.’