Depending on your age and interests, Pat Nevin is either an ex-Scottish International footballer and Chelsea legend, a DJ much influenced by the indie music scene or a respected media journalist and writer. One man, many facets and with a story to tell. Much like the release of Arsene Wenger’s autobiography, My Life in Red and White, Pat Nevin’s book was also keenly anticipated by many in the sporting world and beyond. And like the ex-Arsenal manager’s offering, Pat Nevin’s The Accidental Footballer is a book that has a sophistication, insight, depth and humour that is not always associated with the genre of football writing.
Growing up, football biographies and autobiographies tended to be very much along the lines of the ‘boy done good’, containing a less than inspiring linear plod through the matches and seasons the subject played in, with machismo tales of drinking and night club excesses adding the ‘colour’. During Nevin’s career at Chelsea and Everton (from 1983 to 1992), which he focuses on in his book, this was indeed the culture that he found himself amongst. However, where his fellow squad members were happy to lounge by the hotel pool on club and international trips abroad, downing a few beers in the sun, Nevin wanted to get out and see the countries and the culture, wherever he found himself, whether that be in Europe or further afield in China and Iraq.
This wasn’t the only aspect that singled out the Glasgow born fleet-footed forward from his clubmates. Nevin never intended to be a footballer (as the book’s title infers) with no clamour for the glamour and fame that a successful playing career could bring. Indeed even though he was released by Celtic, the club he supported and watched from the terraces as a boy, Nevin was determined to follow the educational path taken by his siblings and would have turned down the club whatever their decision. That he found his way into the game through playing for Clyde, was determined by his desire to play the game he loved purely for enjoyment, whilst allowing him to continue his University studies and earn some money on the side to get to various music gigs in Glasgow. Indeed, you get the impression his love of the arts, and the chance to get to more involved in the indie music scene was as much as a draw as he moved to London and Stamford Bridge, than going full-time in England.
The move saw Nevin become part of a successful Chelsea side as his goals and assists for Kerry Dixon saw the Blues gain promotion from the old Second Division in 1983/84 with him picking up the Player of the Year Award that season and in 1986/87. When Chelsea were relegated in 1987/88, he stayed in the old First Division by moving to Everton, where his time was blighted by injury and the return of former Toffee Manager Howard Kendall, which after a loan spell saw Nevin stay on Merseyside by signing permanently for Tranmere Rovers. Internationally, he was talented enough to earn 28 caps for Scotland, playing in the European Championship Finals in 1992 and was Player of the Tournament as Scotland became European Under 18 Champions in Finland ten years earlier.
Whilst football is central to Nevin’s ‘memoir’ (his parents always encouraged their children to use the best English they could), his love of music is evident not only through his interesting tales of his relationship with John Peel and meetings with others in the business such as Morrissey, but that each of the book’s 32 chapters headings are in fact song titles, handily detailed at the end with the artists also listed.
Football and music aside, readers also get to learn of Nevin’s politics, influenced by the hard-working ethos of his family and the reality of growing up in working-class Glasgow, a city divided by the Catholic and Protestant religions. Indeed, as a Catholic, Nevin believed that despite his father’s years of dedication to his job on the railways, he was always overlooked for promotion in favour of his Protestant colleagues. It is evident that Nevin’s father was an incredible inspiration, not only working long hours for British Rail, but spending hours coaching his son and various youth teams, and even when Nevin moved South, getting to games in London.
And just as Nevin feels able to articulate his view of the discrimination against his father, he is open in expressing opinions on major issues such as racism, the child abuse scandal at the Celtic Boys Club and the continuing sectarian problems at both Celtic and Rangers. Indeed, it will be interesting to see whether that particular issue would be explored in any potentially further book to come from Nevin, which could also look at parts of his playing career not mentioned in this memoir, at Kilmarnock and Motherwell, where he also had a stint as Chief Executive.
It was a pleasure to be let into Nevin’s world through The Accidental Footballer, a book which so easily have been called, The Arty Footballer, The Artistic Footballer, The Articulate Footballer, The Alternative Footballer or indeed The Accomplished Footballer.
(Monoray. May 2021. Hardback: 352 pages)