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Nevin, Pat (1983-1988)


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Pat Nevin (1983-1988)

Written by Backbiter in June 2007

Chelsea fans have always revered wingers, provided they were any good. Looking back over four decades of following Chelsea we have had some good ones. No, we've had some great ones, and they were both Scottish.

I don't mean to be disrespectful to other wingers who did their bit to light up our lives. I'm thinking of Clive Walker, a player who scored the goal that saved the club from oblivion back in 1983, and a world-beater on his day, but unfortunately his day seemed to come around less frequently than his birthday; Jesper Gronkjaer, who scored one of the most important winning goals in our history but whose dreadful crossing made him one of the most frustrating players ever to play for the club; and our current three wingers, one of whom, Joe Cole, isn't really a winger, another of whom, SWP, has yet to do himself justice, despite flashes of promise, and the other, Arjen Robben, who has talent to burn but a fragility that means he is absent as often as he plays.

young%20nevin.jpg The signing of Pat Nevin from Clyde in the pivotal summer of 1983 didn't cause too much fuss at the time. A tribunal valued him at £95,000, although his club wanted over twice that much ('How can you be asking for £200,000 for a player you only pay £50 a week?' asked Ken Bates. 'We don't pay him what he is worth, we pay him what we can afford,' replied Craig Brown, the future manager of Scotland).

nevin%20august%201984.jpg Pat's career had got off to a bit of a slow start. He was rejected by Celtic at 16 for being not physically strong enough (seeing his tiny frame at Chelsea a few years later you could see what they meant), but he didn't lose heart. "Being kicked out of Celtic was the best thing that ever happened to me," he later said, as it allowed him to pursue his studies that made him the unusually interesting footballer he became, leading to late night appearances on BBC2's Newsnight Review (you couldn't imagine his teammates Johnny Bumstead or David Speedie getting the invite to that) as well as a successful journalistic career.

He didn't make the immediate impact that other summer signings Kerry Dixon and Nigel Spackman made on the opening day, he claims he was doing his finals (in August?) so he didn't make selection. I first saw him away at Sheffield Wednesday when he came on as a sub, and his superb close control and ability to beat players was immediately apparent. I can't prove it but it was several months before I saw anyone tackle him.

patnevin%20july%201986%20friendly%20agai Nevin playing in a friendly against Caernarfon Town in July 1986

He didn't have an electric burst of pace like Clive Walker that would rip defences apart every other season, but he was an old-fashioned artist with the ball at his feet, in the great Scottish tradition of Jimmy Johnstone and Charlie Cooke (and John Robertson, if you allow fatties into the list). He would show the ball to defenders, inviting them to dive in and clatter him, but he had the skill and elusiveness to dance away from them. And if nothing was on, he would do it all over again until something was.

Once he was established in the side he was undroppable, and his ability to avoid injury made him practically ever-present for the next five years. It is well-known that Brian Clough's team talks at Nottingham Forest were not very complicated: 'See this?' he would say, holding up the ball. 'This is your friend. Look after it, and don't give it away.' John Neal's at Chelsea were even briefer: 'Just give it to Pat', he would say, such was his faith in his ability to create things for his teammates.

That seemed to be all that was needed during that unforgettable season when we stormed to promotion and the second division title, although we did owe just a tad to the fantastically consistent and committed displays from the entire side, from Eddie Niedzwiecki, through captain Colin Pates, defenders Joe McLaughlin and Joey Jones, striker-turned-full-back Colin Lee, Mickey Thomas, Johnny Bumstead, Nigel Spackman, David Speedie and the big blond number nine we got from Reading.

nevin%20october%201987.jpg Wee Pat gave me as much pleasure as any player in my 40 years of watching Chelsea. In my eyes he's up there alongside Ossie and Zola, Charlie Cooke and John Terry, Peter Bonetti and Jimmy Greaves as a true legend.

For those of you who find that hard to believe, you had to be there when he was at his peak. The TV archives, not even the sadly missed BlueBeard YouTube archive, don't really show him at his phenomenal best (try searching for 'Penalty + joke + Man City' for proof of that). Anyone who was there, I bitterly regret that I wasn't, will never forget his display at home to promotion rivals Newcastle in November 1983, when he apparently beat all 10 outfield players at least seven times each as he ran from box to box over and over daring them to tackle him. It was a run that embodied the art of showboating two decades before Joe Cole had a public bollocking from the manager for turning it on once too often. Chelsea fans knew what a gem we possessed, but word had yet to reach the future England manager. 'Who the hell was that in the number seven shirt? asked Kevin Keegan afterwards, his head still spinning from Pat's dribbling skills.

pat%20and%20john%20peel%20in%20a%20glasg A picture of Pat and the late, great, John Peel taken in a Glasgow curry house in April 2004. Wee Pat certainly liked his indie tunes!

I used to read every interview and feature on him back then. I was genuinely fearful that he would find the club, its chairman and its fans, the hard-core nutters who were just a little to the right of him politically, not really on his wavelength and would just pack up and leave. I remember him saying during that season that he wasn't yet convinced that he wanted to be a full-time professional. He was really into his music, his art and his politics, and I can't imagine he had a lot in common with his teammates off the field. I don't think Kerry Dixon read the Guardian, and I'm not sure David Speedie spent his evening listening to the Cocteau Twins or the Jesus and Mary Chain.

nevin%20scotland.gif It took him a few years to win his first international cap, helping Scotland beat Rumania in 1986, but it's fair to say that he never managed to reveal his true class when representing his country (not that I saw too many of his appearances). I remember reading about his frustration after an Under-21 game, when he questioned his own ability after failing to get the better of some quality defenders. 'I cannae play', he moaned, depressed that he couldn't perform to his potential.

Happily for us, he did that consistently in a Chelsea shirt, and the memories do not fade. One stands out for me, from our promotion-clinching 5-0 demolition of Leeds at the Bridge on a glorious day in 1984. Attacking the area at the North End of the ground, just in front of the benches, he bamboozled two Leeds defenders, one of them was a young Dennis Irwin, beating them to the byeline before chipping over a superb cross that Kerry Dixon buried on his way to his perfect hat-trick. It was an occasion that meant everything to the long-suffering Chelsea fans, but it was a special day for Wee Pat, too, as he said when looking at a photo of himself surveying the celebration from the East Stand:

'I don't think I've ever seen a picture of me looking happier and more relaxed. It was contentment. I was sitting there thinking 'We've done this. We are here to make these people happy and it's all been done. You could touch the supporters' happiness. For me it was a year's worth of work all on one day, but it was more than that for the Chelsea fans. It was a lot more than that! At that point, I think something came through that it was special.'

nevin%20everton.gif Nevin playing for Everton, at least it wasn't the red side of the Mersey cesspool he played for

He won the club player of the season award that year and again in 1987 - only Dennis Wise, John Terry and Frank Lampard have won it twice in the past twenty years, so he's in good company. It was sad but somewhat inevitable that he eventually moved on as Chelsea's fortunes dipped under John Hollins and relegation followed in 1988. He stayed at Everton for four years but never struck up the bond he'd enjoyed with fans at Chelsea. His value had soared to £925,000 - a fee set by transfer tribunal, but I'm certain Bates wanted loads more. I found this comment on him from a clueless Evertonian who doesn't appreciate a true artist: "Pat Nevin was a skilful enough footballer, but I didn't think that we'd ever win anything with him in the side. He was a luxury player and they rarely win trophies. He was a lovely guy, but he wasn't seen as the type to roll up his sleeves and battle for the team when the chips were down'. He probably delights in the sort of stuff they play under David Moyes, and no doubt rates Lee Carsley as a better player than Pat Nevin.

He never lost his love for Chelsea, of course, as was confirmed a few years later when he came to watch a Chelsea-Everton game and chose to sit - or possibly stand, I can't remember - with the Chelsea supporters.

nevin%20five%20live.gif He subsequently joined Tranmere for a club record £300 000 and was apparently an 'instant hit'. He stayed for several seasons and went on to win far more caps than he ever did at Chelsea, before returning to Scotland to play in the Premiership for Kilmarnock. Once he stopped playing, he continued to work in the media, and has become a regular pundit on Channel 5, or 'Five as it's now known - a channel that is to football what The Adult Channel is to knitting.

He also became chief executive of Motherwell, where he seems to have made a few enemies:

I have two diametrically opposite images - one in England and one in Scotland. The one in England is shaped by my love of football, art and music, and - because I was chairman of the PFA for a while - left-wing politics. Down there I am all about care and consideration and working for the good of the game. But in Scotland I am a scheming, slimy ex-chief executive of Motherwell Football Club.

pat_nevin3.jpg Scheming and slimy are the last adjectives any Chelsea fans would apply to Pat Nevin. Skilful, entertaining, intelligent, dedicated, small, inventive, popular, tricky, Scottish, witty, educated - I could go on but those sum him up for me. When he joined us was when watching Chelsea became fun and rewarding again.

Some random facts about Pat Nevin

He played 242 times for Chelsea, scoring 42 goals

He made 193 league appearances for us - exactly the same as for Tranmere.

He won 28 caps for Scotland - exactly the same number as ex- Chelsea keeper Neil Sullivan (shudder).

He only won 6 caps while at Chelsea, and 14 at Tranmere.

He made his first Scotland appearance on 27th Mar 1986 v Rumania

He made his final Scotland appearance on 27th Mar 1996 v Australia

He wrote a book in 1997 called 'In Ma Head, Son . . . The Footballer's Mind Revealed'

Some random quotes (and poems) about Pat Nevin

'I'd have to disagree with the inclusion of a photo of Pat Nevin alongside the caption of 'the most talented player to ever pull on the famous blue'. The words 'rose tinted' and 'spectacles' spring to mind along with the names of Gullit and Zola'

Jez Walters

'Pat Nevin was an intelligent footballer, and is clearly an intelligent man, but dear God, doesn't he twitter on, blinking in the sunlight, as if he's on day release from his care home.'

Hunter Davies

'Surely the first football player in the history of the game to have a decent music taste'

Some fan with a website

Pat Nevin once peed down my leg at a Half Man Half Biscuit gig at the Bull and Gate. FACT. As a Chelsea fan, I felt deeply honoured (and a bit damp).

A Half Man Half Biscuit Fan who supports Chelsea

Wee Pat Nevin. Manna from Heaven.

As Wee Pat Nevin danced along the wing

Our passion was so clear

All that was missing

Was three loaves and two fishes

We were the five thousand who cheered!!!

He turned the full back inside out

It was so sublime

If he'd have been at Cana

He'd have turned water into wine!!!

Wee Pat Haiku

Art thou Pat Nevin

Small master of the wing play

Up Wee Pat and thrill

"Nevin, you're sh*te. And so is your book."

Heckler at a Kilmarnock game

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