Exclusive Interview: Pat Nevin

James Rowe for The Secret Footballer

(Image credit: @PatNevin on Twitter)

JR: You retired in the year 2000. How are you enjoying your retirement from professional football and how is life for you these day?

PN: Life for is me is rather brilliant, which is unusual for most people in the middle of a lockdown. The jobs that I have done since retiring and my life generally has been really good. I was Chief Executive of a club for a while for a couple of years after retirement. I was player and Chief Executive at the same time for a couple of years at the end of my career which was a bit weird but since then I’ve been working in television and writing. I have been sent to World Cups, being paid to go there which is not a bad job. I have also been able to indulge in my other hobbies such as writing and going to rock concerts. I have also recently written a book and I also DJ quite a bit.

The most important thing is that because of the decisions I made in which directions to go in my life after football, I have been able to spend a bit more time with my family over the last few years. My son and daughter who are all grown up now, so in short I am happy as I sound.

JR: I wanted to take you back to the beginning of your career. How did your journey to becoming a professional footballer start?

PN: Well, you have asked the question and the title of my book. (I am not trying to sell my book to you) is “ The Accidental Footballer “ so that gives you an idea that I never had any intention of playing football professional at any point. I was studying at the time and doing a degree. My older siblings had all gone on to do degrees. After their higher education, they went into teaching and lecturing - I had absolutely every intention of doing exactly the same thing. But because of a number of complicated flukes and pieces of luck I ended up playing football. I tried really hard not to be a professional footballer and failed! It is an unusual thing because I probably loved playing football more than any other player you can name. I loved training and the actual playing of the game but I did not have any ambition to do it professionally. If I did it in front of 40, 000 people at Stamford Bridge or 20 people in a park it kind of did not make any difference to me. I just loved the actual creation of playing so it is a very interesting question but one with a very unusual answer.

JR: You played four seasons for Everton. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?

PN: I have lots of special memories from my time at Everton. We got to an FA Cup final and there was one period of a couple of weeks where I scored the winner in two semi-finals to get us to Wembley twice. There were good times and ups and downs. When you spend a period of time at a club you have to realize that there will not always just be ups. You need to be able to cope with both of them. I enjoyed my time there, particularly the first two years, but when the manager changed it became more difficult, but that is normal. A manager buys and rates you and when he leaves or is sacked and a new guy comes in, there is a half decent chance that he might not rate you. It’s not a complaint or moan although a lot of players do in football but I was still getting paid to kick a ball about. It is as simple as that, in that it is not a bad thing but the one sadness I have is that in my last season I did not get enough games when I was probably at the peak of my abilities, but these situations happen in football.

When I was peaking as a footballer, I was getting two or three minutes here and there as a substitute. To play in a cup final was great and one of the most interesting things was the highest and lowest point of my career where about two minutes apart. The high point being when I scored the winner in the FA semi-final in 1989 and as we walked off the pitch at the happiest moment we discovered that Hillsborough had happened in the other semi-final and 96 people died from that so from the highest high to the lowest low in two minutes.

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JR: You were capped by Scotland. How do you look back on representing your country and what are your highlights and memories of playing international football?

PN: I suppose you always remember your first cap when I debuted against Romania but in hindsight you eventually look back on some goals you scored. I scored five and also assisted ten, which was not a bad average considering I won 28 caps. There was one particular game against Estonia which stands out. Before I turned professional, I had only ever played on the wing. So my whole career, I was stuck out on the wing, that was just the British way. If you are small and creative go and stand out on the wing. In the professional game, I had played elsewhere, such as a number ten or one off the striker. That match against Estonia up at Aberdeen, I got to play in my favourite position as a centre forward and I scored two goals and assisted one and it was lovely to be given the freedom to do what I wanted to do. In those days the game was very different. Many teams were one dimensional but the game was poor pace wise and my style world be more suited to what the modern game is, but I had to try and survive in the game the way it was at the time. But I am talking mostly about British football. When I played against counties such as Germany or the Netherlands that was a much more technical game and something I enjoyed more.

JR: You accrued a lot of experience at club and international level during your professional career. When you look back could you say who were among the best players you played alongside?

PN: I was very fortunate to play with Kenny Dalglish in the Scotland squad along with the likes of Graeme Souness, Alan Hansen, Richard Gough, all very good players. I particularly enjoyed playing alongside John Collins, we had a good understanding and I enjoyed playing with certain technical players.

At Everton, I played with Peter Beardsley. He and I had a really good understanding, I think he was an exceptional and a world class player. I also played with Norman Whiteside, when you trained and played with him you understood why the people who had spoken about him before were taking about in that he could have been one of the greatest players of his generation. Had he not suffered the injuries that he did, I absolutely agree with that. I should also mention a goalkeeper in Neville Southall, he would do three or four impossible things everyday, he was very special.

JR: Finally Pat, could you say who are the coaches and manager that have meant a lot to you and played a key role in your development as a professional footballer?

PN: A good question! I have been fortunate to work under two of the greatest coaches that have ever worked anywhere in the world in Jock Stein and Sir Alex Ferguson. I worked short periods with both managers and just to listen and watch to see how they act and could influence situations was a quite incredible thing to see. To explain to people who do not know much about Jock Stein, Sir Alex Ferguson looks up to him as possibly the greatest - that is how good this guy was.

Jock Stein was a physiologist, so a high level and understanding of human beings that I have never seen before. He had ability to listen and manipulate situations but in a good way, and find the strengths and weaknesses of players. He was constantly interested in finding out what those strengths and weaknesses are. He also had great tactical and technical ability.

Let me give you one example of what he did technically. If you’re a tactics person, these days you will look at all the heat maps and line drawings of where the passes went to find out where the opposition play. Jock Stein was spotted watching a game, he had an A4 sheet of paper and a pencil. He just traced onto the A4 paper where the ball was all the way through the game without looking at it and by the end of the game he could see where the opposition play. In those days before technical technology was allowed and was capable of that. Games were not even filmed in those days - this was the 1960’s! He was so far ahead of his time, he was figuring out things that people think they are quite clever doing now. Not only did he figure out, he figured out a way how to do it and that was just a tiny part of it. Jock Stein was a genius, to win the European Cup with Celtic in 1967 with a bunch of players who came from a twenty mile radius of Glasgow. I grew up watching that Celtic team as a kid and watching some of those players the likes of Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Lennox, Kenny Dalglish, Lou Macari. They were all world class players and I would not say that lightly because it has been a long time since we have had a world class player in Scotland but they were and Jock Stein helped to develop them.

In personal terms my time at Clyde under Craig Brown was very special. Andy Roxburgh who heads up UEFA’s football development side, he was my coach as a youth in Scotland. John Neal when I was at Chelsea was a very forward thinking manager and Colin Harvey who took me to Everton, I admired him greatly. I was fortunate that I had a number of good coaches but I also had a number who I basically thought were rubbish because sometimes you can get lucky as a coach because you happen to have a good bunch of players, you do not have to be a good technical coach as long as you put a decent side out that would be ok.

James Rowe is a Dutch Football expert based in the Netherlands, professional writer and translator for The Secret Footballer. He has featured on talkSPORT and regularly features on talkSPORT 2 and Love Sport Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.