It’s not, for example, narrowly missing out on the Scotland squad for successive World Cups in Mexico and Italy – Alex Ferguson told both Nevin and Chelsea teammate David Speedie they would be on the plane in1986 if someone dropped out. However, when Kenny Dalglish ended up doing exactly that, it was Steve Archibald who got the call-up (it’s not altogether surprising to learn that Nevin reacts more phlegmatically to this news than Speedie).
Nevin doesn’t overly lament being let go by Celtic Boys Club – as the title of his new book, The Accidental Footballer, makes clear, he wasn’t even sure if he wanted to be a footballer. Neither does he agonise over later missing out on a couple of seeming opportunities to sign for the club he supported as a boy.
Neither is he brought low by That penalty, the one when he took a two-step run up before effectively passing the ball back to the grateful ‘keeper, Manchester City’s Alex Williams. The theory behind the short-run up, he explains now, is that it would the ‘keeper wouldn’t have a chance to move, though, in the end, he didn’t have to.
Not only is Nevin unrepentant – Chelsea were, after all, four goals up at the time, but he even asked a friend to put the clip up on Youtube for him. Now he feels a little miffed if someone says they have seen a worse penalty.
No, none of these left him wishing he could bury his face in the beret he often wore at the time. What does is detailed on page 180 of his memoir, which is published on Thursday. Nevin relates being asked to review the week’s singles for an unnamed music magazine. He praised the new Associates release and noted how it would have been single of the year had they put the John Peel session version on the B side – Billy Mackenzie, or someone at the record company, seemed to take the advice on board, as it was re-released a few weeks later with that track included.
That was good. What was bad – very bad – were the uncharacteristically snide comments he made about the new Depeche Mode single without realising a member of the band was a big Chelsea fan. “I had spoiled it for him,” writes the thoughtful Nevin, adding that a throwaway remark in a review a few lines long still made his toes curl. He’s sure to put Depeche Mode on his DJ setlist these days.
Switching on the radio a couple of nights ago to hear Nevin tackle a Radio 6 music quiz, where the answers ranged from the The Fall to Cocteau Twins (meat and drink for him of course), was to be reminded what a national treasure he is – although he would, rightly, scold you for the inference that he’s in any way mainstream, since he’s long walked on the alternative side of the road.
Not, it must be noted, because he wanted to seem cool or unknowable, it was just the way he was. He looked at his team-mates and thought it strange that they didn’t want to attend exhibition openings at the Tate or sit in with John Peel as he recorded his nightly radio show. Brought up in Glasgow’s Easterhouse area, he had tough enough skin to ride out the barbs, from inside the dressing-room as well as from the terraces.
Nevin is certainly a lot less unknowable now that he has has penned the first of a promised two autobiographies. The next one, already written, will deal with his Tranmere Rovers, Kilmarnock and Motherwell days and thereafter. His spell at the last-named club is especially intriguing since it was when he performed the unique role of player/chief executive for his old pal John Boyle.
And yet for those of a certain age, Nevin will always be the pale, willo-the-wispish winger with the New Romantics fringe flick, skipping past defenders and then, often, taking the ball back and skipping past them again. This was a tribute to Jimmy Johnstone and – we learn – a way of saluting his father, who would travel down to every game and back from Scotland. There was always one dribble performed exclusively for him.
One treasure of this book is being reminded just how good Nevin was in those early years at Stamford Bridge, when he, Kerry Dixon and Speedie formed a three-amigos forward line – though in the first and former’s case, amigo is maybe not the applicable word.
“David Speedie…..came as close as anyone in my career to making me stop playing football altogether,” is one memorable line. Later, while out injured, Nevin is surprised to find himself singing “There’s Only One David Speedie!” from the Shed end at Stamford Bridge.
It helps that Nevin does not take himself too seriously. There’s an extraordinary story about him meeting Morrissey for the first time and the gentle friendship that developed between the pair after an evening at the singer’s turreted home drinking raspberry tea out of china cups. Everton teammate Norman Whiteside, one of Morrissey’s neighbours, even drops in – literally so. It’s one of many wonderful tales from what is, remember, only the first part of an action-packed career, accidental or otherwise.
They are all recounted in the smooth, easy style for which he was known as a player. Nevin proves as readable as he was watchable, and that really is saying something.
The Accidental Footballer by Pat Nevin is out on May 20 on Monoray, £20 (octopusbooks.co.uk)