Football and music don’t mix, eh? Try telling that to the legions of Lionel Richie fans who enjoy nothing better than a night at Stringfellows.
Recently a story on one of the Scottish indie web forums mentioned a story about Pat Nevin getting himself sent off so he could get away early enough to see Siouxsie and the Banshees in time. Unlikely it may have seemed, but then a user called “Pat Nevin” emerged to set the story straight. With this emerged ‘sightings’ of the former Scotland international – now working as a football pundit – mainly, it seemed, at Camera Obscura shows.
Tonight we’re chatting in a hotel lobby before he heads off to see Howling Bells.
Nevin is of that certain vintage that meant his teenage years were dominated by the punk explosion. “I must be honest – yes, I did like Bowie, but I liked Genesis too,” he confesses. (Peter Gabriel-era tunes, naturally). However, things changed in the late 70s. “One of my mates came into school – the day before he’d been perfectly normal but next thing he was a full-blown punk. We swapped albums – Slaughter & the Dogs, the Banshees – though nothing really hit me until I started tuning into the Peel show.”
Despite the interest in music, he’s never been a musician. “When you’re young, if you’re half-decent at one thing you realise you’re not half-decent at other things!” So, the music’s world’s loss is football’s gain. “In the school band, I wanted the sax but they wouldn’t give me it – and you’ll never get girls with a clarinet!” Eventually, a choice had to be made between studies and football.
Nevin was at college and part-time with Clyde, but took a two-year sabbatical, partly because of the World U19 tournament in Mexico. “It made me a hundred times better player because I knew I could afford to fail, so I could relax.”
He never completed that college course. Instead he helped Clyde to promotion from the second division, and the Scots to the U19 European Championships, and inevitably bigger clubs were interested. Chelsea secured his signature, and by now in his early twenties, the stint in London turned out nicely, despite heading south the same week as Charlie Nicholas went to Arsenal. The champagne and tabloid lifestyle wasn’t for him. “You’re not allowed out on a Friday night, but if you’re at a Mary Chain gig in East London, no-one knows who you are. I had this great thing going where I could live the life I wanted to.”
To guard against any rare moments of celebrity, the answer lay in the fashion of the day. “I always walked with my head down and used to wear a ‘gloomdoom’ coat, with the collar up,” he says – think any photo of Joy Division or Echo and the Bunnymen. So his musical tastes gradually became known. “I was at Chelsea and the tabloids would asked me to do interviews, so I’d take the piss out of The Sun – ‘I like music, there’s this singer called Joy Davidson’ – very infantile of me!” he laughs.
“What I wanted to do more than anything else was interview John Peel – because basically I wanted to meet him,” he recalls. “So I wrote a letter, and got a nice letter back saying he was very busy, maybe try next year.” So – “for the first last and only time in my career” – he played the fame card. “I wrote, as subtly as I possibly could – ‘I play for a football team and we’re playing Liverpool in a few weeks’. He phoned up the next day – ‘Why didn’t you say?’ ‘I couldn’t’!’” A long friendship based around gig-going ensued and Pat took full advantage of his time in London. “It was brilliant, becoming the friend of one of the few people I’d call a hero”.
He still remained incognito at shows but word that a footballer was into Good Music did get around. “Adrian Thrills phoned up to do an interview, and I found myself with a double page spread in the NME – which was weird considering I had all the back copies at home!”
After a successful first year at the club, his rather meagre wage (by today’s footballing standards) was barely enough to cover his London rent. So, he went to see chairman Ken Bates – a formidable and eccentric figure, as Partick Thistle fans of a certain age may remember from a bizarre stint with the Glasgow club. Even so, Nevin wasn’t prepared for what he describes as “a real CJ moment” as Bates laughed at and binned Nevin’s written demand, then marched out and drove off in his Rolls Royce Corniche. Which left the footballer free to rifle through the chairman’s desk, work out the “mean, mode and median” wage from the player contracts he found, and present the new demand next day. “That’s more than last time,” said a shocked Bates. “I know, but it is the average,” Nevin replied.
Conveniently, the delay meant his contract was unsigned as the team prepared for a friendly with Brentford – the same night that New Order were playing at the Royal Festival Hall. For someone who’d never seen Joy Division play live, a plot emerged. “I’m not re-signing unless you take me off at half time,” he told manager John Neal. Nevin got to see the gig, and the rest is the stuff of legend.
Despite Nevin’s efforts – he was player of the year – Chelsea got relegated – a far cry from today. But he remained in the top league, signing to Everton for close to a million pounds. Happily, his musical interest wasn’t curtailed too much, living in the comparatively affluent Chester suburbs.
With Madchester and The Smiths in their ascendancy, the move was convenient for not just footballing reasons. And indeed, provided more proof that football and contemporary music are unlikely bedfellows. Nevin became friendly with Vini Reilly – guitarist with Factory act The Durutti Column, and former bandmate with one Steven Patrick Morrissey.
An invite to Moz’s mansion followed, in the leafy suburb of Bowden. Nevin enlisted the help of teammate, Northern Ireland international Norman Whiteside, for directions to the area.
“I live in that road! I’ll come down, we could all get pished together!” Whiteside offered. “I couldn’t do it, so decided to tell him I couldn’t find his house”. A fascinating evening chez Moz followed. “He’d bought a grand piano specifically so Vinny would play that night,” Nevin reveals. And the pair were given a full tour of the turreted mansion. “There was one room we’d not seen, but we eventually persuaded him to show us… his multi-gym!” The image of the bequiffed one working out with gladioli sticking out the back of his shorts is one which is best expunged from one’s memory. “He always was built like a brick shithouse,” Nevin reckons,”but you’d not have known at the time”.
Meanwhile, Whiteside, concerned for his teammate’s whereabouts, was spotted climbing over Morrissey’s wall. And the story doesn’t end there. “I promised I’d go for a drink with Norman after training next day, but had to see the manager and when I came out he’d gone off himself and got ratted that night.” The next Pat heard of his teammate was in the tabloids. “He was stopped on the M54 that night doing… 12 in the outside lane. So Norman lost his licence, and it’s all my fault!”
Norman wouldn’t necessarily have enjoyed the muso chat anyway, something he shares with most of his contemporaries.
“I’m always very keen to find out everyone’s taste, you have to respect it if they’re passionate about it even if it was something I don’t like.” He was able to turn Paul Corneville, first black player in Chelsea, onto Lou Reed via ‘A Walk On The Wild Side’ – “it was the girls in the background that did it.” And England international Graham Le Saux “had no mates, and he didn’t fit in so my girlfriend and me took him under our wing a bit – I showed him what papers to read and and what shows to go to.”
Some more unusual examples of the indie genre made themselves know. “Barry Horne (at the time captain of Wales) was a very hard player, but had the best collection of indie music I’ve ever seen in my life – we’ve got a big fight over who knows more about the Cocteau Twins… Stuart Pearce (another hard man and former England captain) is very punk orientated – I sent him some White Stripes stuff a couple of years ago. But these days it’s mostly Tupac – bog-standard rap, whatever David Beckham’s listening to.”
And Scottish international duty showed that in general players north of the border have just as dubious taste in music – with one exception. “The SFA stuck me in the same room with Brian McClair,” he recounts, and the usual awkward silence ensued. “’What’s your name?’ ‘Pat. Yours?’ ‘Brian.’ Silence. So I took an NME out of my bag and started reading it. He took out his copy of Sounds.” Inevitably, the two became good friends.
Trips abroad offered a chance to get to examine the footballing psyche further, but it immediately became obvious that in most cases this extended to booze and cards, despite the chance to see some of the most exotic areas in the world. “Everywhere I go, I go to see galleries and architecture, it made me normal and them abnormal.” Chelsea’s choice of pre-season friendly destinations led to some odd encounters, including a breakneck trip across Baghdad to make kickoff against the Iraq national side – only to be forced to wait in the baking sun for 30 minutes until one Saddam Hussein arrived. Not only was their Baghdad Cup victory rewarded with a disappointing trophy – “the runners-up cup was bigger than me” – but the home team were reported as winners in the local press.
Communist Bulgaria seemed like a more daunting place at that time, but Nevin found the locals almost too friendly.
“4AD were releasing a series of Voix Bulgares albums, so I said I liked them, probably to annoy some journalist,” he recalls. “When we got to Bulgaria there were 2 blokes waiting saying ‘We work in the music industry and hear you like this stuff so we’re going to take you around.’ Which was great, my own personal tour guides. But the odd thing was, it was a Monday afternoon. They said ‘We gave up the jobs to come and meet you’. A bit extreme surely? ‘It’s ok, communism allows us to get another one.’ I knew there was a reason it didn’t work!”
Nevin moved to Tranmere – and spent three seasons reaching the playoffs, but never quite managing to gain promotion to the Premiership again. He moved north to Kilmarnock, timing his return nicely with an upsurge in the Scottish music scene with the emergence of Belle and Sebastian in a lively Glasgow. Though his gig-going was curtailed by a spell as chief executive of Motherwell, which he describes as “the stupidest thing I’ve ever done,” the 100-hour week a massive strain. “It was great to learn from and all the rest of it,” he admits, “but wasn’t an enjoyable job”.
Though his life then wasn’t completely devoid of music – “I’d be driving home through the night at 9 or 10 o’clock so I’d hear the Peel show – I just never got to see any gigs!”
Nowadays you can see him on telly, often, talking about football rather than music. “Last game I played before my hip went” – he’s had it replaced since – “I was centre midfield, with Stuart Murdoch on the left, and Colin Macintyre on my right – both very good players.”
Both will take the comment at face value – he’s developed a reputation for talking honestly and knowledgeably on the game. And he knows how much the respect of his peers can mean. “Arthur Montford came up to me a year ago – I’d never let him before, but he said ‘I like what you do and the way you do it, I understand things better when you explain it.’ I could have kissed the bloke, it was great.”
Life is, he reckons, defined by these ‘moments’. “Last time I saw Howling Bells there was a moment where it was an almost Mary Chain wall of noise – the whole band was was rocking, the guitarist was leaning back going ‘we’ve nailed this’. Just perfection.”
So as a footballer what’s the defining ‘moment’? There is a fair choice – from that U19 victory via many moments from his 20-year career. But Pat’s moment of choice is less obvious.” I was walking home after a Chelsea game – head down as usual! – and this old man came up and said ‘I used to watch Charlie Cooke, I’ve not been to a game for 20 years but heard about you and your dribbling, and I enjoyed it – that was good.’ And I went to say something, but he’d walked away. But I was absolutely wowed – that some guy has got out of his house, made the effort to come down, and had a good time and was entertained.”
Musically, his tastes have shifted with the times. “It’s as good now as it’s ever been,” he enthuses. “You’ve got your Fratellis doing well but there’s loads of bands that should be heard more.” The inevitable list, then? “Favourites? Some bands stay for years, the Cocteaus for instance, but Camera Obscura have been the longest since. I’ve loved every single song on their 3 albums, I think they’re genius.”
Now he’s making those long drives home, at least on nights when he’s doing TV. But with no Peel to soundtrack the journey, he uses the music press to keep in touch. “Especially for someone like me who lives an hour and a half away (in the Borders), it’s brilliant to discover a band like Popup though a magazine like this one (itm?, cheers), as there’s such an eclectic mix of bands throughout. For someone who’s keenly interested in music it’s great to get a taste of everything.”
As well as regular punditry appearances, Pat Nevin can be found at a Camera Obscura show near you.
‘Live’ image by Susie Young, Simon Raymonde pic by Katy Baker@in the City, Peel pic from the BBC.
N.B. This article originally appeared in is this music? issue 24 / Winter 2006. It is reproduced here in fully proofed and spellchecked form, with some extra sections. The printed version was as readers of itm? will recall, subject to technical difficulties caused by a chimp with ADHD typesetting the original copy.