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A conversation with Pat Nevin has the capacity to replicate his meandering runs as a player, fittingly culminating in what is now known as end product.
Thus an hour and more in a Glasgow bookshop encompasses his son’s autism, the tragedy of a Motherwell youth player, the administration of that club — with dramatic cameos from manager Billy Davies and owner John Boyle — fall-outs at Kilmarnock and Tranmere Rovers, and the handling of Andy Goram, justifiably petrified of death threats in the wake of a photograph showing him in front of a UVF flag.
There is also the tale of the manager’s office that was swept for listening devices. Or not.
This, then, is a compelling journey. But there is also the road less travelled. There is the tale of Nevin unwittingly turning down a transfer to Celtic, sounding out Stevie Clarke for a managerial role at Motherwell, then Hibernian, and missing out on the chance to sign Claudio Caniggia for the Steelmen.
It is a lot to process. So it may be best to focus first on what Nevin did experience rather than what passed him by. ‘I have seen interesting things,’ he says, somewhat unnecessarily.
Pat Nevin’s latest book released details the latter stages of his playing career as well as his personal ongoings off the pitch
The book starts where the last one stopped. The Clyde, Chelsea and Everton years are in the past. It is now Kilmarnock in 1997 and a rift with the board. Then, a year later, Motherwell and a lurch into administration that still causes supporters to shiver more than two decades on.
But, crucially, this is a personal story. It features Simon, his autistic son, who is now 32.
‘It was private, not secret,’ he says of Simon’s condition. The decision to make it public rested with his son. ‘There was a wonderful moment when we got the book and I read him a bit about him and his old friend, Davie, driving to Hibs matches. He listened and walked away to his computer.
‘I was travelling back from commentating the next day and my wife told me: “He’s not shut up about it since you left. He’s really happy about it”.
The condition has caused difficulties. His son initially ‘raged’ against the condition. But now he has found an independent life, mostly based around following Hibs and attending gigs. This, though, is not without its challenges. ‘I got a call once from my wife to say he had been arrested,’ says Nevin.
‘He had followed everyone by running onto the pitch when Hibs scored. Luckily, he was just briefly huckled. His autism was explained and he was basically just thrown out of the ground.’
Nevin’s football problems ranged from the unintentionally comic to the profoundly tragic, with the financially calamitous placed somewhere in between.
The comic is exemplified by Nevin’s response to Johnny King when the Tranmere Rovers manager asked him if he wanted to leave the club. Nevin believed the bid had come from Bolton Wanderers so blithely informed his manager that he wanted to stay. He was then told the offer was from Celtic.
The former Scotland winger, pictured during his time at Chelsea, revealed his disappointment at a move to Celtic never materialising
‘It was the third or fourth time there had been an interest,’ says Nevin. ‘Once I’d even met up with the directors. I always felt I might do it because I’d been a Celtic fan. I thought it was Bolton. The shock was walking out the door and you couldn’t walk back in.
He made 660 career appearances before retiring in 2000
‘Tranmere wanted to keep me, so that was the end of it, to me. There had been times when other clubs had been interested in me — Spurs, Inter Milan, Galatasaray — but I hadn’t owned the situation or needed it. I never really thought about it. It didn’t happen and that was that.
‘Every footballer has an alternative career — for me, it could have been Dundee United, PSG, Galatasary. And Celtic.
‘Celtic was a big one. I’m probably happy it didn’t happen. It would have been fabulous at the time — just walking out once with the Hoops on would have been phenomenal for me. But living in Scotland as an ex-Celtic or ex-Rangers player can have its problems. I like being anonymous and that might have been difficult.’
The alternative career for Caniggia, once Diego Maradona’s wing man and later a Dundee player, could have encompassed Motherwell.
‘Ivano Bonetti and I were mates and Ivano would have brought him to us,’ reveals Nevin. ‘I spoke to Ivano about it and he’s an extreme character who came up with interesting ideas. But we’d kept in touch, he meant it and it was a real temptation. I still can’t get my head round it, even now. So he went to Dundee instead.’
There was genuine tragedy and regular turmoil at Motherwell, where Nevin was chief executive at the beginning of a seismic millennium for the club.
The sudden death of Andy Thomson in December 1998 from an apparent heart attack affects him even now.
‘Desolation. The place felt empty,’ says Nevin of the immediate aftermath of the passing of the 19-year-old. ‘Easily worse than administration, not even close. The reason why is that everybody carried on after administration. I knew that the club would somehow carry on and survive.’
Nevin revealed a tragedy that occurred to a Motherwell youth player during his time there
But the fate of Thomson is still fresh in his mind. ‘Writing about it wasn’t hard. I was able to recall clearly what everyone of us as a club was going through. I can remember a day or two later going to see his parents. It’s still a clear memory.
‘It was Andy, such an extraordinary character, so lovable. He was profoundly influential among the players — and he was a youth team player. When people pass there’s a tendency to build them up, but with Andy it wasn’t needed because he was something extra-special.
‘The funeral was horrendous because you couldn’t look in any direction without seeing people who were distraught. It took a lot longer to get over it than people realised.’
Administration and life under John Boyle, the businessman who bought Motherwell in 1998, provided turmoil and invited strain but everyone, including the club, survived.
On Boyle, he says: ‘The most common word I use about him is “generous”. There might be things he’s not happy about (in the previous book) but I’d never take away that aspect. I don’t know if there are things he’ll be unhappy about in this one.
‘I was taken aback when he was unhappy about the Celtic thing in the first book.’
This is a reference to a passage in the book where Boyle talks of buying Celtic. ‘But “hitting back” isn’t my style. I didn’t see the value of it. The book is my memory of it, how I saw it. Others will see and remember it a different way.
‘I’ve kept every single board memorandum, all the accounts. I’d be vaguely interested to speak to John, we have had one conversation. But if he said: “You want to go out for dinner or a drink?”, it would be great because we always got on pretty well.’
Business problems were complemented by those of a private nature. Goram was threatened after his pose in front of a paramilitary flag and Nevin had to move quickly to protect him in the eyes of the media.
Nevin also reveals details on the national story surrounding the late goalkeeper Andy Goram
‘I tell the story about Andy Goram for the first time because it was to help someone who was caught in a very difficult position. He was in a very bad place, understandably. It was extraordinary. It was national front-page news. Andy needed help at that time and we tried to give him it.’
The other major figure in those Motherwell years was Billy Davies, destined to become a Premier League manager.
‘I don’t know what Billy will think. There’s one word that’s often used to describe him, beginning with a P (paranoid). I use the word once. He was a young manager and I was as protective of him as I could be. And beneath it all, he was a good coach. He’s not the first manager to fall out with people.
‘I don’t know of any other manager who wanted his office swept for listening devices, but I do know about industrial espionage — and there was nothing there. I’m actually not allowed to say whether we did it or not, for legal reasons.’
All this came at a personal cost, however. As Motherwell lurched towards administration, Nevin was suffering pain in his thigh and doctors were worried enough to call him for consultations. He put all this on hold.
In a book entitled Football and How to Survive It, was this not inviting serious trouble?
Nevin, pictured at Chelsea, spent two years at Motherwell before hanging up his boots
‘No, I was comfortable about it,’ says Nevin. ‘Other people were more important at that point in time. People were worried about losing their houses and my job at that moment was to do my best for those people. If the situation was the same now I’d do the same thing.
‘Maybe I should have mentioned it to my wife but I learned at the PFA (he was chairman of the players’ union in the nineties) that the job is to be the flak-catcher and it was similar at Motherwell.’
The tales end for now. But a third book is already written. ‘It will be about the stories of working in the media and the travel aspects,’ he says.
It may be lighter than volume two but one should expect another meandering, entertaining run.
Football and How to Survive It is published by Monoray.