A man who refused to conform to the notion that all footballers are inherently bland, boorish and self-obsessed, Pat Nevin was a rare breath of fresh air during Everton’s late-1980s decline. Signed in summer 1988 for £925,000, along with Stuart McCall, Tony Cottee and Neil McDonald, his arrival marked the start of Colin Harvey's rebuilding plans.
Rejected as a teenager by his boyhood club, Celtic, for being too slight, Nevin had started out as an amateur with Clyde in the early 1980s, combining football with study for a commerce degree at Glasgow Tech. He resisted the switch to professional football for a couple of years, winning the Scottish Second Division title in 1981/82, before joining Chelsea a year later for £95,000. He spent five years at Stamford Bridge, garnering a reputation as one of the country’s most stylish widemen.
Indeed, Nevin, in many ways represented a throwback to the illustrious Scottish wingers of old. Diminutive and highly skilful, he seemed to dance along the Everton wing, dodging and weaving and sending defenders sprawling with his slights and checks. He was a fine and accurate crosser of the ball and possessed a good finish. Off the pitch, his interest in classical literature, alternative music and modern art set him apart from other players, attracting cult status among the ‘thinking’ sections of the Everton support.
Nevin’s Everton career nevertheless got to a slow start. Ligament damage sustained in only his third game sidelined him until Christmas, and thereafter it took him some weeks to capture his best form. By April 1989, however, he was firmly established in the side, scoring a fine winner against Charlton: dancing past two defenders, Nevin played a wall pass to Greame Sharp, then scooped the ball over goalkeeper Bob Bolder. ‘It was,’ commented the watching Scotland manager, Andy Roxborough, ‘just about the best goal I've seen all season. It was quite brilliant.’ A week later Nevin struck the FA Cup semi final winner against Norwich City, a feat that was invariably overshadowed by the Hillsborough disaster.
Through the 1989/90 season there were other memorable moments: a beautifully judged lob that he dinked over Jim Leighton’s head and into an Manchester United net in September; a superb brace against Champions Arsenal the following month. That win put Everton within reach of the top of the First Division, but Everton ultimately finished well short. Amidst the dismal last days under Harvey’s management, Nevin was a rare bright light and through the remainder of the 1990/91 season enjoyed some of the best form of his career, sometimes in a striking role. Yet Nevin soon fell foul of Howard Kendall, who preferred Robert Warzchya and latterly Mark Ward to the Scot. ‘He didn’t rate me and I didn’t rate him,’ Nevin later admitted to Toffeeweb.com.
With only a cameo role in the 1991/92 season, in March 1992 Nevin, who was still aged only 28, was loaned to Tranmere Rovers, a switch that became permanent the following August for a fee of £300,000. It was one of those dark ironies of Everton history, that just as the club so desperately needed some impudence and guile the manager deemed one of its most likely sources surplus.
Nevin enjoyed something of an Indian summer at Prenton Park, later returning to Scotland and playing out his career with Kilmarnock and Motherwell. One of the game’s most thoughtful and articulate voices, he has since embarked on a successful career as a broadcast pundit.