For the longest time, this was our only iconic "soccer" image. - via media.lehighvalleylive.com
As an American, the football* world isn't something into which you're born. You uncover the sport like a hidden truth you've been missing for years, knowledge that has been kept in a secret crypt for centuries. As you recognize this truth, you see also the allegiances sworn around you. Being so far removed from this remote ancient kingdom of football, you are in the unique position of being able to choose your footballing family. Most of us get it wrong the first time. Since we know next to nothing about the clubs, we usually wind up being United fans. They must get half of their US base by default. However, as you learn more about the players, managers, history, and reputation, you usually find your way to the right club for you.
And that's when things start getting real. Your casual interest blossoms into passionate fervor as you catch more than just the occasional match, then you wind up on some wild SB Nation blog, and with a little appreciation for history, the emotion has intensified to what we in the know call love.
Too cute, Frankie. - via soccerlens.com
As I've admitted, Lampard is what did it for me, but I have a new confession today. You know of my man crush on the Magic Box that is Gianfranco Zola, but between the days of Dennis Wise and Ruud Gullit (90s) and the escapades of Peter Osgood and Ron Harris (60s/70s), there came a man much beloved by me. His name was* Pat Nevin.
*And is, of course, as he is most definitely still living.
- Wheaties Eater's History 101 Presents -
Pat Nevin: The Skinny Scotsman
The decade of the 80s was a dark time for Chelsea Football Club. The Middle Ages of our history, to be sure. Hair was big, cocaine was bigger, and biggest of all was Liverpool FC. Chelsea's FA Cup triumph of the early 70s was all but forgotten, and they wallowed all the way to near relegation to the Third Division. That catastrophe was narrowly avoided, but in the years to come, a "new look Chelsea" would claw its way to the top of the Second Division and return to top flight football, where they belonged. At the center of it all was, of course, Kerry Dixon, the squad's workhorse who won the Golden Boot in the Blues first season back in the First Division. Kerry was a true striker, with power, decisiveness, and an uncanny sense of the net's location (though it didn't always help him).
Pat Nevin, the Player
But while Kerry racked up the goals, the lad on the wings that they called "the wee winger" earned his own praise and truly became a fan favorite. Standing a mere 5'6'' (1.68m), he wasn't powerful or strong, not a force of nature, but a lean toothpick of a man that had the body shape of an orange on a beanstalk. His formidable power lay not in his physical tools, but his mental faculties. He was one of the smartest players in the league on his best days, rarely lacking imagination, but always seeing the best route to goal. There aren't many videos of him to be found on the web unless you have a ChelseaTV subscription, but I dug up one of his best goals, Lampard-esque. Chelsea are in red for this match against Blackburn Rovers. Did I mention that the 80s were also the worst years for kits?
That was a great goal, but not exactly typical of Chelsea's number seven. An old-fashioned winger, Nevin was a good dribbler, and did most of his work on the flanks. He could shake off defenders and move into space for a cross or attack the goal from the side. The ball at his feet always spelled danger for his opponents, as he could score or create from almost anywhere. I've got one last clip for you of his play, but I charge you to go find more for yourself. Here's a great moment from a League Cup match against Sheffield Wednesday, a 4-4 thriller. I've cued it up to the moment when "the wee winger" sets up the first equalizer after Chelsea had gone three behind. He was brilliant.
His performances won him the Player of the Year award twice, an honor bestowed on only 10 men since the prize's inception in 1967. You may recognize the names of some of the others: Terry, Lampard, Wise, Zola, Mata. That about says it all right there.
Pat Nevin, the Man
Here's footage of a rare goal (he had enough, but not many like this), but it's not the goal that is so telling of the man that Southwest Londoners would come to see, instead, it is the actions by the player afterwards that reveal so much.
Even when he failed, you had to love him. Below, there's a clip of a penalty he took that the announcer sadly declared "the worst penalty [he'd] ever seen at this level of football". If you watch as Nevin slumps away from the spot, you can see him beating himself up. That was Pat. He'd never let you down if he could help it. He was cheery and bright-eyed when things were great, timid and self-effacing when they weren't. You could never boo him, because he was already beating himself up over a mistake.
That, unfortunately, was the true tragedy of Pat Nevin. With him and with Kerry Dixon, we still never quite had the "it" that has defined the club from the early days, through the swinging sixties, and on into the Abramovich era. This was our major hiccup, where despite some great players, we couldn't put things together as a squad. Sadly, Nevin's Chelsea days were over too soon, as he headed off to Everton following our relapse into the Second Division.
But forget the "wee winger" and hear this about the man that once wore blue. He was a spectacular character, a genuine class act, and someone that made you want to be a better human. If you watch the stuff on ChelseaTV ever (and you should, it's where you'll find the best understanding of the current inner workings and the history of the club, as well as the most intimate contact with players*), you may have noticed that Jason Cundy and Graham Stuart, while relatively entertaining, offer little true substance to the shows. It's as though they each provide alternate pieces of Freud's conception of the human brain. Cundy is supporters' id, screaming "that's got to be a penalty!" before really knowing what's happened. You want him in the room when Drogba steps up to take a UCL-winning spot-kick, but mostly just for the childish energy he brings. Graham Stuart on the other hand, delivers each and every joke just as your boss might, with a bit of self-importance and a nod to the obviousness of his own humour. He is most often the superego, saying the common sense things that "ought" to be said, and dutifully prodding the ribs of his conversation partners whenever the appropriate situation presents itself.
*Did I just say intimate contact with players? I did? Well, that got weird.
Pat Nevin is the channel's ego, a voice of reason that is also filled with passion, ever navigating between the two. If you have not seen one of his videos doing the same sort of tactical analysis you might see on Match Day Live (only wayyyy better), then I implore you -no, I command you- to leave this wonderfully written post and seek out his brilliance. Sure, sometimes he's telling you things you already know, like "Juan Mata is a hell of a passer," or "Eden Hazard is a nightmare to defend" but you also learn something. He shows you the power of physical presence, the ability of runs to create space, and the vision of passers to see several passes ahead. He is undoubtedly one of the best didactic (in a positive sense) minds I've seen discussing football, and he shares his love for the club with you at the same time.
That was always the man's most charming attribute: his loyalty. He could probably be making more money working for some television network doing much the same thing, but he isn't. Okay, fine. Occasionally he also goes on live television as a pundit for match days. However, he still contributes his weekly column to Chelsea and frequent videos, and for that we should all be grateful.
He wasn't the sexiest name in football, he didn't win us trophies by the handfuls, and he left London before his career was through, but he has a special place in the hearts of many a Chelsea fan because of a rare and well-appreciated fact. When we hear him talk about the club, we hear ourselves. I wasn't a young kid living in the UK when Nevin was setting them up for Chelsea, but if I had been, I can tell you this: Bryan Robson would have caught my eye, Gary Lineker would have amazed me, but little Pat Nevin would have inspired me, and earned my undying admiration. He wasn't the biggest, the strongest, the trickiest, the fastest, or the most powerful, but he would've made me feel like anyone could play the sport, if they had enough passion and will.
Well played, sir.