It’s taken him more than three decades, but Pat Nevin has finally graduated from GCU.
The former footballer and broadcaster was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters at last year’s winter graduation ceremony, 32 years after he left a commerce programme at Glasgow Polytechnic, one of the University’s founding institutions, to pursue a career in full-time football.
“My mum always thought that leaving my education early was a big mistake,” said Pat after accepting his degree.
“She thought getting a degree was much more important than kicking a ball around for Chelsea.
“Also, as one of six kids from Easterhouse in the East End of Glasgow, I would be the only one not to get a degree and not have a day like today. So this is very special.”
Since leaving his studies in the early 1980s, Pat has gone on to enjoy an interesting career. He spent 20 years as a footballer, starring for Chelsea, Everton and Kilmarnock among others and winning 28 caps with Scotland. After retiring from playing in 2000, he took up the role of Chief Executive at Motherwell FC before moving into the media; he is now a highly regarded pundit, as well as a respected club DJ.
After being released by Celtic at the age of 17, Pat chose to undertake a degree in commerce at Glasgow Polytechnic. “I was very logical about it,” he asserts. “I wanted to be able to keep up with all my hobbies and I wanted to study something I could get a job in. Commerce covered so many areas and left my options open – it was exactly right for me.”
Like many students at the time, Pat was heavily involved in activism and regularly took part in rallies and demonstrations. Twelve months ago, he returned to GCU for the first time since 1983, followed by cameras for BBC’s The One Show’s Life Lectures series, and spent an afternoon with the University’s archivist Carole McCallum sifting through various badges and leaflets.
A photograph of a demonstration on campus caught his eye. “That could have been me in there,” he says.
“I wasn’t politically active for a party,” he explains. “I was involved with campaigns – anti-racism, anti-Nazi league, that kind of stuff. It was as little as debating, wearing a badge or going to a rally. It was a very culturally active place.”
Pat was heavily involved in the anti-apartheid movement and he is particularly fascinated by the number of items related to the late Nelson Mandela, a GCU honorary graduate.
“Nelson’s name was always involved,” he says. “He was our fight. Carole opened my eyes to some things about him I had no idea of.”
While Pat threw himself into his studies and activism, Pat was offered terms with Clyde FC.
“I told Craig Brown [the manager] I was studying and that football wasn’t really my thing, but he just got it. He’d been in education himself and knew where I was coming from.
“He told me it was part time, that’d I’d be training two nights a week and playing a game on the Saturday, and that I’d get paid for it. I said, ‘Where do I sign?!’”
Pat is keen to point out how seriously he took his football.
“I was really dedicated to it. I used to go for 10-mile runs after the game on a Saturday. I was a fanatical trainer.
It might seem like I was lazy but that wasn’t the case.”
He didn’t tell any of his friends he was a footballer, however. “I didn’t think it was cool – being cool was going to see an indie band!”
I ask Pat how he managed to balance his studies with his football.
“Piece of cake,” he smiles. “I didn’t fail any exams when I was here. I scraped through a few of them but it wasn’t football that got in the way – the reason I didn’t get A-grades was because I was part of the generation where we just did enough to pass. I knew I could cruise a bit.
“You can’t get away with that today.
If you’re working through a decent degree, you have to put the effort in.”
Pat’s good form at Clyde had alerted Chelsea but he had little interest in playing on a full-time basis.
“I wanted to continue my studies,” he says. “I thought I’d go to Chelsea and take a two-year sabbatical then come back and sit my exams. But after I did my pre-season, I thought I’d just stick with Chelsea for the time being. I never went back.”
While he was a new signing at Chelsea, Pat openly condemned racist abuse towards players from the club’s support. This led to him playing a key role in the birth of the anti-racism in football campaign.
He continues to play a lead role in fighting discrimination through organisations such as Show Racism The Red Card. It was this work, and that against sectarianism, that led GCU to award Pat with his honorary degree.
Looking back over his career, his success both in and out of football, Pat is modest about his achievements.
“I just kicked a ball around and got paid for it and had fun,” he says. “I work in the media because I like doing it.
“But they’re just jobs – what’s important is friends and family. That’s where satisfaction comes from. And, if you can, trying to make the world a tiny wee bit better.
“And getting the songs I want on Spotify,” he grins. “That’s the main thing.”