LATEST BLOG: When Pat Nevin turned down Galatasaray to join Tranmere Rovers

When Pat Nevin turned down Galatasaray to join Tranmere Rovers

As diehard Tranmere fans, we are currently living through a collective nervous breakdown with regard to new signings. Again. This is now a recurring nightmare for Rovers, who are crying out for a splash of quality before the transfer window slams shut tonight. Legendary boss Micky Mellon is shopping in the bargain bucket, however, trying to assemble a squad from the middle aisle of Lidl. Funds, logistics and blind luck must coalesce to coax players to Wirral these days, and that needle is difficult to thread. Our cloth is cut accordingly, baking intransigence into the club’s DNA.

Rewind almost 30 years, however, and Rovers were competing with the titans of European football for marquee signings. One wee fella, Patrick Kevin Francis Michael Nevin, even turned down the monolithic Galatasaray, perennial Turkish champions, to join Tranmere in the second division. Moreover, he swapped Everton for Rovers, taking a ferry across the Mersey to join the good guys. Newer Tranmere fans will struggle to comprehend such a scenario, of course, because it is anathema to the club’s current milieu.

Indeed, a contemporary equivalent of Pat Nevin gazumping Gala to join Tranmere is perhaps James Rodríguez, another enigma misunderstood by Evertonians, rocking up to Solar Campus and asking for a kick-about. Just imagine the Colombian icon turning down a lucrative move to Istanbul in favour of a jaunt to Birkenhead. It would simply never happen today, which makes Nevin’s story even more remarkable.

While we all keep refreshing Twitter, then, awaiting the arrival of another inadequate loanee from West Brom, it seems pertinent to explore this nostalgic fable. It seems appropriate to lift the lid on arguably the most intriguing transfer saga ever to unfold on Prenton Road West. It seems right to give Pat Nevin and Galatasaray the full Planet Prentonia treatment, preserving his landmark decision – and his inimitable genius – in the annals of Tranmere Rovers lore.

Introducing Pat Nevin, Pythagoras in football boots

Pat Nevin was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in September 1963. Despite possessing preternatural sporting ability and a raw zest for competition, Pat never yearned to be a footballer. Sure, he enjoyed playing as a kid, but more as a hobby than anything else. And besides, Pat had his head screwed on. He wanted to study, to write, to read poetry and listen to music. Pat enjoyed wearing trendy leather jackets and parading as a scion of hipster chic. Football barely interested him as a professional concern.

To wit, Nevin was rejected by Celtic, his beloved club, as a boy because he was too small. Nevertheless, Pat continued to play football on the side while studying commerce at Glasgow Polytechnic. It was only when Clyde offered him the chance to play football and study – simultaneously – that Nevin became engrossed by the concept of professionalism. Clyde even gave him a few pennies for his troubles, and that changed everything.

A tricky winger with balletic balance and majestic vision, Nevin stayed at Clyde for a couple of seasons, cutting his teeth in the professional game, before earning a major move down south, to Chelsea, in 1983. At 5 foot 6 inches, Pat looked as if a strong gust could knock him over, but he was a veritable assists machine, churning out an endless supply of chances for his teammates. Fame and glory were incongruous to Nevin, but those accoutrements soon came his way, along with international caps and personal accolades. Pat was a fine footballer, and a host of teams wanted his signature.

Accordingly, when freshly-relegated Chelsea looked to offload Nevin in 1988, PSG came calling, keen to add a touch of flamboyance. Despite a nascent reputation as football’s renaissance man, with a lyrical fondness for Paris, Nevin chose to stay in England, signing for Everton instead. Pythagoras in football boots duly brought his skills to Merseyside, catalysing the chain of events that eventually had Tranmere jousting with European juggernauts for his services.

How Tranmere Rovers signed Pat Nevin on loan from Everton

Nevin spent five years at Goodison Park, but securing regular playing time was a persistent struggle under Colin Harvey and Howard Kendall, stubborn managers who prioritised results over entertainment. Pat was openly critical of Everton’s rigid style of play, which contradicted his own imaginative brand of football. Accordingly, by the spring of 1992, despite more than a century of Everton appearances, Nevin found himself marginalised. Something had to give, because Pat was simply unhappy.

With Scotland due to participate in Euro '92, Nevin was keen to rekindle some form and get back in Andy Roxburgh’s squad. As such, the prospect of a loan move was broached by Everton in March 1992, and Pat was receptive of the idea. A few clubs showed interest, but Tranmere’s Johnny King wowed Nevin with his artistic appreciation of football. A deal was swiftly agreed, and Nevin hopped across the Mersey for a three-month stint.

Tranmere were focused on consolidation at that point. Nevin joined towards the end of Rovers’ first second division season in 53 years. Still, King was incredibly ambitious, having added prolific striker John Aldridge to his strong core the previous summer. Nevin gave the eloquent gaffer another prime weapon, and Tranmere finished the season strongly, landing in mid-table.

Rovers won Nevin’s first three games with the club, defeating Port Vale, Millwall and Derby. Further wins over Newcastle, Portsmouth and Charlton rounded out the campaign, before Nevin linked up with his national team. Pat was used sparingly as Scotland failed to emerge from the group stage in Sweden, but he was pleased to be back on the radar again. Tranmere gave Nevin a career lifeline, and he never forgot that in the years – and decades – to come. Loyalty was important to Pat, and that should always be applauded.

Why did Galatasaray want to sign Pat Nevin in 1992?

While it may be tempting to think Galatasaray chiefs were besotted by clips of Nevin at Euro '92, their interest in Scotland’s pocket rocket actually predated that tournament by two whole years. You see, back in August 1990, Everton played Galatasaray in a pre-season friendly that doubled as a testimonial for Zoran Simović, Cimbom’s goalkeeping stalwart. A hostile crowd of 18,617 gathered at the Ali Sami Yen Stadium, and Everton won, 3-1. Nevin scored two goals and dazzled onlookers with slithering skill. Galatasaray president Alp Yalman fell in love with the player there and then, while influential coach Mustafa Denizli was also impressed. Their pursuit began in earnest.

Amid a boisterous atmosphere in the stadium, Yalman sought counsel from Vince Cooper, an English journalist working in Istanbul who helped arrange the fixture. Yalman wanted to know more about Nevin, and specifically how much it would cost to make him a Galatasaray player. A big Chelsea fan, Cooper knew Nevin from past dealings, and he acted as a willing intermediary between Pat and Yalman, facilitating initial discussions. And while a deal was not immediately forthcoming, Yalman remained a distant admirer of Nevin, awaiting an opportunity to pounce. 

As such, when next Gala embarked on a thorough recruitment drive, under the aegis of incoming manager Karl-Heinz Feldkamp, Yalman suggested Nevin as a key target. Pat figured to be available in the summer of 1992, his Everton future in limbo following the Tranmere loan deal, and Yalman saw a chance to complete a headline signing. Galatasaray added Hakan Şükür, a predatory striker, from Bursaspor that same summer, and Yalman wanted Nevin to supply him, perhaps as a central playmaker rather than a winger. That is when the video highlights came into play, convincing the president to act on his long-harboured hunch. Nevin was duly invited to Istanbul for a look around.

In truth, though, that ‘look around’ soon morphed into a carefully choreographed sales pitch. As recounted by Nevin in The Accidental Footballer, his recently published autobiography, Pat flew into Atatürk airport with his wife, Annabel, and their son, expecting polite introductions. Yalman had other ideas, though, leaking news of Nevin’s arrival to the press. The story was then splashed across the front pages of several daily newspapers, resulting in a vociferous welcome for Pat at the airport, as per Turkish football traditions. Galatasaray fans came out in force to greet Nevin, their presumptive new star, only for an awkwardness to quickly set in.

Soon after stepping foot on Turkish soil, Nevin was handed a Galatasaray shirt. The club orchestrated a de facto press conference, right there in the airport, and Yalman wanted Pat to hold the shirt aloft. Nevin was still an Everton player, of course, and he respected that status. Pat refused to pose with the jersey, sending a ripple of mild offence through the assembled crowd. The writing was firmly on the wall.

From the airport, Nevin was whisked away in a limousine, which transported him to the club’s headquarters. No passport control. No customs checks. Nothing. Pat was shown around the Ali Sami Yen Stadium, a sacred football venue, and the team’s training complex. Following a tour of Galatasaray island, commandeered by the club as its administrative base, Nevin’s whistle-stop tour culminated in a boardroom showdown with Yalman. The boss expected to conclude the deal, no questions asked, but Pat Nevin had other ideas. He always did, and that is what made him unique.

How much did Galatasaray offer Pat Nevin?

Again relying on The Accidental Footballer for details, we learn that, right off the bat, Yalman offered Nevin a three-year package including a healthy wage increase, a swanky apartment overlooking the Bosphorus and a BMW car. When Pat said he needed time to discuss the offer with Annabel, two burly security guards began to shuffle in the president’s office. Galatasaray was not accustomed to rejection, so eyebrows were certainly raised. Likewise, subtle negotiation was not a hallmark of Turkish society, so Pat straddled thin ice.

As tension filled the room, Yalman asked Nevin what he needed to conclude the deal. As is their wont, Galatasaray were desperate to compete in Europe, with an eye on the UEFA cup, and the president was convinced that a Nevin-Şükür partnership could get the club there. Pat said Annabel needed to be near her family, and that the Nevins had some private matters to manage in Britain. Therefore, the family would be better off staying in England, where they already had a solid base. An international move was not ideal.

Yalman did not flinch, instantly doubling his wage offer and promising to make it all tax-free. The apartment became a house and the BMW became a Mercedes convertible. Yalman even offered to fly Nevin back and forth between London and Istanbul for matches and training sessions, so Pat could still tend to his personal affairs. Few players of that era were accorded such luxurious logistics, but still Nevin requested time to think. He returned to England with his family, entirely unsure of what the future held, and that is when Tranmere re-entered the equation, creating a serious dilemma.

Why did Pat Nevin choose to join Tranmere Rovers instead of Galatasaray?

While pondering his next move, Nevin visited King at Prenton Park, more for a coffee and catch-up than anything else. Pat had tremendous respect for the Rovers boss, whose insights were often peppered with loquacious metaphors and grandiose malapropisms. Nevin told King of his Turkish quandary, while also mentioning domestic interest from Newcastle. Tranmere added to the intrigue with their own three-year offer. Rovers officials had already agreed a £300,000 transfer fee with Everton, taking care of formalities, leaving Pat to make an informed choice regarding his future. There was an awful lot to consider.

Reporting at the time, The Independent likened Nevin’s decision – Tranmere or Galatasaray, with Newcastle’s interest waning – to Hobson’s Choice, an illusion in which only one sufficient option is obfuscated by preposterous alternatives. Tranmere were seen as minnows in this race, flanked by mighty sharks, except Rovers had a deadly submarine to protect them, and few saw it coming.

Ultimately, Pat Nevin picked Tranmere because, like everybody afflicted with this merciless disease, he saw what most people do not: the quirky, complicated beauty of this sequestered football club. Pat was a poet, a magician, an introverted academic. The suave, velvety ethos of Tranmere was a perfect match for his esoteric worldview – a weirdly wonderful club for a weirdly wonderful player. Nevin felt at home here, and he wanted to be part of the club’s maverick tradition. The decision was not so difficult after all.

“In the end, I went back and signed for Tranmere, who had just finished in the middle of the old second division – an incredibly strange decision, but one I never regretted,” Nevin told Scottish newspapers recently while promoting his book. “If it had been all about finance, I would have been a Galatasaray player like a shot, but it wasn’t. I had been at Tranmere. I knew they had a good side, with a good coach and a decent squad. Rovers were a great club, and in John Aldridge, they had a finisher who was at the level of Ally McCoist or Ian Rush.” 

Nevin yearned for the freedom, trust and poetic licence offered by King, who eschewed complex tactics in favour of optimistic expression. “Get the ball and make things happen,” King told Nevin, who cherished similarly simplistic principles. And that is just what Pat did, lighting up the second division with effervescent performances. 

“I enjoyed Tranmere’s open style of play, and when it came down to a choice between Galatasaray and the Rovers, I plumped for the mighty whites,” Nevin told Toffee Web, an Everton fan site, in 2012. “I liked living in the north west. I loved the people and the passion for the game, so it was an easy decision and a good choice in the end.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

How Pat Nevin became a Tranmere Rovers legend, rejecting boyhood club Celtic in the process

Instead of feeding Şükür beside the Bosphorus, Nevin whipped crosses into Aldo near the Mersey. Augmenting a core of high-pedigree players – Irons, Morrissey, Malkin, Nixon, Mungall, McGreal, Nolan, Vickers, Brannan, Coyne, McNab – King’s galacticos fired Tranmere to prominence, banging on the Premier League door while reaching a League Cup semi-final. Rovers’ fluent, free-flowing football piqued the interest of purists, who wanted to see the club do well. Three consecutive playoff appearances ended in agonising defeat, however, as the swaggering style sometimes lacked killer substance.

“I feel unbelievably positive about Tranmere,” Nevin said in an archived interview, shortly after making his Rovers move permanent. “I actually feel 19 again, doing things I haven't done for years. That's not a dig at Everton. It's just that I've got the freedom to do what I like, and I'm getting an incredibly positive attitude from the manager, my teammates and the supporters. For a player like me, that works wonders.”

Chairman of the PFA during his time in Birkenhead, Nevin made more than 200 appearances for Tranmere, staying until 1997 amid a late-career resurgence. Playing some of the best football of his career, Pat remained in the Scotland team, eventually earning more international caps as a Tranmere player than at any of his other clubs. Indeed, Nevin played more games for Rovers than anyone else, too, carving a special place for the club in his heart. Pat was was fully committed to the mission, otherwise known as King’s rocket ride to the moon.

So much so, even when Celtic lodged a bid for Nevin during his Tranmere pomp, Pat stayed the course, believing in Rovers’ Premier League dream. Ultimately, Tranmere failed to reach the Promised Land, and that remains a regret for Nevin and his vaunted teammates. Nevertheless, with scintillating football and unrivalled personality, that team put Rovers firmly on the cultural map. It is difficult to imagine a greater zeitgeist emerging from Prentonia again.

What became of Galatasaray without Pat Nevin?

For their part, Galatasaray did not perform too badly without Nevin, either. Cimbom won the Turkish league title on goal difference in 1993 and successfully defended their crown in 1994. While Nevin and Tranmere were attempting to reach the Premier League, Galatasaray played Barcelona, Manchester United and other assorted megalodons in the newfangled Champions League. Pat must have felt an occasional twinge of regret, but he never showed it at Prenton Park.

Of course, Scottish football legend Graeme Souness became Galatasaray manager – somewhat randomly – in 1995, adding to the intrigue. Souness lured a number of British players to Istanbul, but Gala’s interest in Nevin was never rekindled. Perhaps the snub resulted in lingering distrust between the parties, or perhaps battling Sunderland and Derby with Tranmere motivated Nevin more than fighting Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş with Galatasaray. I suppose we will never know.

Alp Yalman was replaced as Galatasaray president in 1996, without ever signing Nevin, his cherished target, while Fatih Terim became Cimbom coach around the same time. With an emperor’s charisma, Terim authored fresh hegemony for Galatasaray that culminated in a string of domestic championships and the 2000 UEFA Cup. Terim’s men beat Arsenal in an iconic final, claiming the first continental title in Gala’s distinguished history. Pat Nevin watched on, newly retired and wondering what might have been. He probably wrote something beautiful about it, such is his appreciation of football history. There is not a bitter bone in Pat's body, and he remains a fan at heart.

Final thoughts on Pat Nevin and his love for Tranmere Rovers

Even all these years later, then, there is a mythic quality to Pat Nevin turning down Galatasaray in favour of Tranmere Rovers. As a Superwhite anorak, I first heard this story years ago, yet it always seemed vaguely apocryphal, as if it were too good to be true. Perhaps that is why I have waited so long to write about the topic. It just never seemed real.

However, I recall one specific matchday programme, in among the thousands we have as a family stretching back to the 1950s, that had Pat on the front cover, sat in the boardroom next to chairman Frank Corfe and King, about to sign a contract. Inside the programme, I recall there was an interview with Pat, or perhaps a column from Corfe, that mentioned the Galatasaray episode. I remember my shock upon first reading it, as if teleported to another world in which Tranmere Rovers was a superpower. There was a surreal brilliance to the entire story, not unlike the football club as a whole, and these quirky triumphs should be celebrated.

Nevin has spoken candidly about his Istanbul dalliances down the years. A spate of stories were published as Pat promoted his aforementioned autobiography, while the lads on A Trip to the Moon, a terrific Tranmere podcast by Matt Jones and Matty Houghton, recently discussed the situation with Nevin himself. That is well worth a listen for added detail, while Pat’s book should have a place in any Tranmere Rovers library.

Alas, as Rovers stumble through another desperate deadline day, the notion of beating Gateshead, never mind Galatasaray, to a player seems remote. And yet, almost three decades ago, that was the pool in which Tranmere fished, making presidents of top European clubs fume with their waspish persistence.

There was once an ineffable appeal to Tranmere – indeed, to lower league football as a whole – whereas now, cash is omnipotent, leaving scores of clubs fighting for a handful of players. That gets me thinking, actually – I wonder if Galatasaray would give us a striker on loan. You know, for old time’s sake and all that. Lord knows we need all the help we can get, as the golden memories of yesteryear fade into the dull frustrations of today.

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