Hats off to Nev!!!!!

20 11 2017

North Wales is one of Britain’s backwaters. It’s the sort of place that only appears on the news when something really bad happens or there’s a quirky little human interest story about animals.

It’s the sort of place that people move away from when stardom or employment beckons, the sort of place to which you return once a year or once stardom wanes. You can’t help where you’re born can you?

What’s that?

You had a lovely month one night in north Wales. Very good, I’m sorry you’ll have to speak up……..What’s that?

North Wales is the kind of place that grows on you? ……..Like mould?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, very funny. I bow to your comedic ability……..What’s that?……..

Oh aye, oh aye, I know you’re only joking, I know it’s lovely, blah blah blah blah.

Mate, mate maaaaaaate I don’t care what you think because I like living in north Wales. I don’t care if there’s a bright centre to the galaxy and north Wales is the furthest point from it, I’ve got books and I like the rain.

Anyway Neville Southall was different, he stayed in north Wales. Even after he won all of those medals as one of the best goalkeepers in Europe he continued to live in the town where he grew up.

Nev, son of Llandudno, has garnered much recent attention with his twitter output of skeleton related whimsy and scathing assessments of the government policy.

It’s been an unexpurgated joy to read the social media output that if it were a stick of rock sold from a kiosk on Llandudno Pier would have “I Think Like This Because I’m From Llandudno” running through the middle of it. It was clear that the ex-goalkeeper had his finger firmly on the pulse of the zeitgeist so naturally blog articles followed.

It was nice to see articles but some of us knew they were lacking that certain je ne sais quoi. Well I say that but we knew exactly what they lacked, a sense of Llandudno. It was quite obvious that none of the authors had actually lived upon the mean streets of the Queen of Welsh resorts, or walked upon Ysgol John Bright’s waxed parquet flooring, or stood upon Llandudno’s West Shore and watched the sun set behind Anglesey, or personally encountered Nev.

I encountered him on two occasions, the first was when he presented the Llandudno under 12s with our runner up medal in the league cup. I may have been a non-playing reserve but it remains my one piece of football silverware, my one piece of football glory. I treasure the silver plastic and marble effect base. I like to think that the North Wales Coast FA were ahead of their time by awarding an entire squad with medals. As an added memento Nev autographed the back of my commemorative team photo.

The second encounter happened on the afternoon I nearly pushed my bike into him as he came out of our local post office. His sportswear told me that he was in a post-training mood. I was slightly star struck so I only managed to say was “Sorry!!”. On the way home I realised that I may have been the only person that had interacted with a world class sportsman at that precise time on planet Earth.

There are plenty of reasons to respect Nev. Firstly his famous job, he was a bone fide famous name in my Shoot and Match influenced milleu. He wasn’t just part of teams that were relatively successful, Everton during one of their most successful periods and a Wales side that was doing alright without actually qualifying, he was the last goalkeeper to be awarded the title Footballer Of The Year.

Whenever I think of Nev I see someone holding the Cup Winners’ Cup in red le coq sportif, or someone poised in Everton’s 1989 dark green umbro, or someone standing resolute in the shiny polyester of Wales, either light blue hummel or green umbro. Sometimes he’s holding a ball and sometimes he isn’t.

His feats for Wales were as clear as the azure blue of deepest summer. Without his skill we may not have beaten Germany in 1991 but one of his finest performance was during the 7-1 away defeat in Holland, if he hadn’t have played so well Wales could have conceded another 5 goals, I type that without a hint of hyperbole. Aside from Hagi’s long range effort I struggle to remember any mistakes but the perfectionist called Nev would remember every footstep or glove out of place.

Goalkeeping is a difficult skill to master and unless you’ve played in goal you can’t really appreciate just how difficult it is to play in goal. It took me a sixteen year apprenticeship as a mistake rectifying defender recreational / six-a-side league football to graduate to the position of goalkeeper.

As a fellow goalkeeper I can appreciate just how fantastically skilled Nev and most other professional goalkeepers are. Quite a few people, even me, can score screamers if they and a football connect properly but not everybody can make a reaction save or get their hands to a ball that’s heading to the top corner.

It is incredibly difficult to pull off flying saves. You have to co-ordinate your range of movement, strength and agility to spring through the air to meet a fast moving target with split second timing. Top goalkeepers make this look easy but when was the last time you tried to jump for anything let alone do so acrobatically?

The next time you’re in a room with windows try to imagine diving from one side of the window to the other and still be in control of your moment, remain aware of your surroundings and land safely. Do you think that you would be able to react quickly if you had to attempt a similar feat within seconds? There too many occasions to mention when Nev performed highly skilled goalkeeping heroics of this nature.

I also like his style of rugged individualism. Sometimes he wore two shirts, he was one of the first keepers I saw in padded shorts (unless my memory is playing tricks and it was Mark Crossley). I remember the time he left the half time dressing room early to crouching against the post until the rest of his Everton teammates returned to the pitch. He was the only player that’s provided a pre-Cup Final interview whilst sitting on the Orme. I remember the swell of pride as I realised where he was.

I liked the way Nev came straight back to Llandudno after the 1995 FA Cup Final, he was a man after my own heart. No flannel, no unnecessary pandering. Who doesn’t secretly yearn to be their own person? To be dependable yet aloof, to be the someone that everyone knows will get the job done when required. Not everybody wants to be the life and soul of the party, anybody can tell a joke and YAP YAP YAP but can they be relied upon?

I sense I would like Nev’s sense of humour. I can see Llandudno in Nev’s withering putdowns he once directed at Michael Owen when Owen sought to ridicule a young goalkeeper in front of television cameras. The Llandudno that I grew up in taught people to remain humble rather than show off, there’s a lot to be said for bluff sarcasm as a tool for mental development. I’m sure other places were similar at the time, there was no such thing as a you tuber when I had the world at my feet.

The best piece of evidence that suggests we should respect Nev is a career path less travelled by professional sportsmen. As we all know Nev once worked for the council but he now works in a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU).

If you’ve never heard of PRUs they are the sector of the education system that deals with the learners that have trouble adjusting to mainstream education. Wikipedia describes such learners like this; They have “Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, (feel) exasperated by unsettled domestic situations, (with) a propensity towards criminal behaviour, bullying, or (conversely) having been the victim of bullying.”

As you can imagine the working conditions in a PRU can be quite challenging in comparison to mainstream schools, but they can also be very rewarding as you attempt to help young people negotiate their way through life. No child deserves to be written off. It’s fantastic that Nev has chosen to work in a place like that.

Therefore when Nev tweets about the pernicious effects of Tory party policy he is not applying the reedy voice of a lefty snowflake but the cold analytical eye of personal experience. Three cheers for Neville Southall.

VIVA NEV!

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