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A Fascinating Chat with Big Nev

By Paul Traill   ::  03/10/2012

It’s a little after 10:30am and I’m patiently... actually more excitedly, in Waterstones, Liverpool One. There’s a queue of people bending round the corner, many dressed in blue. They’re particularly early as Neville Southall’s book signing doesn’t begin until 11:30am.

Big Nev marches in sporting a pair of blue shorts. I’m introduced to the Big Man and am shuffled into an interview room through the back of Waterstones. “Have they got air conditioning in here? I’m going to be roasting signing these books”, jokes Neville.

We settled down and into the interview. Big Nev takes a suspicious glance at my notes. “Looks like a school report”. With Nev being the tall, stocky man he is and being as Welsh as they come, I asked about how he didn’t end up playing rugby when he was younger. “My Dad hated rugby, and the rugby teacher was dead aggressive, whilst the football teacher was about 86 and didn’t know who anyone was so it was an easy decision really”. This choice being Everton’s gain of course.

Moving on to his time in professional football, and I recalled how Howard Kendall once told me what an incredible trainer Big Nev was, so I put the question to Neville, who is the best, and worst, trainer he ever played with? Trevor Steven was the best. And the worst? Well Mark Hughes would you believe. “Hughesie would imagine someone out on the wing and keep passing to him. Mimmsy (Bobby Mimms) was quite laid back though.”

"Who was the best manager you played under other than Howard Kendall?"

“I think Joe to be fair. Joe was great. Other than Joe, Mike England had great passion for his country.” Of course Joe Royle preceded Mike Walker as manager of Everton, with the latter not a manager Neville has much positive things to say about. “He wasn’t even managing was Mike Walker”.

I’d heard a rumor that Neville had a scrap with Mark Ward during his Everton days after Mark Ward had chipped Neville in training. A smile and a shake of the head… ”No, I wouldn’t have been able to catch him, he’d just run away. He was a great fella, Wardy.”

I asked if he was shocked about what happened to him after football – “Not really when you know him. Not the brightest lad in the world. You could probably hide an elephant in his front room and he wouldn’t notice,” said Neville. “I thought his book was very good. I can see how he got caught. There were people round him he shouldn’t have been around, but there are loads of footballers like that, isn’t there?”

Having read a few excerpts from Mark Ward’s book, I recall him touching upon him leaving the game just before all the big money came into it, though Neville isn’t envious of the riches in the game now… not for those who earn it at least anyway.

“No. If someone gave it to me, I’d take it wouldn’t I? I’ve no problem with anyone getting the money who has earned it. I thought a contract said you had to appear every week for your team, but a lot of them don’t do because ‘they’re tired’. A lot of players are good players but don’t become great players because it’s too easy for them not to play…and this rubs off on younger players.

"On one hand, players are fitter than they’ve ever been; on the other hand they’re tired. They’ve all the mental and fitness preparation in the world now yet they’re tired. How can someone be the best player in the world if they don’t play every week? Look at the backbone of most teams, the English lads play every week. Clubs will buy foreign but they need resting because they’re used to that. Most can’t deal with the weather probably. It’s so shit in this country they need a day off because of the weather!”

When asked about the footage of Rooney trying to chip him when he was a mascot for Everton, he shakes his head. “I haven’t seen it and don’t remember it. I know he says things in his book. Loads of times people have told me things which aren’t true. I’ve gotten in taxi’s and been told “I picked you up the other week and you were pissed”, and it’s like “Erm… no I wasn’t” and then they’ll say “Oh, it must have been someone else”. What was it (someone asked) the other day? I used to train with my hands tied behind my back, and I used to cycle to training for Llandudno every day… I’d be like Bradley Wiggins in the Olympics!”

In Neville’s book, he discusses how Duncan Ferguson could have been the best player in the world. A huge Big Dunc fan I am, but best player in the world? Surely not? “Dunc should have been the best player in the world but just wasn’t interested at Coventry away. Against Liverpool or Man Utd… no problem. He was a bit like Mohammad Ali. Would turn up in the big fights but then lose to Ken Norton. Only Dunc stopped Dunc being the best player in the world but he was better concentrating on being Dunc… smashing people!”

He also writes in his book, ridiculously, about another fellow 1995 FA Cup Winner in Anders Limpar wanting to be a fireman! “I tell him when I see him “There’s a lot of bungalows which need saving, Anders”. How is he going to carry me downstairs?” He went on to explain how Anders is perhaps currently quite a wasted talent and should be more involved in coaching here. Whether Nev meant here at Everton or just more throughout the country, I wasn’t so sure.

I had to take the opportunity to ask about Gary Speed and the effect his passing may have had on Neville himself. “With that and Gary (Ablett) and we lost some other family so it has made us think, “you’ve gotta do what you can, when you can”. It does affect you. It was worse with Gary (Speed) as I didn’t quite believe it. I was watching it on Sky Sports News, I was in Cardiff and didn’t think he was dead. I was expecting him to walk in through the door. It takes a long time to realize he’s gone.”

More light-heartedly, arguably the most interesting aspect of Neville’s book are the parts about performing in the national team for Wales as this is something I wasn’t nearly as familiar with as his history with Everton. Some of the stories are eye-opening, not least Bobby Gould wrestling with John Hartson. Nev smiles...

“That’s Bobby Gould for you. One time we were away in Tunisia, the hotel was boiling hot so he took everyone to the seaside just to prove a point. We’d only been in the hotel five minutes. He wanted the committee to know who was in charge. He tried to do it with the players. Two lads were messing around with some girls the night before we played Holland, so the next day he gets us all together and says, “You know who you are. Whoever was messing around with them girls last night stay behind, the rest of you go”, so everyone fucked off and he was just stood there. Good one Bob!”

I couldn’t let Big Nev go without asking how he’s getting on with the work he’s currently involved in, or at least working feverishly to get involved in with helping kids / teens gain qualifications through participating with sports.

“The apprenticeships have stopped now. It became elitist because it’s more about exams and the kids we work with don’t like exams. It can be any sport. We want to move away from just football and work with kids we wanna work with. We’re trying to do it in Wales and Merseyside but meeting opposition in Wales. The unemployment level in Wales is horrendous but they wanna play politics and not what’s good for kids. They wanna play political games. Unfortunately, I’m shit at that. Hard bit is Wales is a dead political place. If we don’t meet their aims, we don’t work in Wales. I’ve no problem working with anyone but they don’t want anything to upset what they’re doing”.

“But we’ll have a go mate”.

And that was that. You can tell by Neville Southall’s enthusiasm for his current work that he’ll find a way to do it. He really does epitomize a born winner. It was a real pleasure to speak with Nevile for 30 minutes… and needless to say, the queue outside was much, much, much longer as I left Waterstones for County Road.

Reader Comments

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Dave Charles
538 Posted 03/10/2012 at 08:03:02
Good read that Paul, thanks. I know a keeper who needs a bit of coaching at the moment.
Pete Anthony
557 Posted 03/10/2012 at 10:45:34
Good job, Paul. Had Nev's book for me birthday, great read and great man, was greatest keeper as well. Gentleman, Legend, Evertonian: Big Nev.
Julian Batti
602 Posted 03/10/2012 at 15:51:16
The best piece here in ages. I am definitely gonna get the book. Cheers Paul!
Peter Thistle
637 Posted 03/10/2012 at 18:28:00
Some good stuff there mate, nice one...
Sean Patton
660 Posted 03/10/2012 at 20:15:57

Great stuff he is a character is Nev his response to Limpar being a fireman is brilliant I have been creased with laughter reading that.

Andy Meighan
665 Posted 03/10/2012 at 20:24:58
He couldn't find an elephant if it was put in his front room. Pissing myself at that... I can't wait to read the book. Quality!
Adam Fenlon
713 Posted 04/10/2012 at 03:24:02
Cheers for the good read.

Though even if he had applied himself consistently, I struggle to imagine parallel universe pub conversations where people debate whether Messi, Pele, Maradona or Duncan Ferguson was the best ever player.....

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