Dickie Felton

I write about music and football

I hid behind the sofa when Stevie Nicol took the opening penalty of the 1984 European Cup Final.

I couldn't watch the 22-year-old from Troon take one of the most important spot-kicks in Liverpool FC history.

He blazed it over, but the Reds went on to defeat AS Roma in their own backyard thanks to 12-yard-heroics from Neal, Souness, Rush and finally Kennedy.

Spaghetti-legs from live-wire keeper Bruce Grobbelaar also played a part in Liverpool claiming their fourth European Cup that night in the Eternal City.

If one player was in trouble, there would be others in the team to put things right.

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And ‘looking after each other’ is a key theme in Stevie Nicol’s excellent autobiography.

5 League Titles and a Packet of Crisps has more ups, downs and swerves sideways than a rollercoaster.

It the story of how a young Scottish kid became one of Liverpool FC’s most crucial (and crazy) signings.

Crucial in that he enjoyed 468 appearances for the Reds and made a massive contribution to the glory days of the early to late 1980s and beyond.

During that time Steve Nicol netted 46 times. Not bad for someone who spent the majority of his career in defence.

Crazy? well, anyone who gets allocated EIGHT different nicknames clearly falls into “bit of a character” category.

The list in full: Bumper, Chops, Chopsy, Chico, Hannu, Nico, Henderson, Soash.

During the halcyon days of the 1980s, Nicol was Mr Dependable for Liverpool.

One of the club's greatest ever defenders and a fantastic footballer who could give his all from every playing position. 

Off the pitch he also excelled in his role of social convener for club and country.

What is clear throughout this 336 page epic read, is that the team ethic that made Liverpool the toast of Europe, was not just built at the training ground of Melwood.

The fierce determination to win was born out of teammates bonding in the bars and nightspots across Merseyside.

There's a lot of booze in this book and a lot of crisps.

Nicol gets by on diet of lager and crisps - every imaginable flavour. But - he does it when the time is right to do it. IE after games and not on the eve of them. He’s too professional for that.

The sport scientists and dieticians of today would despair at the amount of ale getting downed by professionals throughout this book.

But the bonding over a few beers was a vital ingredient in creating a sense of team.

There is some ripping laugh-out-loud moments throughout this tome. Nicol (ably assisted by Dalglish and Hansen), frequently overindulges in beer and bravado - leading to japes and escapades.

He accidentally sets fire to a teammate’s wife's hair, he strips naked at a posh do, he sleepwalks and has a toilet trauma.

It’s great fun for everyone. Apart from Mrs Nicol. 

This football star is in the dog house more times than Lassie.

The booze and junk food lifestyle is countered by the fact that Nicol is one of the fittest players in the team.

You get the impression that a diet of soda water and salad would just have curbed his playing ability.

In 2016 every player’s shot is analysed in 27 different camera angles, and tactics are scrutinised till the cows come home.

Nicol’s book is the stark opposite to this.

He insists that football is essentially a simple game. It’s about performing as well as you can on the pitch, bloody hard work, closing down the opposition, looking out for your teammates. And that’s about it.

Take manager Joe Fagan’s less-than-detailed team-talk before that final in Rome: “They’re good. But we are better. Get an early goal to quieten the crowd. Oh, and don’t be late for the team bus.”

Stevie Nicol played in every single position during his illustrious career - even in goal.

I guess he was the ultimate utility player. A Mr Versatile, the likes of which are extinct from today’s modern game.

Maybe Nicol unknowingly invented the whole concept of the utility player.

But to pigeon-hole him with the words ‘utility’ and ‘versatility’ is to do a dishonour.

At times Nicol was quite simply unstoppable. Go on YouTube and watch his hat-trick away at Newcastle. His finishing is on a par with Rush.

A proud Scotland supporter, Nicol achieves a lifetime’s ambition to play for his country and goes to Mexico 86. But there is a constant feeling of being let-down by the men in suits at the Scottish FA.

Hotel facilities are regularly poor, the bigwigs get the best rooms while the players make do with whatever.

One Scottish manager inflicts the number 13 shirt on Nicol for a match on Friday the 13th.

This book is, of course, not all about goals and glory.

There’s the Heysel disaster. There’s the death of Jock Stein following Scotland’s World Cup qualifier at Wales.

The Hillsborough passages in this book are devastating. Nicol attends funerals, and along with other players (and their wives) tries to help the bereaved.

In April 1989 Nicol was just 27.

There was no counselling for the players or their wives - who do all they can to try to help a city devastated in loss.

And in the weeks, months and years post Hillsborough, Nicol says that he loses his focus on football.

This book is a love story. A player’s love of his club, of his adopted city, of his team-mates and most of all, football.

It’s touching that Nicol ends his playing days in non-league football - at Doncaster Rovers - and falls head-over-heels with the game all over again.

He makes his debut away to Hayes - in front of 733 supporters. It’s September. And a long way from the balmy night in Rome at the pinnacle of his career.

But Nicol is in his element, thriving on his last days playing competitive football.

And the glowing assessment of the non-league game from someone so glittered with medals is lovely to read: “It’s not until you play football at this level that you appreciate both ends of the spectrum. Unfortunately there’s so much money in the game these days that players who do well simply retire rather than drop down the divisions. They are missing out.”

Nicol never really gets over that penalty miss in Rome. But hilariously that’s not the moment he gives up taking spot-kicks. No, that grave day comes when he misses from 12 yards in a ‘friendly’ match on the LFC training ground.

By all accounts the matches at Melwood every bit as eagerly contested as Wembley finals.

Penalties, who’d take penalties? The poor lad even misses a penalty in his testimonial. You can’t make it up.

A testimonial - which incidentally - is the first ever testimonial screened live on Sky.

This book gives us a wonderful insight into the mentality of a Liverpool great. It also gives us a fantastic look at management stateside. Nicol is Reborn in the USA and manages first the Boston Bulldogs and then New England Revolution.

Like Klopp and Dortmund, Nicol takes the Revs to four cup finals - but loses them all.

In America the Scot collects Manager of the Year gongs and later becomes a household name as a pundit on ESPN.

I loved this book. Nicol’s best years at Liverpool came at a time when I had my first season ticket.

I’ve still kept a special Fan Club postcard for 30 years.

Signed by the lad from Troon who went on to become a Liverpool legend.

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Stevie Nicol: My Autobiography. 5 League Titles and a Packet of Crisps, is out now.

Published by Sport Media.

You can buy it here.

Follow Stevie on Twitter: @SteveNicol61

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