In the first of an exclusive two-part interview, former Whites man Sean Davis discusses his early days at Fulham.
More than 16 years have passed since a teenage Sean Davis made his debut for Fulham Football Club as a late replacement for Rob Scott in a comfortable win over Cambridge United.
At that point, Whites fans knew little about the young lad who, as it happens, had grown up less than four miles away from Craven Cottage – but he would go on to become an integral part of the Club’s success in subsequent years.
“I was originally from Battersea – Lavender Hill, Clapham Common way,” Sean explained. “I was just training and mucking about in the sports centre just behind the Winstanley estate at Clapham Junction and a few Fulham scouts used to come down. They asked four or five of us to come along and it just went from there really.
“I was probably 15 when I joined Fulham. I’d been at a few clubs when I was younger; Wimbledon and West Ham United both released me so I was ready to knock football on the head and I was playing basically for fun.
“Then I had the trial at Fulham, trained and played a few games on a Sunday. The Manager at the time was Ian Branfoot but then when I became a YTS under John Marshall, Micky Adams was the Manager.
“I was 17 when I made my debut – I know it was against Cambridge in the October at the Cottage but I’m not sure of the exact date. I remember standing outside the changing room with all the young lads, having a laugh and a joke. Then about an hour and a half before kick-off Alan Cork came out and said, ‘Sean come here, you’re not with those muppets anymore.’
“I wasn’t sure what was going on – my first thought was that I was in trouble again because I was always getting in trouble for not doing jobs. So I came into the First Team dressing room and found out I was on the bench – I couldn’t believe it. I’d done quite well in the previous Reserve game away to Chelsea but I think the main reason I was on the bench was because one of the other pros – I think it was Paul Brooker – didn’t put in 100 per cent or must have annoyed Micky Adams and I think he left him out and put me on the bench just to prove a point.
“I don’t really remember much of the game. I know we were 3-0 up and I came on and Micky just told me to enjoy it. I made a tackle and I think I touched the ball once! It was all a bit of a blur – I think I was on the pitch for about eight minutes but it felt like about a minute.
“Because it was a last-minute thing, none of my family were there except my old man. I think Alan Cork must have rung him so my Dad was there and he was obviously pleased and proud, so that was good. My Mum didn’t come to my games anyway – she couldn’t watch because she was too nervous! She couldn’t even watch my matches on television – she’d sit in the kitchen and pop her head round now and again.”
That cameo appearance in the 1996/97 promotion season proved to be Davis’ only run-out for the First Team for a while. He’d next be called upon in another promotion year – 1998/99 – when he played nine times for the Whites, including a start against Liverpool in a League Cup tie. But the campaign wasn’t without its disappointments for the youngster.
“That was good, I enjoyed that even though we lost 3-1,” he recalled of the match in which he tested himself against the likes of Paul Ince, Danny Murphy, Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler.
“I think Morgs [Simon Morgan] scored an own goal,” he said. “If I can recall, I thought I’d done really well in that match. The next game was away to Blackpool and the team was named and I wasn’t even on the bench. Neil Smith – Smudger – was on the bench and he said to me, ‘bloody hell I can’t believe that, I had my coat and my scarf ready because I didn’t think I’d be involved.’
“Nothing was said to me so I went from such a high playing at Anfield to such a low and that was the start to a rollercoaster career.
“I didn’t get an explanation and I didn’t ask for one. A few of us who weren’t involved just took a walk down Blackpool beach while the lads were getting ready, had something to eat then came back and watched the game. Geoff Horsfield scored the winner as we won 3-2. But that’s the highs and lows of being a young professional.
“It was understandable, though, because we had so many good players and so many experienced players at the time as well. It was such a fantastic dressing room that it was a good learning curve for me because it was such a good, honest bunch of lads.”
That was the final season in which Sean was not a regular, though. Following our promotion to the old Division One, he played 76 times in the two years that led to Fulham finally reaching the promised land of the top flight. It’s a period that he looks back on with a justifiable sense of pride.
“Looking back now, to be a part of that team...” Sean said before trailing off. No words were necessary.
He continued: “Obviously when you become a professional footballer you want to leave a legacy and you want to be remembered, and I think that team will always be remembered for the football we played.
“Just being a part of that Fulham history and getting us into the Premiership was obviously a very good feeling to have and a proud moment for me.”
He was an instrumental part of the title-winning side that won Division One at a canter. Primarily a holding midfield player, he also had a knack of scoring crucial goals, with two in particular that are famously remembered by the Fulham faithful.
“I think I scored about six or something similar that season,” he said. “The Blackburn Rovers and the Sheffield Wednesday ones are probably the most highlighted, though.”
And rightly so. His stoppage time winner at Ewood Park – which came days after Graeme Souness had described Rovers as the strongest team in the division – all but ended the Lancashire club’s title challenge.
“There were a lot of heated people in the dressing room at half-time,” Sean recalled of the televised, top-of-the-table clash. “We’d got back to 1-1 just before half-time – I think the ball came across and I kind of bundled into the goalkeeper, thinking the referee’s going to give a foul, but he didn’t, and then Louis Saha tapped it in.
“We then came in at the break having had a man sent off – I think Rufus [Brevett] got sent off – but then Barry Hayles had taken an elbow in the game from David Dunn, so he was fuming. He’d been substituted because we were down to 10 men, so he was angry.
“Then Clarky [Lee Clark] was kicking off saying ‘we can’t lose this game, we’re top of the league.’ It was all heated and I just knew that we weren’t going to lose that game, not in a million years. And to win it, with 10 men, was obviously fantastic, especially with me scoring the winner. I didn’t get many winners so it was a good feeling.”
While that strike – a coolly taken half-volley after Clark’s deflected effort had found its way to him – was monumental, his goal against Wednesday at Craven Cottage was more symbolic. Again it was in stoppage time, but this time it meant the Division One title was Fulham’s.
“It would have to be the Sheffield Wednesday one,” he admitted when pressed for his favourite-ever goal. “Because it was at home and we actually lifted the title that day. I think we needed the point to win the championship.
“It was a last-minute equaliser and, obviously, being at home with my family and everyone there, and the celebrations after, I think that was my favourite one. The Blackburn one will always be remembered for the silly dance and because we were down to 10 men, but I think Sheffield Wednesday was probably my favourite.”
There are a couple of other goals that Sean reminisces about with a smile, partly because of the vindication they brought him.
“I scored two in one game against West Bromwich Albion – they were good ones,” he recalled. “There was a good story behind those goals as well. That team, with Lee Clark, Chris Coleman, Andy Melville, Kit Symons, Rufus Brevett, Barry Hayles – most of the British lads – used to have a cheeky drink in Wimbledon Village on a Tuesday night.
“I think it was a Wednesday this time, so the Wednesday before the West Brom game, one of the players – I won’t mention his name – walked out of the pub and was staggering across the road and he managed to get a cab. I walked out two minutes later on my phone and someone said ‘taxi.’
“I said, ‘no I’m alright mate I don’t want a taxi,’ but he asked again. So I walked up to the taxi, put my head in the car and it was Christian Damiano, the Assistant Manager. I don’t think I was that bad but I’d obviously had a drink so I was thinking ‘oh no!’ and he just smiled at me and drove off.
“I remember coming in the next day – oh my god, Jean Tigana gave me the grilling of a lifetime! But I didn’t stitch anyone up when he asked if I was with anyone else, I said I was with my family. When I scored two goals on the Saturday it kind of got me out of trouble!
“Especially as one was a header because I never scored with my head, I was terrible. Tigana used to abuse me about my heading so to score one with my head was fantastic.”
Make sure you check fulhamfc.com next Sunday for part two of Sean’s Memory Lane interview where he discusses our Premier League years, his departure from the Club, and his desire to get firmly involved with the Fulham family once again.