Memory Lane

Saturday 11 May 2013 09:01

From the past or present, we catch up with a different Fulham personality. This week, it's Gordon Davies.

As the Club’s record goalscorer over two spells between 1977 and 1991, Gordon ‘Ivor’ Davies knows a thing or two about Fulham and a thing or two about scoring goals to boot.

The Welsh striker almost didn’t get a start in the game he came to dominate, though, as he was released by Manchester City as a schoolboy. While he became a qualified Geography and PE teacher, education’s loss was football’s gain and it wasn’t long before he got the chance he deserved at Craven Cottage.

“I joined Man City as a schoolboy for 18 months or so, but at the end of that period I got a letter through which said I had been released,” he says. “I thought my chances of ever being a professional footballer had gone. I went to join [his local club] Merthyr Tydfil and went through the ranks to the reserves, where I then made a move into the First Team after coming back after college and in my first season I scored 30 goals from the wing.

“Initially, due to an injury to one of the forwards, my manager at Merthyr moved me inside from the right wing into the centre and I scored 35 goals by February. A lot of clubs were interested in me – including Swansea and Cardiff – but I chose Fulham because I’d spoken to a lot of my colleagues at Merthyr who had played in the League and at Fulham. They told me it was a great place to play football and, when I weighed things up, I thought it would be the best option for me as I thought I would have more of a chance to play.”

At 21, he would take his chance with both hands under manager Bobby Campbell and helped the Club move up from the Third Division to the brink of promotion to the top flight.

“It was effectively making a step up five leagues when I joined Fulham in 1978,” he says. “After my disappointment at City, it was nice to be given a chance and all happened very quickly within five years.

“I joined in the March and didn’t expect to be playing that season, but with five games to go I was put in the squad against Mansfield and, the following week, I was in the squad to face Blackpool. I wasn’t told I was playing until Bobby Campbell announced the team an hour and a half before the game. It was such a shock that I didn’t actually have my boots ready and I had to look around and borrow some – a size too big; with two pairs of socks - from one of the lads who wasn’t playing.”

Six years at Fulham and over 100 goals later, Davies joined London rivals Chelsea in 1984. It is a move that the striker does not look back on with fondness as it came as a result of a dispute over money.

“I didn’t want to leave Fulham but we had agreed 99 per cent of a new contract and the only sticking point was an appearance fee of £35 which I wanted,” he says. “The Financial Director at the time wouldn’t give it to me and, although it seems laughable now, I signed a week-by-week contract. Eventually I did that for almost a full 12 months – and finished top scorer that season – but there was no contract and Chelsea came forward. It went to a tribunal and it was agreed that I would move for £90,000.

“I signed for Chelsea knowing that I wasn’t guaranteed a first-team place, but wanted to play at the top level. Even though I was a Wales international, I had never played or scored in the old First Division. I only played 13 games while I was there, but I was bought to put David Speedie under pressure. What brought it home to me that I wouldn’t stay at the club was when I was called to play in the side for the game away at Everton: I did very well and scored a hat-trick in a 4-3 win, but then I was dropped for the next game.

“Ahead of the next season, I was told that if I scored more goals in pre-season than Kerry Dixon or Speedie then I would get a chance in the team for the first league game. I scored more goals than both of them put together, but I still wasn’t in the squad against Arsenal, so I handed in my transfer request the following Monday.”

But Davies would not be made to wait long for his move.  Two months later, Freddie Pye, vice-chairman of City at the time, and Chelsea’s Ken Bates (who were friends as they had been on the board at Wigan together), met as the Blues beat City 1-0 in a very one-sided game in favour of the Mancunians. Pye turned to Bates and said ‘if only we had someone who could put the ball in the net, we would have beaten you’; Bates then told him Davies was available, and the Welshman received a call at 10am the next morning.

“I flew up on the Monday, had a talk with City and went back to sign on Friday before playing my first game on the Saturday against Watford,” he reveals. “I had been a fan of the club since I was there as a schoolboy, so when the chance cropped up I was keen to take it. I wanted to show them that they had made a mistake in letting me go and it was nice to prove them wrong and also play for my childhood team.”

Davies had good memories of playing against City with Fulham – he had scored four in a 5-1 win at the Cottage – and he was always out to prove them wrong for letting him go all those years ago. However, when he arrived at the club, he didn’t see eye-to-eye with City boss Billy McNeil and left after only one season. He had proved himself as a goalscorer once more, but wanted to return somewhere where he felt “accepted”; somewhere that he would be playing every week. Ray Lewington jumped at the chance to have him back at Fulham.

“People say you should never go back,” he quips. “But from day one, when I scored two on my second debut, the crowd were fantastic to me and it was a Club that I just felt at home at. I started from where I had left off by scoring goals and trying to do my best for the Club.”

Davies broke Johnny Haynes’ goalscoring record during his second spell at Fulham, in 1989, but it was something that almost passed him by.

“I didn’t know I’d broken it actually,” he says. “We’d lost the game away to Wolves 5-2, and I’d scored but I was so dejected by the result that when we went into the changing rooms afterwards I got into the bath and Robert Wilson came in, tapped me on the shoulder, and said ‘congratulations on the record’. I just looked at him and said thanks, but it didn’t really sink in until a few weeks later.

“I was probably the only person who has ever got anywhere near the Bedford Jezzard league scoring record and Johnny Haynes’ league and cup aggregate scoring record. It was something that I used to think ‘if it comes, it comes’ but it was never something that was in my mind all the time. Records are there to be broken, but it is something that makes me more proud the more I talk about it.”

Davies left Fulham in 1991 and went back to Wales to join Wrexham. He became a part of FA Cup history when the minnows beat giants Arsenal in one of the competition’s biggest ever shocks.

“Bryan Flynn [the Wrexham manager at the time] and myself go back to Wales schoolboy teams,” he says. “I joined the club to train and get fit and I played a few pre-season games up front with Chris Armstrong. In short, I was the Kenny Dalglish to his Ian Rush and they signed me to a contract at the beginning of the season, while George Graham signed him for Millwall.

“The Cup run started and it was a fun place to be in the six months I was there. We had an incredible run in the cup, beating Arsenal and then drawing with West Ham before losing the replay at the Racehorse Ground. At Fulham, we’d always been bridesmaid and never the bride and never managed to take that one big scalp that we were capable of getting. But at Wrexham, we took Arsenal’s scalp and it was an incredible time.”

With the end of his career coming in 1992, he took a step into management with a move to the unusual setting of Norway and little known Tornado in the Second Division.

“We were so far west that even the Norwegian FA didn’t know where we were,” he explains. “They put us in a league which contained a lot of teams from Oslo and Bergen and had a lot of ex-pros who were finishing their careers. So it was a difficult setup there and we weren’t able to bring in as many players as I would have wanted. I just set myself the goal of keeping the side in the division.

“I was offered a chance to play and coach the side, but the Chairman had his own ideas and I left. I would have loved the chance to move into coaching, but when I came back to England I went to Northwich Victoria to join an old friend, Sammy McIlroy. We ended up winning what was then called the Bob Lord trophy [now the Conference League Cup] – we beat Wycombe Wanderers 5-4 on aggregate and I picked up a hat-trick, although I never got the match ball.”

Back at Fulham again once he hung up his boots, and a firm fixture in the Hospitality Suites for the Club for the last 12 years, Davies is to return to the Craven Cottage turf once more as he takes his place for the Fulham All Stars against Sealand All Stars on May 18th.

“I’ve wanted to get on the pitch since I came back,” he says. “Looking back at the kinds of pitches we used to play on and what we had to deal with, the game seems so much slower then than it is now, but I’m looking forward to getting out there again and, above all, I hope I score.”