Hall of Heroes: Gordon Davies

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Fulham Focus have entered a number of past players in the Hall of Heroes but recently have been concentrating more on current affairs, particularly after our fantastic triumph at Wembley. The last induction into our Hall of Heroes was the brilliant tribute to club stalwart Mark Maunders back in March. So, it feels like it would be a good time to address a glaring omission in the series before our Premier League campaign gets up and running…

Step forward all time Fulham record goalscorer and my personal all-time favourite player, Gordon Davies. Ivor, as he is better known to Fulham aficionados, had two spells at the club, initially joining from Merthyr in 1978 and returning after brief sojourns with Chelsea and Manchester City in 1986. He scored the majority of his goals in his first spell at the club before usurping Johnny Haynes as Fulham’s all-time top scorer in 1989.

The fact he broke this record was all the more remarkable for the fact Ivor was a late starter in the professional game, after being released by Manchester City as a schoolboy. He then focused on his studies becoming a qualified PE and history teacher, before getting his chance 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 said in a past interview for the Club website. “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 said. “After my disappointment at City, it was nice to be given a chance and it 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.”

Ivor didn’t have the most auspicious start by conceding a penalty in the first half and getting a fearful dressing down from Ray Evans who advised him not to come back in his own half again. His debut had a happy ending though as we came back to win the game 2-1.

He established himself as a regular in the side the following season where he dovetailed beautifully alongside new signing Chris Guthrie in the classic big man, little man combination. Ivor was a regular on the score sheet and at one stage we weren’t too far away from challenging from promotion. Strangely the club then broke their existing transfer fee record in signing the prolific Peter Kitchen from Orient. Initially, Ivor was displaced from the side but for some reason, Kitchen didn’t quite click, form suffered and our promotion bid quite literally ‘petered’ out. Davies was soon restored to the lineup as he completed a very encouraging first full season for the club.

He built on this with a blistering start to the 1979-80 campaign. His hat trick at St Andrew’s on the opening day helped turn a 3-0 half time deficit into a 4-3 victory and Ivor claimed the match ball again in a 3-3 draw at Leicester in September. Unfortunately soon after that, the team’s form inexplicably dissolved as despite on paper having a pretty capable squad we went from bad to worse. Relegation was confirmed at Watford four games from the end of the season and it was scant consolation to Ivor that he ended the season as the club’s top scorer.

The club kept faith in manager Bobby Campbell for the following season but after a poor start to life in Division 3, he was dismissed. His surprising replacement was the club’s commercial manager and ex-striker Malcolm MacDonald but it proved to be an inspired appointment. He stabilised us that season and in 1981-82 with very few changes to the personnel had us challenging at the right end of the table. One significant change was the regular inclusion up front of young centre forward ‘Dixie’ Dean Coney who blended perfectly with Davies. It was a partnership that would flourish, with Davies winning the golden boot for Division Three that season.

Image: Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty

Ivor scored one of my all-time favourite goals in the win against Chesterfield and his efforts helped lead us to a season deciding final game at home to rivals Lincoln when a bumper gate of over 20,000 saw us take the lead through a towering header from Roger Brown only to see the 10 man Imps equalise and have us hanging on at the end for the point that took us up. It was a brilliant night and Ivor was at the centre of celebrations on the Cottage balcony in front of the adoring masses.

Super Mac took us from strength to strength the following season on our return to the Second Division. Ray Houghton’s arrival on a free transfer from West Ham was the only major change and what an amazing signing he proved. We began the campaign with a number of notable performances with the standout game being a thrashing of Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle on their own turf in front of the Match of the Day cameras. Davies was benefitting hugely from the service being provided and by the turn of the year we were clear in the top three with Wolves and QPR. We then started to struggle a little with injuries and loss of form. This was exacerbated by the fact Craven Cottage was being shared by the Rugby League team which meant the pitch was hindering our style of football. The situation was compounded by Chairman Ernie Clay’s reluctance to loosen the purse strings and reinforce the team. We still had a cushion but with Leicester hitting a rich vein of form the home game with them in April became pivotal. Ivor had a strike that would have given us the lead ruled out for a borderline offside decision. I swear to this day the linesman got it wrong- oh how VAR would have helped us then. Leicester edged ahead and our best chance to equalise was spurned when Dean Coney missed a header from point-blank change. The result gave Leicester further impetus and defeats at Sheffield Wednesday and QPR meant we went into the final game needing to better their result to go up. As it turned out they were held at home by Burnley which meant a win at Derby would have put us up. Derby were in relegation trouble and needed a result themselves. They took the lead which made an already hostile atmosphere worse. For the last 15 minutes or so the crowd were encroaching on the pitch and were manhandling our players or even trying to tackle them as they went down the wing. It was dangerous and the only surprise was the referee waited until a couple of minutes before the end to draw a halt to proceedings. More of the team were assaulted as they went off the pitch. There was no chance of a resumption to finish a game which had already been made a farce. The Football League disgustingly swept the whole issue under the carpet by saying they couldn’t recreate the circumstances the game was played in as other teams were involved in the equation. It was an awful way to see our promotion dream die as I’ve no doubt that Fulham side would have more than held their own in the top flight.

My theory was backed up the following season when we took all-conquering Liverpool to a third game in the League Cup. Unfortunately, that was the highlight of the season as a hangover from our disappointment left us in a mid-table position despite Ivor’s best efforts. He bagged an amazing 23 League goals including a hat trick at home to Chelsea in a 5-3 defeat and 4 in a 5-1 thrashing of high flying Manchester City. The disappointment was compounded when Malcolm MacDonald left the club in strange circumstances although Ray Harford was a popular replacement.

We started the next season in reasonable form with Davies netting 5 times in his first outings, including the clincher against Wimbledon in what proved to be his last game for the club in his first spell. However there had been rumours of other club’s interest and it came to pass that our hero was on his way to of all places, Chelsea. It was not particularly a move of his choosing but more of an indictment of the way the penny-pinching Clay was running the club as Ivor explained.

“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 said. “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. By this time we were back in the third division with our very future at stake under the poisonous ownership of Marler Estates.

“People say you should never go back,” he quipped. “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 said. “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.”

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We ended that season in the playoffs only to lose out to Bristol Rovers. That proved the high watermark of Ivor’s second spell as we really struggled over his last two seasons with the club. Ivor lost his place towards the end of the 1990-1 season with his final appearance coming in an inauspicious defeat at Rotherham. More fittingly his final Fulham goal had been the winner in a 2-1 victory over Crewe at the Cottage. He had a well-deserved testimonial at the end of that season but didn’t have his contract renewed. He ended his Fulham career with an amazing 178 goals that in view of the transient nature of modern football is likely to remain a record forever.

After leaving Fulham he 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 said. “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 Racecourse 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 explained. “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.”

Since hanging up his boots Ivor has often been a contributor to the programme and has also been a regular in the Hospitality lounges at the Cottage. For my 50th birthday, my mates treated me to one of the matchday packages and to my great pleasure Ivor was the host. They say you should never meet your heroes but Ivor disproved this theory hands down. I must’ve bored him rigid with my memories of seeing him play but he was a true gentleman and as humorous in the flesh as he was on the pitch where his enjoyment of the game was clear for all to see. We may have had many superstars don our colours in recent years but Ivor will always remain my favourite player, not only for his goals but for his humility, humour and obvious love for the club. If the club needs a name for the new stand how about the R’Ivor’ Side?