Reg Davies: Footballer who renounced singing for sport
Wednesday 11 February 2009
Reg Davies was a slip of a lad nursing two golden gifts as he grew up in wartime South Wales. He was such a talented soprano that his parents envisaged a professional future for him onthe world's most gilded stages, and indeed he toured the length and breadth of the country with a hugely popular choir.
But all the while the pallid, slender, almost frail-looking teenager was marching to the beat of a different drum. His dream was to play football at the highest level, and he made it come true, most notably in the black and white stripes of Newcastle United and, though not as often as he would have liked, in the blood red of Wales.
Davies was a subtly inventive inside-forward – an attacking midfielder in modern parlance – and both a schemer and a scorer. He possessed not a vestige of brawn, but was endowed with an exceptionally astute football brain and sudden, searing acceleration over short distances which rendered him a menace both in central positions and anywhere in the vicinity of opponents' penalty boxes.
His was not an obtrusive presence, but he had a priceless instinct for drifting into a telling position, and once there he had the ability to capitalise instantly, either with a penetrative pass or with a sharp finish.
All the enjoyment that such skills engendered would have been denied to the fans of his four Football League clubs and his country had he elected to build on his early musical success. So sought-after was Davies's voice that he was invited to join the immensely successful Steffani's Silver Songsters, which also offered a place to Ronnie Ronalde, who went on to earn international fame as a singer, yodeller and melodic whistler.
Davies' father, in particular, believed that his son should make his way in showbusiness, but football proved too strong an attraction and after shining with non-league Cwm Athletic near Swansea, he signed amateur forms for Southampton in the mid-1940s.
His momentum was interrupted by national service in the Army Medical Corps, but when he was demobbed in 1949 he turned professional with Southend United, then one of the better teams in the Third Division (South). After two excellent seasons at Roots Hall, Davies was snapped up by top-flight Newcastle United, who bought him in April 1951, a month short of his 22nd birthday, for £9,000. The fee included £1,000 to be paid only if he attained full international stature; the Shrimpers had to wait only 18 months before banking the full fee.
Davies made a scoring debut for the Magpies in a 3-1 home victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers in October 1951, but it wasn't until 1952-53 – when he also made his entrance for Wales, in a 2-1 defeat by Scotland at Ninian Park, Cardiff – that he achieved a major impact on Tyneside.
By then he had experienced the frustration of being 12th man – there were no playing substitutes in those days – as Newcastle won the FA Cup at Wembley for the second year in succession, luckily beating Arsenal through a late goal by George Robledo. Though he was delighted for his team-mates, he was a tad miffed on his own behalf, because just before the Chilean had headed into the net, the Newcastle manager Stan Seymour had promised him a start in the seemingly inevitable replay.
Davies was denied Wembley glory again in 1955. He was picked to face Manchester City but went down with tonsillitis, looking on in discomfort as goals from Jackie Milburn, Bobby Mitchell and George Hannah secured the famous old trophy.
Although he played more games than he missed during most of his eight-year sojourn at St James' Park, and collected 50 goals in his 170 appearances, the Welshman – who could operate either on the right or the left, or even on the wing – rarely commanded an automatic berth, being faced by distinctly warm competition from the likes of Hannah, Ivor Broadis and latterly the young and beautifully skilful George Eastham. Still, he contributed worthily to the cause of the Magpies, who were usually to be found in mid-table, before departing to join Swansea Town of the Second Division in October 1958 as a makeweight in the deal which took the brilliant Ivor Allchurch to the North-east.
By then Davies' international career was over, much to his chagrin: he believed he should have been part of the squad which reached the World Cup quarter-finals in Sweden in 1958. His sixth and final outing was against England in Cardiff in October 1957, when he was pitted in direct opposition to Manchester United's youthful leviathan, Duncan Edwards.
Before the match, the Wales manager Jimmy Murphy gave his team talk, running the rule over the tasks facing each player except Davies. As they headed for the pitch, the perplexed inside-forward apprehended Murphy, who worked with Edwards on a day-to-day basis as assistant manager at Old Trafford and fully understood the muscular Englishman's prodigious qualities. The willowy Davies piped up: "Jimmy, what about me? What do I do if Duncan Edwards comes through with the ball?" Murphy's reply was succinct: "Reg, son, just get out of his way. I wouldn't want you to get hurt."
After the game, which England won 4-0, Edwards and Davies swapped shirts, and the Welshman's prize became a valuable asset after Edwards perished in the Munich air disaster a few months later. Davies refused to cash in on it, eventually donating it to the Manchester United museum.
Back at club level, he spent three seasons at the Vetch Field, featuring in a narrow escape from relegation in 1962, before making a £4,000 switch to Third Division Carlisle United that summer. His first term at Brunton Park ended in demotion, but he was prominent as the Cumbrians bounced back at the first attempt in 1963-64.
After that, aged 35, Davies left the League, spending a season with Merthyr Tydfil and enjoying a spell as player-manager of King's Lynn.
In 1971 he emigrated to Perth, working as player-coach with Bayswater United and Ascot, guiding them both to major trophies. He appeared for Western Australia against New Zealand when he was 47, and played at a high standard into his 50th year.
Thereafter he remained a very fit man, living near the Indian Ocean and relishing his regular jogging sessions on the beach. Reg Davies never toured the world with Ronnie Ronalde, but he found his own place in the sun, and he relished it.
Ellis Reginald Davies, footballer: born Cymmer, near Swansea 27 May 1929; played for Southend United 1949-51, Newcastle United 1951-58, Swansea Town 1958-62, Carlisle United 1962-64; capped six times by Wales 1952-57; married to Eileen Laird (two sons, one daughter); died Perth, Australia, 9 February 2009.
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