Reg Davies: Footballer who renounced singing for sport

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.

Ivan Ponting

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.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup