Football: Newcastle's Wyn the Leap days

Simon Turnbull meets the old giant who guided Magpies to their last silverware
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The Independent Online
The display case at the top of the main stairway into St James' Park has not always been the trophy cabinet that time forgot. It has, though, been gathering dust, and one or two tin-pot exhibits, since the night Joe Harvey's team returned from Budapest with the Inter Cities Fairs Cup. Some 60,000 folk packed into St James' to see the prize-winning boys in black and white, and one chant rang loudest around the ground. "Come on without," the Geordies chorused. "Come on within. You've not seen nothing like the mighty Wyn."

Until now, perhaps. It remains to be seen whether Duncan Ferguson can inspire the Toon Army to such a tune of Tyneside devotion as the bastardised version of Manfred Mann's celebrated No 1 - and, indeed, whether he can inspire Newcastle United to their first trophy of first-class value since 1969. But when the old Evertonian took his new place in the Newcastle forward line against Wimbledon last weekend Novocastrian minds cast wistfully back to the days of the last toweringly influential target man at St James' Park: the mighty Wyn Davies.

Like Ferguson, Davies was a rough-hewn giant of a centre- forward. A one-time slate quarry worker in his native North Wales, he arrived at St James' in 1966, a club record pounds 80,000 signing from Bolton, carrying his boots in his hands. "If you could screw studs into his head," Ivor Broadis, the Newcastle forward turned Newcastle reporter, was to write of him, "he would be another George Best." Indeed, with the possible exception of Grey's Monument, nothing has dominated the Tyneside skyline quite like the mighty Wyn - or "Wyn the Leap" as he was also reverentially known.

Davies was a far from prolific goalscorer, netting 53 times in 216 games for Newcastle, but he was prodigious in the air. Lord Westwood, the club's long-time chairman, spoke for the whole of Tyneside when he proclaimed, amid the 1969 celebrations: "Without Wyn Davies we would never have won the Fairs Cup." Continental defences simply could not cope with his aerial menace as the Magpies soared over Europe. And he was a mere 6ft 1in, three inches shorter than Ferguson.

"People used to say, 'Ooh, how do you get up there and hang in the air like that?' " Davies reflected last week. "It was just a natural thing. I can remember when I went to Newcastle Malcolm Allison rang me up and asked me to do a test, jumping with my hands above my head and making a chalk-mark on the gym wall, to measure how high I could leap. I can't remember exactly what I did. But Lynn Davies, the Olympic long jump champion, did the test too and I think he got about three feet off the floor. It would be interesting to see what Duncan Ferguson could do.

"It's an honour for me that people in Newcastle are saying, 'The last centre-forward we had up here like him was Wyn Davies'. Yeah, I do see something of myself in him. He's another gangly fellow. I just hope he gets the service he needs. It's like a car. If it's parked up and got no wheels on it it's going nowhere. If I stand in the middle of the goalmouth or at the far post and I don't get any crosses it's a waste of time me being there.

"Ferguson can be deadly in the air but I don't think him and Shearer together will work. I had 'Pop' Robson alongside me at Newcastle and when I went to Manchester City it was me and Francis Lee. I don't know whether Shearer's the type that can feed off a big fellow like that. When Malcolm Macdonald came to Newcastle people said, 'You could be deadly together'. But it was Macdonald and John Tudor that worked. I have my doubts about Shearer and Ferguson. I don't think it'll work. Anyway, they'd get a few bob for Shearer, wouldn't they?"

They would, indeed - and a few bob more than the pounds 52,500 Newcastle recouped when they sold their one-time record signing to Manchester City in 1971. At pounds 80,000, Davies cost Newcastle precisely 100 times less than they will have paid for Ferguson after 30 league games. In his five years on Tyneside, though, the Welsh international earned 800 times less than the pounds 40,000 the exiled Scot is reported to be pocketing each week.

"People look at the money and ask me, 'Ooh, don't you wish you were playing today?' " Davies said. "But, no, I don't wish I was playing now. I've had my days. When I first started people used to talk about Tom Finney and Nat Lofthouse being on pounds 10 a week. But pounds 10 was a bloody lot of money in their days. I was on pounds 30 at Bolton and pounds 50 at Newcastle. I'd done well at Newcastle and I felt I should have been on more so I asked the board before a club dinner dance one night if I could have pounds 100 a week. They came back and said 'yes', but I never got it. I was only there another fortnight. They sold me to City."

Davies has been making a lot of bread since his playing days ended, though not in the sense any latter- day top-flight footballer would recognise. He has, in fact, only recently retired from his job as a baker with Warburtons in Bolton. "I had to take early retirement because of some of my old football injuries," he said. "I was doing 12-hour shifts. I tried, but I couldn't carry on. I've just had one operation to straighten a knee. The surgeon told me I'm too young to have a new knee but eventually I'll have to have one."

At 56, though, the hurt Davies feels most acutely is the enduring failure of his old club on the trophy trail. "The Newcastle public deserve the best," he said. "And they haven't had the best for a hell of a long time. I mean, when was the last time they won a bit of silverware?"

The answer, of course, is 1969, when their high-flying centre- forward played through the pain of a broken cheekbone in the two-legged beating of Ujpest Dozsa. He was a mighty player, Wyn Davies, and mighty brave, too. They still swear they have seen nothing like him on Tyneside. Until now, perhaps.