From humble beginnings, Curtis Davies has risen to the upper echelons of English football, but he is still in touch with the man on the street. Or, in one recent instance, someone's mum in the cafe.
The 29-year-old will captain Hull City at Wembley on Saturday in the club's first appearance in the FA Cup final. It will be the Tigers' third visit to the national stadium in their 110-year history and Davies knows what it means to the locals, largely because they keep reminding him.
"I've been having a coffee and a lady who doesn't really look like a football fan, her son might have nudged her and said that I play for Hull, and she's come up and said 'good luck on Saturday'," Davies said. "I'd be down the gym and I have guys coming up to me mid-session and say 'good luck in the final'.
"Getting to the semi-final was massive for the fans because it had been 80-odd years and then once we got to the final, we knew things were going to erupt even more," he added. "It's just the feelgood factor around the town, and if we win it I hope the city will be celebrating for years to come."
The magnitude of the occasion is not lost on Davies, who has taken the scenic route to his first FA Cup final. Released by Wimbledon at 16, the Londoner got a job at Sainsbury's, stacking shelves and recalls returning home smelling of pet food. He wrote to every club in and around London asking for a trial and his perseverance finally paid off when Luton replied.
Davies forged his career in the lower divisions with the Hatters before moving on to West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa and Birmingham City. Then Steve Bruce paid £2.25m to take the centre-back to Hull last summer.
In his first year at the KC Stadium Davies was voted the club's player of the year and he is certain he has benefited from this tough football education. "If you play in League One there's not a week goes by where you can get away without getting hurt and luckily I got used to that early in my career," he said.
"You can have ball-playing defenders that rarely have to put in a tackle. Clubs like ourselves need to have proper dogged defenders who have to put their bodies on the line because more often than not you're going to be up against it and I'd say that's the sort of player I am."
Perhaps Bruce sees an element of himself in Davies. The 53-year-old has never managed in an FA Cup final before but as an uncompromising central defender won it twice with Manchester United, whom he served with distinction for nine years.
Davies grew up supporting United and remembers watching Bruce's outings at Wembley. "My first real memory would be the 1994 Cup final, the 4-0 win over Chelsea," Davies said. "The year after that was the loss to Everton 1-0, and then the next year was the win against Liverpool. Those are my highlights as a fan. I'm hoping we can emulate the gaffer's success that he managed to have in 1994 and 1996 and forget about that 1995 one.
"I remember him playing, and as the captain he got to lift the trophy in '94, and I hope to emulate what he did.
"He was a hard man, he was the tough one and Gary Pallister was meant to be the ball player as such – it was sort of like an old-school Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.
"I'm probably a mix of the two. I'm quite long and gangly like Pallister was, and I guess he was the quick one out of the two. But I definitely can do the dirty stuff, the ugly stuff of a defender."Reuse content