Chance to renew rivalry spurs Davies to galvanise underdogs

They were country boys, teenagers bred in the sticks, and here they were up against David Beckham and Dwight Yorke, men who had won the European Cup.

Simon Davies was brought up in Haverfordwest, a town in Pembrokeshire that entirely lacks Newcastle's reputation for producing footballers, while Matt Etherington had grown up in Truro. They were playing for Peterborough and the nearest they might reasonably come to Old Trafford was a trip to Macclesfield. The invitation to train with Manchester United arrived from nowhere.

"We were playing at a tournament down in Southend and Barry Fry called us in," Davies said. "He just said: 'Manchester United want you to go up there training'. We were like, 'OK!'

"I played a game for the youth team, it was just a great occasion and I trained with the first team one day at the Cliff and went back to Peterborough afterwards. It just gave us confidence and, shortly after that, we went to Tottenham.

"It gave us a taste of the big time. It was another world, from the Third Division to United, the biggest club in the world. It was a great experience. I trained with them all - Beckham, Yorke, Cole - I couldn't believe it, really. I did OK. It was just an eye-opener to see how they played football, the pace of their game. It was a level you wanted to get to one day."

Etherington's career at Tottenham and, subsequently, West Ham United, never reached international level, but Davies' did and tomorrow, he will meet up with Beckham again and it will be as well for Wales if the midfielder is not overawed by the experience at Old Trafford.

Davies is part of Mark Hughes' core of Premiership-quality players and his absence through a series of shin and hip injuries has exacted a price. In 2002 he was voted footballer of the year for both club and country; Wales were top of their European Championship qualifying group, Italy had been beaten in Cardiff, since when... Welsh football has returned to earth.

Davies missed both legs of the hurtful Euro 2004 play-off with Russia and his absence in the painful draws with Azerbaijan and Northern Ireland was, arguably, as vital as that of Ryan Giggs. He claims that this is the best he has felt for some time, while admitting that, no, he is not match-fit.

"I'm nearly there. I've had three full 90 minutes now and one or two appearances off the bench," he said. "I've been training fully for eight weeks so I'm just about there. Of course I want to go back to the level of my breakthrough season. I did do well then but I had a bit of indifferent form, got injured and then it snowballed. But playing pain-free makes such a difference, it's the best I've felt for some time."

Pembrokeshire, on the south-west coast, is said to be the most English part of Wales, until the débâcle of 1997 it was the one area that could be guaranteed to send Conservative MPs to Westminster. "Where I'm from, nobody sounds very Welsh," Davies said. "Locally, there's not that strong a Welsh accent but you go 20 miles in and there is. I've lost the accent a little bit on the way too. I've been away for eight years now."

There might be a doubt over Davies' enunciation but there is none hanging over his desire to see the English beaten. "You ask any Welsh person and they are going to say that it's the biggest rivalry out there. It's a long time since England have played Wales at football but you can see the passion in the rugby games and it's going to be nice for the football fans to share that.

"It is a rivalry that is felt more in Wales than England because we are a smaller nation and are going to be underdogs. England play bigger games than us, they get to the big championships, so they have rivalries with Germany and Argentina. But for us, it's a chance to start up another rivalry and, hopefully, after these qualifiers we can play against England, Scotland and Ireland a lot more."

Davies was four years old when Wales last played England, a famous 1-0 victory at Wrexham, settled by a goal from Mark Hughes, who is now into his final week as Wales manager. "He told us that just because he's been appointed Blackburn manager, he hasn't changed," Davies said. "It's the same preparations, the same everything and he wants the same attitude from us and he'll have nothing less than that. Maybe there'll be a bit more because these are his last two games. It would be fitting to get results against England and Poland to see him off. We'll be giving everything we have, for him, for ourselves and for Wales."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future