New goal for Davenport on 99 not out

Phil Shaw meets the one-cap wonder who, at 36, is now player-coach at the League's latest recruits, Macclesfield, where he has a score to settle
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The Independent Online
Peter Davenport belongs to a generation of strikers which tends not to indulge in elaborately choreographed goal celebrations. Yet if Macclesfield Town's newly appointed player-coach scores against Torquay United on Saturday, he may be tempted to raise an imaginary cricket bat.

Finding the net on Macclesfield's Football League debut would not only be satisfying in itself. It would also bring up a century of League goals that the former England player did not expect to complete.

Four years have elapsed since Davenport advanced to 98 with Sunderland; a further 28 months since a single took him on to 99 during a loan stint with Stockport. Even Geoffrey Boycott never edged towards three figures so cautiously.

"It's been as if the captain declared the innings with me on 99 not out," Davenport chuckled. "When I got that last goal there was a lot of publicity about my being on the brink of a hundred. Stockport had three games left and Dave Jones [the manager, now with Southampton] told me: `Don't worry, you'll get your chance to do it'. He never played me again."

Macclesfield's promotion from the Vauxhall Conference has given Davenport more than an opportunity to reach a personal milestone. The purist style of Sammy McIlroy's side has restored his appetite for the fray. He sounds 36 going on 18, his enthusiasm as great as at any time since his heyday with Nottingham Forest and Manchester United.

Davenport's promise was immense. Blessed with deft control and a talent for turning defenders - as viewers of Match of the Eighties saw last week - he was initially rated on a par with Gary Lineker. And when Mark Hughes left Old Trafford for Barcelona, he was the replacement.

He was still with Forest when Bobby Robson picked him for the squad to play the Republic of Ireland at Wembley in 1985. "It was two days after my birthday," Davenport recalled. "Not long after I got on as substitute, Mick McCarthy tried to clear the ball and it broke to me in the inside- right channel.

"I squared it for Lineker to chip it over Packie Bonner. That was his first goal for England. The rest is history. Go on Gary, make yourself a million while I just go and play for Airdrie and Southport!"

While the tone is self-mocking rather than self-pitying, misfortune would play a part in Davenport's status as a one-cap wonder. A week later a hamstring injury forced him out of the impending World Cup qualifier in Romania. He never did wear the pin-striped summer tour suit for which the FA had him measured.

Fate seemed to have switched sides when, the following year, Ron Atkinson paid pounds 575,000 to take him to United, where McIlroy had been among his adolescent heroes. Within six months, however, Alex Ferguson took over and re-signed Hughes.

Davenport went on to play for Middlesbrough and Sunderland before circumstances led him to Scotland. "I decided to find a club where they didn't have so many overnight stops. My boy had just been born, yet every other Friday, at 5pm, I'd be sat in the Sunderland coach in a traffic jam on the A1 at Wetherby."

Spells with Airdrieonians and St Johnstone allowed him to see more of his family - "we hardly ever played anyone more than an hour away from our home in Edinburgh" - but Davenport felt he had unfinished business south of the border.

After a permanent move to Stockport fell through, he joined Southport. He was the Conference club's assistant manager, only to be overlooked when the senior post became vacant. Having told the chairman he did not want to go back to being just a player, he was released.

"I was thinking of packing it in because I wasn't enjoying my football. Then Sammy came in for me and I realised I'd landed on my feet. I thought: `This is fantastic - I want to go on playing as long as I can'."

Macclesfield took the championship playing the type of football Davenport was schooled in. "I've been fortunate to have played for some good managers. I rate Brian Clough as the best - his man-management was second to none. The way he used psychology was incredible.

"More importantly, he always played the right way. He'd place a ball in the middle of the room and say: `That's precious, look after it, don't give it away'.

"Sammy's not as outspoken - few people are - but his values are the same. It's pass and move, starting from a solid back four, like it was at Forest. When we get possession we flood the box and create loads of chances. Touch wood."

The qualification is added as much because "the Silkmen" are stepping into the unknown as out of a reluctance to tempt fate. "Nobody knows how we'll cope with the physical demands, though we've got players who'll surprise people with their quality."

For instance? "Neil Sorvel in midfield. Crewe let him go but he's a superb passer. Steve Payne and Neil Howarth are excellent centre-backs. Then there's Steve Wood, our top scorer, who could become the oldest man to make his League debut - at 34."

Wood has given up his job as a JCB driver to go full-time. McIlroy's small squad, recruited on a shoestring, also includes a recently retired postman, lifeguard and gardener. Davenport, who will continue studying for a sports science degree at Manchester University, was delighted to commit himself to a first-ever campaign at Third Division level.

That has meant the kind of pre-season regime he thought was behind him, and which is now his responsibility. "Training's been very enjoyable, honestly," he said. "The spirit at Macclesfield is fantastic. Three years ago they won the title and weren't allowed into the League. It's mostly the same lads, so there's a real feeling of `let's make it count this time'."

Talking of counting, Davenport is confident of troubling the scorers in the coming weeks. He will not, it is safe to assume, be unduly concerned if the elusive goal is not quite Match of the Nineties material.

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