447 appearances spread over 17 years. If he had donned the Arsenal jersey just thirty more times, he would be in the top ten of most Arsenal appearances of all time. Part of the reason for the ‘Arsenal renaissance’ that began in 1987 with a Champagne Charlie inspired Gunners team wrestling some of the power away from Anfield, and culminated in two of the most sensational League winning campaigns in living memory.
Paul Davis was a catalyst on the pitch. So why was he criminally overlooked for Bobby Robson’s England?
I cannot claim to have witnessed first-hand Paul Davis’s technical skills nor his signature calm ferocity. Yet after trawling through as much Davis related footage as I could muster and speaking to people who were privy to his excellence ( thank you Les Crang ), I saw that the man born in Dulwich but raised at Highbury deserved so much more praise lavished upon him than he currently received.
Some players skim under the harsh focus of the limelight, instead taking a stealthier route which keeps the subject in the shadows somewhat. After meeting the great man at a book launch last year and having a brief conversation with him ( I wish I could apologise in person for harassing him with my camera like an eager teenybopper at a One Direction concert ) I felt that Paul Vincent Davis only received less of the spotlight through others actions. It wasn’t through any perceived inadequacies nor was it that he lacked the dazzle of some of his midfield rivals. It certainly couldn’t have been a hatred of the media – Davis famously chose to become Asst Manager and act the Deputy to Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne’s Sheriff in an ill-fated move to Kettering in 2005.
After helping to end an eight year trophy drought, for being a part of the team which slayed the all-powerful behemoth from Merseyside, for being a lynchpin in a side which came agonisingly close to being the first Post-War Invincibles in 1991, and later on amassing a gargantuan total of appearances wearing the Cannon on his chest – you should be as perplexed as I am when left wondering why he so often gets overlooked when mentioning the ‘Greatest Arsenal Players’.
Even more heinously, why did such a talent get spurned by England?
Davis only ever earned Under 21 caps in his career. Much like another Gunners icon, Geordie Armstrong, Davis found that the England Manager had a preference that showed no sign of wavering.
In England’s 1990 World Cup Squad heading for Italy, Paul Davis’s rivals for a midfield berth were Trevor Steven, Gazza, Stephen Hodge, Bryan Robson ( also Captain ), David Platt, Steve McMahon and Neil Webb. All of these players were included in the squad that travelled to Italy and were so cruelly dumped out at the Semi-Final stage. Stephen Hodge, Trevor Steven and Neil Webb totalled a miniscule 204 minutes in competitive action, of which 186 minutes were Stevens’.
With that precious but ultimately futile tool that is hindsight and even robbing all of us of the undoubted bias we all have – can any of us say that Paul Davis deserved to be omitted before those three above?
Credit to Davis, he didn’t let it hinder his career. His left foot and his vision were at the vanguard of Arsenal’s bulldozing of all-comers in the 1991 season which saw us lose just a single game. The man with the straightest of haircuts missed just one game of that illustrious run and evidenced to all doubters just what all Gooners were lucky enough to see every week. His quiet but steely determination was quite awe-inspiring.
Arsenal fans had seen Davis grow in stature from his inception in the side into a sentinel in the centre of the park. The quiet demeanour belied his ferocious will to win. In 1988 though, fans and critics were shocked when Davis now infamously broke Southampton’s Glenn Cockerill with a punch that would cost him an nine match ban and a £3000 fine, which was a record at the time. It shook George Graham’s confidence in his cultured midfielder and may have ended up being the reason why Davis was left out of the reckoning for England.
This blight on his otherwise unblotted copybook should not be held up on an even keel with all his achievements. In my humble opinion he can consider himself unlucky to not be one of the thirty-two who adorn the outside of our modern stadium ( although that will be a bone of contention with any Gooner you speak to ) and he certainly earned the respect of the fans from what I can gather speaking to those who were present at the time.
His career after he retired saw him take a role with the PFA and is now a Coach Educator with them, as well as taking a prominent role in the ‘Kick It Out’ and ‘Show Racism The Red Card’ movements. For such a serene character on the pitch, the path he has chosen after his time on the pitch shows that whilst he didn’t shout and holler, he did have an unbowed spirit which he now utilises so that future generations can enjoy a more unfettered prospective career in sport.
The man oozed class on the pitch and demanded respect. Off the pitch he is no different. It was an absolute honour to meet the man and just made me curse the fact I lived in Scotland during his heyday. Paul Vincent Davis – he warrants legendary status just as much as he warranted international recognition.
Posted with thanks to The Gooner Fanzine – Pick yours up at every home game!