In September 2015 Kevin Davies hung up his boots on a distinguished career that spanned two decades, four leagues, six clubs, and ultimately led, at the ripe age of 33 years and 200 days, to wearing the Three Lions at Wembley.
It made him the oldest England debutant since 1950, an honour that was unquestionably overdue after leading the line superbly for Southampton and Bolton at the highest level while banging in 123 goals in the process.
Here, the striker discusses the varying fortunes of four of his former employers but begins by revealing why a manager he shared so many memorable moments with at Bolton might soon be returning to the dug-out.
The return of Big Sam
“Having spent a lot of time with him when I played under him - and I still see him out and about - I’d be surprised if he doesn’t manage again. He wants a bit of quality time with the family and he feels like he’s sacrificed a lot with his wife and kids and grandkids. He had the episode with England that would have affected him quite a lot but he came back with Palace and did really well.”
“He is probably enjoying himself now, doing a bit of travelling and media here and there, but he’s one of those guys who needs it; it’s like a drug to him. You see Harry Redknapp over at Birmingham, he can’t leave it alone, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Big Sam does the same after some time out. I remember when the call came from Sunderland his wife was saying ‘I think you’ve had your time’ but he just couldn’t resist it and there is always going to be an opportunity in football.”
Bolton are back
After steering Bolton to a Premier League top six berth in the early 2000s it’s fair to say that neither Allardyce nor Davies need ever buy a pint in the town again. Since then though the Trotters have hit hard times meaning promotion back to the Championship last May was a huge fillip for a club in financial peril.
“There’s always the fans who will want a bit more after seeing Huddersfield do it and the likes of Norwich and Southampton achieve back-to-back promotions but considering what’s gone on at the club these past few years just a bit of stability is needed now. Most people would take 21st place if offered because they still have an embargo on them and there is a salary cap too which will limit the quality they can bring in.”
Even with such intimidating restrictions in place however Davies believes his former side has just cause for optimism.
“They’ve sold 11,000 season tickets so there will be plenty of fans backing them this year and it follows a great year just gone. To bounce straight back from League One is not easy and I’m really impressed with Phil Parkinson and his staff. Bolton are hard to beat and they’ll come into this season feeling they can compete.”
The saints and a sinner
As so often seems to be the case Southampton’s summer has been dominated by potential departures, in this instance Dutch centre-back Virgil van Dijk. As someone who still holds a deep affinity with the south coast club what does Davies make of it all?
“It just seems unsavoury. Clearly the player wants to go and Southampton are taking a stance which they have every right to do as he signed a new contract not so long ago. It needs to be resolved sooner rather later though because it looks inevitable that they’re going to sell him at some point. The club has done really well in the past bringing in players at the right time then selling them on but I know there are a lot of fans who would like those players to stay. That is so difficult when the big clubs come calling and maybe it’s the right move to sell him if they triple their money on him. With the model they have at Southampton they will have been planning this for months, years, and will know how best to reinvest that money.”
It’s a pragmatic response yet still the annual exodus that takes place at St Marys contrasts so sharply with the unity that was prevalent when Davies enjoyed two successful spells there.
“At Southampton we didn’t really have a lot of superstars: we were hard-working players who enjoyed training and each other’s company. We’d be out at weekends together having a few drinks. It was a proper changing room. We had characters like Carlton Palmer, John Beresford and David Hurst - old-school players - so no-one was allowed to go off on one and be Big-Time Charlies. I’d liken it to Wales at the Euros where they did so well without having any proper superstars other than Bale.”
“We had some good players of course. Matt Le Tissier was obviously the most naturally gifted player I’ve played with alongside Jay Jay Okocha. Marians Pahars was a natural finisher and they loved him down there. There was my partnership too with James Beattie”
A new chapter at Deepdale
The recent appointment of ex-Norwich boss Alex Neil bodes well for another of Davies’ old clubs though he is quick to dampen any talk of possible promotion for Preston North End. Instead he insists that fans can look forward to watching football that is more pleasing on the eye.
“What Alex Neil will inherit is a hard-working team with good team-spirit. The Preston fans were perhaps a little bit reserved with Simon Grayson because the football was more defensive-minded where things were kept nice and tight then we looked to get something on the break or from a set piece. So it may be a better style of football for the fans to see.”
Was he surprised at Grayson’s leaving for the vacant position at Sunderland?
“To be honest I wasn’t. He’s a very ambitious manager and he wants to get to the top. I enjoyed my two years working for him and he’s a very hard-working manager who never took a day off. He brings together a fantastic team spirit and has an eye for a player. He loves to develop those players and create a hard-working and well organised team. The problem at Preston though is that it’s run on an incredibly tight budget; one of the lowest in the league. I think considering the lack of investment on the playing staff and the wages they pay to reach 11th was tremendous. I think though that he wants to keep climbing the ladder and he views Sunderland as a chance to gain promotion and get into the Premier League. That’s where he wants to manage.”
The crumbling spires
Lastly we turn to Chesterfield, the veteran striker’s first club where he is still held in extremely high regard. Having finished bottom of League One last term the Spireites are sadly enduring a miserable time at present, something that clearly troubles Davies greatly.
“I went over to a couple of games last season and there was a lot of frustration with the fans with the lack of fight really. They’ve been a yo-yo club over the last five to ten years and fans are getting used to relegations and promotions between League Two and One and it would be nice for some stability. They’ve got a fantastic new stadium there and a good manager in Gary but again it all comes down to finances. There is a lot of grumbling about the owners and it’s not a particularly happy place to be right now.”
Would the 40 year old ever consider a return to his roots in any capacity?
“I think I would. I’ve done all of my coaching badges up to UEFA A and I’m studying at Manchester Met at the minute. I’ve been retired a couple of years now and I’m looking to get back with the club. I did speak to them a couple of times last season when Richie Humphries took over and I spoke to Richie offering him my services to help in any way. I was then invited to a game before Gary came but I didn’t put my hat into the ring as it were for the job. I’m looking for a role there because I had four great years where I learned my trade. I love the club.