Let's begin at the beginning, shall we?
Ever since he was five years old, Steve Davies dreamed of playing for West Ham United. He grew up in the rain-thrashed English working-class town of Rushden, where by birthright he should have supported Rushden Town, or Northampton, or even Coventry City. But after watching West Ham triumph over Fulham in the 1975 FA Cup final, he became a long-distance fan, pledging his allegiance to the claret and blue of the Hammers.Davies and a few mates traveled all over England to watch the Hammers play, cementing his love of the team and bonding over football. He became a decent pub league player, but like most of us, his professional dreams never amounted to more than the most wishful of thinking.
West Ham earned promotion to the Premiership in 1993, while Davies married, had a child, and began working as a courier, while still following the claret and blue.
In 1994, West Ham played an exhibition against lower-division Oxford, and Davies' friend Chunk wanted to attend.
"He's a true mate," says Steve. "My first wife was called Kelly, and Chunk's missus was also called Kelly, and they got pregnant at exactly the same time." The Steves and their Kellys once drove 230 miles to Torquay to watch West Ham play when the Kellys were five months pregnant. "Every five miles we had to stop for them to be sick at the side of the road," Steve says. "We nearly missed the kick-off.As the first half of West Ham's knock-the-rust-off friendly with Oxford Football Club kicked off at Court Place Farm, Davies found himself irritated at the Hammers' striker, Lee Chapman. Davies' loud protestations were impossible to miss in the tiny venue.
"Chunk called me up one day and said, 'We got a pre-season game over at Oxford – fancy it?'" remembers Steve, who never said no to West Ham. "We liked to get a couple of games in early. We get withdrawal symptoms when the season finishes in May. I very rarely missed a game, and I fancied a little away trip to Oxford anyways." Steve's mate Bazza was also in Chunk's Cavalier as it idled outside Steve's house.
So loud, in fact, that Harry Redknapp, West Ham's assistant manager (and later legendary skipper) walked over to the barrier separating the field from the fans at halftime to speak with Davies.
The rest of the tale is hallowed football folklore. "I slung a leg over the barrier and Harry walked me down the tunnel," says Steve. "What's your name, son?" Harry asked, sizing up this apparent hooligan. "I couldn't believe it. Inside the dressing room, the players were sat down resting at half-time." West Ham were two-nil up, but the team was carrying injuries. "Then Harry and says, 'Lee you're off; Steve you're on.'"The West Ham equipment manager gave Davies a kit and boots, and he entered the game at the beginning of the second half, replacing Chapman. As he tells it, the next 45 minutes were a bit of a blur (and he was two beers and a dozen cigarettes in). When it was over, all he had to show for it was some sweat, abused lungs, and a hell of a story.
Then, as suddenly as it began, the dream was over. The kit manager wouldn't let Steve keep his No3 shirt – they'd need it against Newcastle the next week in the Premier League. And 25 minutes later, Steve was back in the Cavalier with Chunk, Bazza, and his missus, stuck in traffic on the road back to reality.
But there's a twist that I won't ruin for you. Read the story in its entirety - it's long, and textured, and guaranteed to make you smile.
Good on you, Steve Davies. May you meet Irwin Fletcher some day, and may the wind be always at your back and the ball land softly at your feet.