Roger Davies - a club legend at Derby County
- Credit: Archant
David Marley chats to the former Rams striker Roger Davies about his role as a club ambassador and his memories of winning a championship medal in the 1970s
I really wish I could turn the clock back and pull on my boots to play just one more professional game for this remarkable club,’ reflects former Derby County Football Club legend Roger Davies.
Davies, who played over 135 competitive first-team matches for the Rams in two spells in the 1970s, with a career highpoint of securing a top-flight championship medal in 1975, is in a contemplative mood, having just completed his third year as a Derby County Football Club ambassador.
As one of just four ambassadors to be appointed by chairman Mel Morris, with a responsibility for promoting the club to supporters, the public and sponsors, Davies continues to make a major contribution to the life of the Rams. And gazing out at the immaculately manicured turf from the comfort of a luxury corporate hospitality box at Pride Park Stadium, he is also eager to reflect on a footballing career that has spanned over five decades.
‘The lush trimmed pitch you can see resembles a bowling green compared to the heavily-sanded, often water-logged field of the old Baseball Ground where I played over 40 years ago,’ he recalls.
It was widely known that the club’s manager of the era – the indefatigable Brian Clough – relished making the pitch at the Baseball Ground as challenging as it could be for opposition teams. ‘Brian delighted in soaking the pitch with gallons of water. So much so, that by the time you walked out to the middle to play, the water was rising over the top of your boots,’ laughs Roger.
‘Playing on that surface, having just eaten a gigantic fillet steak followed by a generous bowl of rice pudding at the Midland Hotel only two hours earlier, was always an interesting experience – but it was part of the Clough method of winning games and championships,’ he recalls. ‘Without doubt, Brian’s unconventional approach in creating match-winning teams was second to none,’ explains Roger. ‘He was a true football icon – the likes of which we may never see again. I am so grateful to him for giving me my first major break.’
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Davies is also quick to credit Clough for paving his way to play in high-profile matches, which enabled him to build an enviable reputation as a top-rate striker. ‘Brian helped put me on the football map – which led me to go on to play, and win trophies, for teams in England and beyond.’
Over a two-decade-long professional playing career he made over 250 appearances in the English football leagues, playing for Worcester City, Derby County, Preston North End, Leicester City, Burnley, Darlington and Gresley Rovers. In addition he recorded over 150 professional matches in Belgium and the USA.
Footballing success appeared to come easily for Davies. His impressive tally of over 150 first-team competitive goals often acted as the perfect catalyst to guide his teammates to victory.
In 1975 he was a regular name on the team sheet for Derby County’s First Division championship title-winning squad. In one match during the season he managed to score all five goals in a 5-0 victory over Luton Town.
‘I remember that game so well. I simply couldn’t stop scoring – everything I touched went in the net,’ recalls Roger. ‘By the end of the match I could perhaps have ended up with as many as nine goals if some of my shots had not been disallowed or saved well.’
By 1976 Davies was transferred for £135,000 to Club Bruges in Belgium. ‘This was a fantastic stage of my life – Belgium was a great place to play football,’ says Roger. Whilst at Club Bruges he secured a league championship medal, in addition to being voted Belgium’s 1977 Player of the Year.
Davies holds a unique status of playing in four European Cup tournaments between 1972 and 1977 – recording a string of impressive performances. And in 1980 he joined the Seattle Sounders in America – scoring an astonishing 25 goals in 29 matches, resulting in him being picked as the league’s most talented player by fellow professional footballers.
But back in the early 1970s Roger was finding his footballing feet as a young man growing up in his hometown of Wolverhampton. ‘I was working as an apprentice for an engineering firm, trying to fit in three or four games a week for local teams. It all changed when I was spotted by Brian Clough,’ recalls Roger. ‘It was all a bit of a shock when I noticed Brian walking down the side of the Worcester City training ground pitch on a wet Thursday evening to sign me for Derby County. Within days I travelled to the Baseball Ground with my father to join the club – it was all a bit overwhelming really.’
Clough purchased Davies’ contract for £12,000 in 1971 and the young footballer went on to spend the rest of the 1971-1972 season with the club’s reserve team in the Central League, where the team won the championship. By 1973 Davies was breaking into the club’s first team. ‘This was a remarkable period of my playing career – but it was also a season of many highs and lows,’ he says. ‘At one extreme I remember playing for Derby against Tottenham Hotspur in a fourth round FA Cup replay match. Before the game Clough gave me a strong talking to – and almost immediately I felt 10 feet tall. The match appeared lost after Spurs took a 3-1 lead – but with just 10 minutes remaining I scored two goals and completed my hat trick in extra time to win the match. That was very special.’
‘In other ways the 1973 season was a very sad time. Brian and the club’s chairman, Sam Longson, were not getting on well and the manager decided to leave. I do think that if he had stayed longer we could have gone on to win many more trophies and even had European success. However, the Board made a very sound decision in picking Dave MacKay as our next manager – he was a good, honest man who managed to hold the team together and led us to another league championship in the 1975 season. To be part of this was amazing.’
Roger spent the next ten years playing football in Europe and America, returning on occasion to play in various tiers of the football league. After his professional football days came to an end, he worked as a car salesman, for a time ran a public house and then took a job as a machinist with Rolls-Royce, having completed an engineering apprenticeship as a teenager. He quickly rose through the company’s ranks to become a senior manager. ‘I loved my job at Rolls-Royce – and I managed to combine my duties with football commentating work for the BBC and various commercial radio stations,’ he says. ‘I never really left football and also enjoyed organising and playing for the club’s charity football team.’ He continued to take part in competitive eleven-a-side football into his early 60s but in autumn 2014 Roger sustained serious injuries in a car accident which halted his playing career.
‘In 2015 I was approached by Derby County’s wonderful chairman, Mel Morris, who asked me to join the club as a full-time ambassador – and I jumped at the chance,’ he says. ‘Basically I left Rolls-Royce on the Friday evening and joined Derby County on the Monday morning. Mel is a fantastic chairman – he is so committed to our club and does so much for the fans. It was such an accolade to be appointed as an ambassador alongside Roy McFarland and Michael Johnson. The main part of my role is to promote the club’s excellent work to our supporters and the public. I attend community engagement events such as fundraisers for cancer charities and my activities also involve match-day hosting with our corporate sponsors and match-day commentary and analysis for the club’s TV channel, which is interesting and varied.’
Almost 50 years on since Roger arrived in Derby as a young player his passion for the county has not dimmed. ‘Derby is an incredibly special place to live and work. I’ve been here for much longer than where I grew up,’ he smiles. ‘I still love football as much as I ever did – and I particularly enjoy watching my grandson play each week. It is wonderful to see young people taking part in sport and having fun. After all, that’s what football has ultimately got to be about – and for me I’m still enjoying it after all these years.’