Roger Davies

Former Player Remembers: Roger Davies

In conversation with Club Historian John Hutchinson, Roger Davies recalls spells at Derby County and Club Brugge, and the difficult time he had at Leicester City despite being the Foxes’ record signing.
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Roger also remembered playing in the USA and his post-football career. Until he was 20, Wolverhampton-born Roger played non-league football for Bridgnorth Town and Worcester City, while completing his apprenticeship as an engineer. He then signed for Brian Clough’s Derby in September 1971.  

Thinking back to those days, Roger began: “I joined Derby County when I was nearly 21, and from then on I thought that everything in football was great.

“In my first year at Derby (1971/72), when the first team won their first First Division title, I was playing in the reserve side that won the Central League so we had a double celebration.

“My first reserve game was against West Brom on a Saturday. On the following Tuesday night, we played against Everton reserves. I was in the same side as Alan Durban and Terry Hennessey. I was in awe. These were people I had watched on television. It took a long while for me to lose that feeling.

“We were able to coat tail everything the first team did. When they went on tour, we went with them. We got involved in everything with them. It was great for me in my first year coming from nowhere.”

Roger broke into the first team and was well established when the Rams again won the First Division title in 1974/75. He remembers that season very well.

He added: “It was really tight that season. It was a successful time at Derby. Every year we were competing for something in either the cup or league. We also did well in Europe. We performed well. We had had a few changes but it was a very strong side when we won the title.

[David Nish] was my best mate. We became very good friends. He was my room partner for years. What a classy player he was! He was very articulate. He was immaculate.

Roger Davies

“Bruce Rioch, Henry Newton and Francis Lee had come to the club. They were experienced players. We played with three forwards... myself, Kevin Hector and Frances Lee. We didn’t think about losing games. We wanted to win them. We played good, attacking football.

“How we managed to play the football we did on the Baseball Ground I don’t know! It was one of the worst pitches in the league, but it suited us. We had Archie Gemmill, who would skip across the top of the mud.

“David Nish (who had captained Leicester City in the 1969 FA Cup final at the age of 21) was in the side. He was my best mate. We became very good friends. He was my room partner for years. What a classy player he was! He was very articulate. He was immaculate.

“He played with creases in his shorts! As a player, David had this knack of dropping his shoulder. He was brilliant at it. When he played a ball up to a forward, he would always make you the favourite to get it. He wouldn’t just whack it. He would knock the ball into you so it was on the right side of the defender.

“Dave Mackay managed that team. He was good to play for. He loved his five-a-sides. He finished playing the year I went to Derby so I never played with him. All of the Derby players who did play with him said he was the best they had ever played with.

“We were fighting for the title with Ipswich Town, Liverpool and Everton. At Easter time, things started to be sorted out.

“In those days, we played three games in four days over Easter. This is a lot easier to do when you are winning! You get tired when you are losing. In a game against Luton, I scored all five in a 5-0 victory and I had two disallowed as well! It could have been seven!

“That Easter, we had a bad defeat at home against Stoke City. The following Wednesday night, we had our Player of the Year awards at a night club called Baileys. That night, Ipswich Town, who were going for the title themselves, were playing Manchester City and they needed to win to stop us winning the league regardless of the result on Saturday when we were playing Carlisle United at home.

“Ipswich didn’t win so this meant that it was announced that we had won the league at Baileys. The whole place just went mad. In the game against relegated Carlisle United three days later, we had players out there who I am sure were still drunk! It was a 0-0 draw and we were lucky to get that!

“The next season, we got to an FA Cup semi-final. We were favourites to beat Manchester United but, on that day, it didn’t work for us. It was a huge disappointment. Four years earlier, I had a memorable FA Cup game against Spurs.

“We won 5-3 away from home but we were 3-1 down with 12 minutes to go. Then I got a hat-trick. Kevin [Hector] got the other one.”

Despite all of this success at Derby, Roger signed for Club Brugge in August 1976.

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Roger Davies

Success for Roger Davies came at Derby County.

He explained why: “My personal circumstances had changed. I was ready for a move. It was a chance to go abroad. I didn’t give it a lot of thought really. Moving abroad was quite unusual in those days, although Duncan McKenzie had just gone to Anderlecht from Leeds United.

“I was surprised how good the football was in Belgium and how good the players were, especially in the Bruges side I was playing in. Bruges and Anderlecht were very good teams. The football was fantastic. It was a really good club to play for. The fans were great. The players were great socially.

“The battle for us was always against Anderlecht. It was always going to be either us or them who would win something. Games between us were big games.

“We had a 6-1 thrashing at Anderlecht but we reversed the result at home on our way to winning the league and we beat them in the cup final as well. In my first season there, we won the league and cup double. The season had not started well, but then something just clicked.

“Language wasn’t a problem. The only one who couldn’t speak any English was the manager Ernst Happel. He was a very famous Austrian, he won the European Cup twice as a manager as well as managing Holland to become World Cup runners-up in 1978.

“He never said a lot, but he was well thought of. The national stadium in Austria is named after him.

“Training at Bruges was different to what I had experienced before. The way they prepared for games was different. Tactically, there were differences. It was more technical. The training sessions were different to what I had experienced. We had two sessions a day most days but they were only for an hour.

“They didn’t believe in training for more than an hour because they felt that after an hour, you were just going through the motions.

“Most of the stuff we did was always with the ball. The only time that was changed was on Wednesday afternoons when we had a running session, jogging up and down the pitch. They called this the English session!

“The crowds weren’t good in Belgium but most of our games were sell-outs with crowds of probably about 20,000.

“Bruges is a beautiful city. It was a great place to live. I had gone there on a bit of a whim and it worked out fabulously. In that first year, when we won everything in Belgium, we also beat Real Madrid over two legs in the European Cup before we lost in the quarter-final to Borussia Mönchengladbach.

“I had played against Real Madrid the year before in the European Cup when I was with Derby and we had lost 4-1 and 5-1 so that was a little bit of revenge for me.”

At the end of his first season at Brugge, Roger was voted Belgian Player of the Year for 1976/77.

Reflecting on this, he recalled: “I had a really good season. It was fabulous to win the double in my first season. I scored 20 odd goals, and scored two in the cup final against Anderlecht. I think we were losing 2-1 and won 3-2 in the end. Everything went well.”

Roger started a second season with Brugge but then, perhaps surprisingly, left to join relegation threatened Leicester in December 1977 for a Club record fee of £330,000. Later that season, Bruges reached the European Cup final, losing to Liverpool at Wembley.

The season at Filbert Street didn’t go well. It wasn’t a good season for me or the Club. Frank McLintock signed me and then Jock Wallace came in as manager.

Roger Davies

Roger explained: “Moving from Bruges to Leicester in December 1977 in the season that Bruges reached the European Cup final was not one of my better decisions! I had a bit of a fall out with the manager as footballers do, which is not like me. I was also hearing rumours that clubs in England were interested me. I was getting phone calls from them and I decided to come home.

“I had played in all of Bruges’ games in Europe up to the semi-final but I made a decision to go to Leicester City. The season at Filbert Street didn’t go well. It wasn’t a good season for me or the Club. Frank McLintock signed me and then Jock Wallace came in as manager.

“Leicester got relegated, and Bruges went on to play at Wembley against Liverpool. It was a contrast. I had played in Europe against the likes of Juventus, Benfica, Real Madrid and Borussia Mönchengladbach but my head had been turned by the chance of coming back to England, especially as it was Leicester City, which was in the East Midlands, where I knew people. I felt like going home. If I had stayed at Bruges I would have been in their side.”

Roger admits he was not a success at City: “When I came to Leicester, they were struggling in the First Division. Somebody said to me, when we were thinking back how badly it went for me there, that me going there was like putting a tablespoon full of hot water into a bucket of cold water.

“My first game was actually against Derby at Filbert Street. It was 0-0. I was a club record signing at £330,000. No pressure there then! I had gone to Leicester full of confidence. I thought it was all going to go well, but it didn’t. I wasn’t the first Leicester player this had happened to. It’s difficult for one player coming in when the team is having a bit of a bad time. You can’t lift those other 10 men. They bring you back down.

“I have often told people that it was the only time I played football with my confidence totally gone. You are thinking about what you are going to do. You don’t want the ball. It’s just not natural.

“When he came in, Jock, to his credit, was good with me and was very good for me, but I just couldn’t turn it round. I tried, but the side was going through a bad time. We were really struggling. If we went one goal down, that was it.

“But there were good youngsters coming through, like Andy Peake, Tommy Williams and Nev Hamilton. Then he brought in Alan Young and Martin Henderson and there were good players already there like Dennis Rofe, Eddie Kelly, Mark Wallington, Steve Whitworth, Steve Kember, but when confidence goes, it goes.”

In March 1979, Roger left City and signed for Tulsa Roughnecks in the NASL. Although he had a brief spell back at Derby for six months in September 1979, Roger played in America for close to five seasons, during which time he also played for Seattle Sounders and Fort Lauderdale Strikers.  

He said: “Playing in America was one of the best times of my life. I went to Tulsa for the first season. Alan Hinton, my ex-Derby team-mate, was manager at Tulsa and David Nish was also there. The NASL was doing quite well. It was a chance to get out there and get away and I enjoyed it.

“I played well there. Once, when we played at San Jose, Jock Wallace was there on holiday watching the game. I spoke to him after the game and he asked me why I hadn’t played like that for him at Leicester! I told him I didn’t know!  

“After a brief spell back at Derby I then went to Seattle Sounders (in March 1980) on the other side of America. When you play in America, you realise how big it is, across three time zones. If you went to one side of the country you would stay there and play a couple of other teams.

“Seattle was great. We had a side and a half there! Players with me at Seattle included Alan Hudson, David Nish, Bruce Rioch, Tommy Hutchison, Peter Ward, Gary Mills, Kevin Bond, Kenny Hibbitt, Steve Daley and John Ryan. You could reel them off.

“They were all good players going out there to play for Seattle. We did get to one final and I won the MVP there which is Most Valuable Player Award. After Seattle Sounders, I finished at Fort Lauderdale.

“I signed for Fort Lauderdale Strikers in April 1983. I was on a very good contract at Seattle but they couldn’t keep me for financial reasons. The owner who was a nice guy and he sold the club. When the new owner came in, the two most expensive players were myself and Alan Hudson and we had to go so I went to Florida for a year. It was good. Keith Weller was there.

“He looked after me for a bit and I lived on the same complex and used to go into training with him. That was the era when players like Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff, Carlos Alberto and Pelé were playing in the NASL.

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Roger Davies

Roger Davies, pictured fourth from the left on the top row, alongside his Leicester team-mates.

“I then came back to England. I went training at Burnley (in September 1983) but clearance didn’t come through from America.

“Then I got a call from Cyril Knowles at Darlington and I played there for about three months. This was a major experience when you have played at the top level! Things you take for granted just weren’t there.

“After Darlington, I played for David Nish, who was managing Gresley Rovers, and then I also managed them for a while. After that, as I loved playing, I kept on playing in local football.

“Money in football was good when I played but I had to keep working when I stopped playing. I had done an engineering apprenticeship so I went back to work for Rolls Royce for 25 years as a machinist on the shop floor doing shift work. I enjoyed it.

“I also did work on Heart Radio with Birchy (Alan Birchenall), Kenny Burns and Gary Birtles for a while.

“I left Rolls Royce in 2015. I took on an ambassador role at Derby County, along with Roy McFarland and Michael Johnson. Like Birchy at Leicester, I had been working at the Club for ages without being paid and the ambassador role made it more official.”

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