The North Bank Hall Of Fame: Paul Davis
On the 14th of May 1980 Arsenal lost 5-4 on penalties in the final of the Cup Winners Cup. In the shootout against Valencia Liam Brady missed a decisive penalty. That same summer, Arsenal’s creative inspiration left for Juventus and provided an opportunity for another talented left footer to take centre stage.
Paul Davis had made his Arsenal debut in 1980 but Brady’s presence made it difficult for the talented 19-year-old to get much time on the pitch. By the 81-82 season however, Davis had proved himself and became a mainstay in the side for a decade to follow. His calmness and grace on the ball went against the style of the day which still valued aggression over ability. This is not to say that there weren’t talented midfielders around, but Davis seemed to reverse the dominant dynamic.
The south Londoner played with an upright posture which seemed to put him above his contemporaries. Davis would patrol the midfield, without great pace or much of a goal threat but, like Gilberto Silva after him, he seemed to have a knack of taking up the correct position from which to influence play. Whilst Gilberto knew his limitations in an attacking capacity Davis was a valuable fulcrum from which attacking moves could spring. In my search for a more contemporary comparison I think it’s fair to suggest Davis operated on a similar wavelength to Gilberto but with the attacking intent and vision of Edu.
Many players from yester-year were great at the time but whether they could have been as effective in the modern era is debateable. If you consider Davis’ attributes it would be reasonable to think that Wenger would have been a fan. His aforementioned economy in possession would have slotted into the Wilshere role quite nicely whilst his quiet leadership, despite never being favoured as a captain, would have suited Wenger’s collaborative model.
And of course, Davis possessed the most cultured of left pegs with which he caressed the ball around the park. His dead-balls also finding the net via a Steve Bould flick-on or the towering threat of Tony Woodcock, Tony Adams, Niall Quinn, Alan Smith et al.
Davis was never a player to seek attention but his loyalty to Arsenal and his team-mates is unquestioned. His understated authority and efficiency is well illustrated in the story of his altercation with Southampton’s midfielder Glenn Cockerill. In a 1988 League match at Highbury Cockerill had set about trying to intimidate the talented Arsenal midfield of Thomas, Rocastle and Davis. The Southampton man had left his boot in a few times and spent most of the game in the younger players’ ears, trying to suggest they weren’t up to the battle.
It’s rumoured that Cockerill had said to Davis that he’d spent the night with his mother, which unsurprisingly flipped the usually serene Davis. As the ball was some 30-odd yards away, Davis caught up with Cockerill and landed a peach of a straight left on his jaw.
Cockerill later remarked: “We’d been exchanging words throughout the game, that’s probably how the papers would put it. But it was nothing too unusual, until the punch and the next thing I knew I was on the ground.”
Cockerill slumped to the turf and received treatment for a broken jaw. Whilst broken bones are little to celebrate, I will never forget the cool precision with which Davis landed the blow – Manny Pacquiao would have been proud of such a clinical knockdown. Davis was fined a record £3,000 and received a similarly unprecedented 9 match suspension. This incident was also the first time video evidence had been used to retrospectively ban a punish a player, yet I don’t remember it ever being on TV. All I have to remember it by is my memory of seeing it first hand, through a sea of red and white bobble hats.
As Arsenal fans we generally agree that violence has no place in Football, but these were very different times. Football in the 70′s and 80′s was like a Cowboy film – if someone had wronged you, or those on your side, the score needed to be settled. It’s old fashioned but it was commonplace back then. As a fan on the terraces it was strangely inspiring to think that the players were looking out for their team-mates.
Having played his part in Arsenal’s title winning sides of 1988-89 and 1990-91, Davis was forced out of the first team by George Graham following the European Cup defeat at the hands of Benfica in 1992.
Davis fought his way back into the team during the 1992-93 season and was a fundamental part of Arsenal’s successful Cup Winners Cup campaign in 1993-94, making crucial goals in the quarter-final against Torino and semi-final against Paris Sant-Germain.
With the summer signing of Stefan Schwarz from Benfica in 1994, Davis made just four appearances before being released by the club the following summer.
As well as his obvious talent it is Davis’ loyalty and love of the club that places him in the wearethenorthbank.com pantheon. Talk to Davis now and you still hear a man who wants the best for Arsenal and is loyal to those trying to achieve it. Whilst other former Gooners offer their ill-judged opinions for money, Davis is always balanced and encouraging. Even on a recent interview for the sensationalist TalkSport, Davis remained considered about his clubs’ prospects.
Just as he was on the field, Davis provides an example of commitment and loyalty that is sadly missing from the modern game.