As a younger man I used to enjoy listening to the music of the Stereophonics, the song ‘Local Boy in a Photograph’ was a particular favourite. I was, in a constant effort to be achingly cool, a fan of the early stuff but you know how it is, they get too big and all that.
This morning an old photograph set me on a journey, notably the one I used for my quiz this morning. You might have had a go, you might have got 20/21. I’d wager, unless you’re Rich Allen, you missed one player out; Neil Davies. I missed Neil Davies, I had a go myself before I’d looked at the team roster and he was the one face I placed, but couldn’t name.
The reason I recognised the face wasn’t his spell in the Imps first team, after all I wrote a book called the A to Z of Lincoln City which didn’t feature Neil Davies at any point. No, I regret to inform you that seventeen years ago, I was partial to the odd soap opera and I recognised him from one that is no longer on TV. Neil Davies’ story is rather unique and as it didn’t appear in my book, I think it is prudent to tell it now, or at least what I can.
Neil Davies hailed from Merseyside and as a child, worshipped Liverpool FC. His idol was centre-half Alan Hansen, a commanding presence in the all-conquering back line. Speaking to the Daily Record in 2000, Neil said; “All I wanted to do when I was growing up was to be like Hansen,” recalls Neil. “I read his book Tall, Dark and Hansen when I was young, and I thought he was the best. He was the epitome of Liverpool’s success at the time – a fantastic all-rounder with a well-educated head on his shoulders.”
As a player, Neil wasn’t half bad. He played non-league football whilst completing his A levels and then, in June 1995, he got his big break. Coveted by a collection of sides, he decided to move to Sincil Bank.
“I was playing non-league football for Fleetwood, trialling for teams like Birmingham, Wimbledon and even Everton when I was given a great offer by Lincoln City,” he says.
The match programme for our pre-season friendly with Forest in August of 1995 has a picture of four new signings on the back, Paul Wanless, Paul Mudd, Jason Minett and Joe Allon. The youngster from Fleetwood isn’t there, but inside he’s described as “A highly recommended central defender,” and “a former Liverpool schoolboy.” It goes on to say Lincoln pipped a number of clubs to his signature, including a Premiership side. It ended by wishing him well in his Imps career. Sadly, by the time Forest officially celebrated the opening of the new stand, Davies’ career was over.
Just two weeks into pre-season training, disaster struck. Neil was looking good as a tough but skilful centre-half, in the same mould as his idol. “I’d never felt pain like it,” says Neil of the incident that was to change his future so dramatically. “I was screaming like I’d never screamed before.” He had snapped his cruciate ligament. Despite a lengthy rehabilitation, and a return to playing, he knew his dream was over.
At a football club, life goes on. Manager Sam Ellis went out and loaned David Brightwell as additional cover, but before Christmas Ellis had been sacked, Steve Wicks had come and gone and John Beck had pulled up his car in the Sincil Bank car park. Beck would have liked Davies, he loved a big centre half, but it wasn’t to be. The young player’s career was over before it had begun.
Sensibly, Davies didn’t let the destruction of his dreams define him. He decided to study physiotherapy and help out other youngsters in his position. Whilst he was studying, a friend who worked as a gardener on Channel 4 soap Brookside, offered to take him to a party.
“I was a student at the time, and heard extras got paid well, so I went up and pestered the girl who works in the casting office to give me a part,” said Neil in the incredibly hard to find interview from 2000.
He became an extra and before long that part became more permanent. He was given the role of Robbie Moffatt, initially only for a couple of episodes. He stayed for two years.
Robbie was a bona fide soap baddie, tormenting his on-screen girlfriend Jacqui Dixon. Off screen though, Neil and actress Alex Fletcher became close, marrying in 2001. Instead of pursuing his acting career, Neil left Brookside not long after to fulfil his desire to become a physiotherapist, something he does to this day. Indeed, in 2015 he was working with Liverpool U18s side under former Exeter and Leyton Orient midfielder Alex Inglethorpe.
They say football is a funny old game, but it just goes to show, you never know who is passing through your football club,. In some instances, you can write a book on it and still be none the wiser!
(The Stacey West would like to thank Neil for being incredibly elusive on all forms of social media and the internet in general, resulting in a morning of perusing Hello! magazine articles and old Liverpool Echos. At present, I can’t actually place what he’s doing now, but perhaps that is for the best. If you don’t want to be found and all that!)