Have you heard the story about the fan who went to watch a match and ended up playing for his Club? You can see why people thought it was some kind of urban myth. Anyone who has ever been to a football match knows there are always a few fans in the crowd who think they could do better than some of those on the pitch.
It’s part and parcel of the largely agonising experience of being a football fan. Professional players – even at the very top of the game – are always making mistakes and ‘schoolboy’ errors. Sometimes they can’t pass the ball accurately even when they’ve got all the time in the world and it’s only five yards; they can’t always control the damned thing either. Most of football is a mess.
The crowd also generally sees itself as the ‘twelfth man’; a ‘player’ whose job of supporting and encouraging the team is as vital as any within the stadium. Many fans kick or head an imaginary ball as they watch goal attempts. But there’s always some bloke who reckons he could do the playing job much better.
Typically, he may have ‘played a bit’ when he was younger or still turns out for some pub team in the distant depths of the football pyramid. ‘You’re rubbish!’, he screams at some hapless centre-forward. ‘Yer couldn’t trap a bag of cement….. I could do better meself.’.
I guess that’s why the West Ham fan, Steve Davies’, story of how he came off the terraces at half-time; put on a Hammers’ kit and scored a goal was largely discounted for twenty years. It was one of those footie tales that does the rounds but few take seriously. It was supposed to have happened in 1993 – hardly ancient history – but there were no pictures or any hard evidence that it actually happened.
Now we all know it’s true, thanks to the diligence of one journo, Jeff Maysh, who decided to try and stand the story up. Jeff interviewed the then Assistant Manager of West Ham, Harry Redknapp and the fan, Steve Davies, and got hold of newspaper coverage and other eye-witnesses who all confirmed it.
For those who don’t know, here’s what happened in a nutshell:
Steve was a fully committed West Ham Fan. He was a half-decent player as a kid but never good enough to turn pro. He played for a pub team in Milton Keynes and went to every Hammers’ game he could.
Back in the summer of 1993, West Ham had a pre-season friendly at Oxford City. Steve’s mate, ‘Chunk’, called to ask him if he fancied the game, and in the end Steve and his wife, (five months pregnant), and Chunk and his missus (also five months gone) drove down to catch it.
They were all seated with other visiting fans quite close to the pitch and – crucially – very close to the West Ham bench where Harry Redknapp, Assistant Manager, was in charge. Lee Chapman was up front and not playing very well. Throughout the first half, Steve was giving him loads of stick, and at halftime Harry walked over to Steve and asked him, ‘Can you play as good as you talk?’ Next thing Steve is ushered into the West Ham dressing room; someone finds a kit for him, and a pair of size 9s boots to fit, and he runs out with his beloved team for the 2nd half.
It’s already a brilliant story but the best is yet to come. Steve gets a good ball played through to him and he lashes it in the net. In the crowd, Chunk; the two wives, and the rest of the West Ham fans go ape.
A local journo asks Harry who this new player is: ‘I asked the guy, you been watching the World Cup?’ Redknapp tells him. ‘He’s the great Bulgarian, Tittyshev’. Typical ‘Arry.
The goal was actually disallowed for offside, but who cares? One football fan had – for 45 minutes – lived the collective dream of archetypal fandom. He’d stepped from the terraces; pulled off his clothes; put his Club’s strip and scored. For West Ham supporter, Steve Davies, the moment lives forever.
‘It was like time stopped still – it was the greatest moment of my life.’
Dr Rogan Taylor is the Director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool. He is also a writer and broadcaster, with five football books and numerous radio and TV contributions. He has acted as a special adviser to The FA, The Premier League and Premier League Clubs.
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