Eddie Davis’s eyes light up at the very mention of anything to do with football. Eddie spent an afternoon talking to me about his football career which started with local side Rock Rangers and concluded with him working as a scout for Middlesbrough, Celtic, Manchester United and Bradford City.
At 92, Eddie likes nothing more than to reminisce about his time living in London or the years spent playing alongside friend and Derry City team-mate Danno Feeney. After devoting his life to football it would be understandable if Eddie was to lose interest and become totally desensitised but when the conversation turns to today’s big game between Manchester United and Chelsea, Eddie’s not shy about predicting the final score.
“I like watching Manchester United,” says Eddie smiling. “They’ve not had the best season this year but I think they still have enough left in the engine to get one over on Chelsea - I’ll have my fingers crossed.”
Eddie was born in Derry in April 1919. Along with his two brothers and five sisters Eddie was reared in the Strand Road by his parents Willy and Bridget Davis. Eddie’s father was from Killybegs in County Donegal and worked as a fireman in Derry; his mother, whose maiden name was Harkin, was from Clonmany.
“I had a very happy childhood,” he recalls. “Times were hard but there was a great sense of community about Derry at that time. I went to Rosemount Boys’ School and soon after I left school my professional football career started.”
Eddie started playing football for a local Derry and District team called Rock Rangers when he was 12-years-old but a year later he joined Distillery and made his debut for the club against Derry City at the Brandywell in 1932. When Eddie was 14 he was playing for Cork in the League of Ireland when an English scout spotted him and soon after he signed for Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Eddie spent two years at Molineux before joining Limerick where he won a Munster Senior Cup medal in 1937.
Eddie played tremendously well during his time with Limerick so much so that former Arsenal player and then manager of Southend, David Jack, offered him a contract which he accepted.
Eddie was amongst Southend’s top goal scorers during his time in Essex however his career was cut short when World War II started in 1939. Like many players in England at the time Eddie returned home to play for his hometown club. After the war was over David Jack was manager of Middlesbrough and tried to sign Eddie a second time but the formidable goal scorer decided that he wanted to remain in Derry as he had met and married Elish Quigley from Park Avenue.
Although opting not to return to England, Eddie enjoyed a successful career with Derry City and in his book titled ‘The Derry City FC Story’ former Derry Journal editor Frank Curran described Eddie as one of the best Derry City players to have never made an international appearance.
“When I was with Southend the Irish Free State asked me if I’d like to play for them. I thought that as my mother and father were from Donegal that it would be ok but when they discovered I was from the North they told me I couldn’t play. Nowadays if your mother, father, granny or granda was born in a country you can play your football for that team but it wasn’t like that when I was playing.”
After almost 20 years in the game, Eddie eventually decided to call time on his career but that was not before he scored five goals against Coleraine at the Brandywell in 1946. Derry won the two legged tie 12-3 on aggregate and the Candy Stripes went on to win the North West Senior Cup. Despite the fact that the match finished over 65 years ago Eddie only received his medal this week.
“We played really well that day. I managed to net a few a goals and we went on to win the cup. I was delighted when I got my medal this week - it’s going to join all the other memorabilia and photos I’ve kept over the years,” he says smiling.
The next logical step for Eddie when he hung up his boots was to become a scout. Many footballers who went on to have careers in the fifties and sixties owe their “big break” to the man from Argyle Street. He said that he enjoyed scouting for new players but admitted that nothing could substitute playing.
“I enjoyed picking out and recommending players but there’s just nothing like running out on to a pitch with the rest of the team and playing football.”
Eddie and his wife Elish moved into their home in Argyle Street in 1947 and although Elish has since passed away Eddie still lives at the family home.
“I love it here in Argyle Street - I’ve lived here all of my life - I am very happy here.”
Throughout his long and illustrious career Eddie has probably watched and played in thousands of football matches. When asked who was the best player he ever played against or who was the best player he ever saw he thought for a few minutes before answering.
“I played with some really talented players - if I was to mention them all I’d end up keeping you here all day. However, I’d have to say that the likes of Jobby Crossan, Terry Harkin, Eddie Crossan, Fay Coyle and Shay Given were the best I’ve ever come across - they all had that little bit of magic.”
The level of detail and colour with which Eddie lauds his anecdotes is impressive to say the least. With each memory his smile appears to get bigger and bigger. As the interview comes to an end he starts to talk about his beloved Derry City and Manchester United.
“I still try to get to the Derry City matches when I can and I enjoy nothing more than cheering on Manchester United. My family got me a Sky subscription and I’m never done watching football.
“I’m really looking forward to this Manchester United v Chelsea game. Obviously I am always going to say Manchester United will win but I genuinely believe they will. They are a strong team and I think they should last the distance.”
With Eddie’s level of insight and experience of football it would take a brave person to contradict his prediction.
Eddie has met, played alongside and against some well known players. On his 90th birthday he received a birthday message from none other than Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Eddie also greeted George Best to Derry when the former Manchester United star visited the city in 1990s; simply put, Eddie Davis is as much a part of the football fabric of Derry as Paddy McCourt, Darron Gibson and Jobby Crossan. He’s rubbed shoulders with some of the best in the game and his fervour for the sport will never disappear.