Leeds United nostalgia: Davison – a highly regarded hot shot

Bobby Davison.
Bobby Davison.
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If Bobby Davison ever wondered what Howard Wilkinson thought of him, the answer came on the day of Leeds United’s sun-drenched win at Bournemouth in 1990.

Promotion rested on the last game of the season, as did the Division Two title, and Wilkinson fretted for several days over an injury which gave Davison no chance of playing.

The thought of losing Davison was such a concern, Wilkinson admitted later, that “I took the decision to keep it quiet. He knew and I knew.

“Gordon Strachan, our captain, had to be told as well and Bobby told me later that he let on to Chris Kamara in their room the night before the game.

“For everyone else it was a complete secret.”

So reluctant was United’s manager to admit to any weakness that he went further than silence.

“He named an unfit Davison in his starting line-up and substituted him with Carl Shutt after five minutes.

“My worry about Carl was that he’d work himself up if he knew on Thursday or Friday that he was going to be playing,” Wilkinson said.

“Bobby was used to big occasions and Bournemouth was nothing new to him. I wasn’t so certain about Carl.

“I felt it was best to start with Bobby, even though I knew he couldn’t contribute at all.

“It was an unusual way to handle things, I’ll give you that.”

That episode reveals the regard in which Leeds held Davison, a former shipyard worker from South Shields.

He was a traditional player – employed in a trade before professional football came calling – but United were as taken with his ability as they were with his work ethic.

Davison gave them a penalty-box poacher – a “shark” as one television commentator aptly called him – and he led the goalscoring charts for four seasons at Derby County before Billy Bremner signed him in 1987 in a £350,000 deal.

The forward struck on his Leeds debut during a 4-2 win over Swindon Town, a match notable for the first appearance made by an 18-year-old midfielder called David Batty.

Batty became synonymous with Wilkinson’s revolution while Davison weighed in for the short-term, initially under Bremner’s management.

He claimed six goals in his first season at Elland Road and 17 in his second.

His haul of 11 in the 1989-90 promotion-winning term included a spate of five in as many matches.

“Five out of five wasn’t much of a run,” Davison once said modestly. “Ten out of 10 would have been better.”

Davison’s light faded as Leeds climbed the English ladder and he joined Leicester City in 1992.

A football man, coaching roles followed the end of his playing career and he assisted Colin Todd in the madness of managing Bradford City during their darkest years of financial pressure. If that was a challenge, his decision to take charge of Ferencvaros in 2008 proved an unfortunate misjudgment.

The Hungarian club won promotion under him but Davison was the victim of senseless abuse from their supporters.

The situation became so bad that a visit to a restaurant required the presence of security staff around him.

He was told to take a different route home every night for his own safety.

“I was also getting a hard time off some of the press,” he said, “including a truly bizarre press conference where I spent five minutes answering questions on why I wore shorts on a matchday rather than the suit jacket, and jeans they thought I should be wearing.

“It was laughable.”

His return to Leeds for a short time as youth-team coach in 2010 brought him back to a club where his reputation went before him.