Harry Redknapp brought a fan on to play for West Ham

The day Harry Redknapp brought a fan on to play for West Ham

(Guardian)

(Guardian)

Steve’s best friend was Chunk, and Chunk was also a die-hard West Ham fan. Chunk’s real name was Steve, but the nickname was endearing. “He’s not fat or nothing,” explains Steve Davies. “He’s he’s just too big to run.”

Steve and Chunk would travel home and away to watch their team, often driving the length of the country. Chunk was from nearby Hemel Hempstead and drove a gold Vauxhall Cavalier Sri, the type of car favoured by substitute teachers and people with gambling debts.

“He’s a true mate,” says Steve. “My first wife was called Kelly, and Chunk’s missus was also called Kelly, and they got pregnant at exactly the same time.” The Steves and their Kellys once drove 230 miles to Torquay to watch West Ham play when the Kellys were five months pregnant. “Every five miles we had to stop for them to be sick at the side of the road,” Steve says. “We nearly missed the kick-off.

“Chunk called me up one day and said, ‘We got a pre-season game over at Oxford – fancy it?'” remembers Steve, who never said no to West Ham. “We liked to get a couple of games in early. We get withdrawal symptoms when the season finishes in May. I very rarely missed a game, and I fancied a little away trip to Oxford anyways.” Steve’s mate Bazza was also in Chunk’s Cavalier as it idled outside Steve’s house.

(Guardian)

(Guardian)

Chunk, Bazza, Steve, and Steve’s wife were sitting by a fence with the travelling West Ham fans when Redknapp emerged from the dressing room and greeted them. “Harry being Harry, he talks to people,” says Steve. “He said hello and all that. A few fans exchanged pleasantries. But there’s no airs and graces with Harry.”

The first half kicked off like almost every other of the hundreds of West Ham games Steve had watched in his life, over the thousands of miles he’d travelled as a disciple of West Ham United. “Lee Chapman was up front for us, on the edge of the area, and he went up against a little guy from Oxford,” recalls Steve. “Lee towered over him, but came down on his arse!” Steve was enraged. “Come on, you donkey, Chapman, you’re useless!” he shouted at the striker. “Get up!”

“If you’re watching your team and someone does something really daft, you won’t leave them alone for a couple of minutes,” explains Steve. “I think Chapman lost the ball again, he got tackled and got a cut on his shin. He went down, and I was shouting, ‘Come on! Get up, you donkey!'” Chapman was being hit hard by Oxford’s defenders. “He kept getting whacked, and I gave him crap for that,” Steve says.

Harry Redknapp delights in telling this particular yarn. Last time he told the story it was on TV show A League of Their Own, at Christmas last year. “There’s a guy next to the dug-out,” Harry told the host, “and he’s got West Ham tattooed all over his arms and neck, he’s got the earrings … After two minutes, he started on me.” Today, speaking to me in his third one-on-one interview since taking over as QPR boss, he slips into storytelling mode.

“‘We ain’t got that Lee Chapman up front do we – I ain’t coming every week if he’s playing,'” says Harry, doing his impression of Steve. “Half-time I made five substitutions, and we only had the bare 11 out – I was running out of players. Then we got another injury, so I said to this guy in the crowd, ‘Oi, can you play as good as you talk?'”

The rest of the tale is hallowed football folklore. “I slung a leg over the barrier and Harry walked me down the tunnel,” says Steve. “What’s your name, son?” Harry asked, sizing up this apparent hooligan. “I couldn’t believe it. Inside the dressing room, the players were sat down resting at half-time.” West Ham were two-nil up, but the team was carrying injuries. “Then Harry and says, ‘Lee you’re off; Steve you’re on.'”

Chapman, shirtless, just nodded. “I asked him, what size boots are you, son?” Redknapp recalls. The kit manager brought Steve a uniform.

“Alvin Martin was sat next to me, and as we stood up, he smacked me on the back of the head, like a little livener. We come on up the tunnel and I still thought Harry was having a laugh with me. I didn’t think I was actually gonna get on, or I thought I might get a minute or two as a joke.” The crowd broke into applause as the teams appeared once again.

The second half kicked off with a shrill whistle. “I didn’t come out of Oxford’s half,” laughs Steve. “I was playing up front with Trevor Morley, goal-hanging! It was fucking quick football. This was a step up from Sunday league, to say the least. Oxford play Saturday football – I played Sunday football, pub football.

“I got a few touches, including a pass from Alvin Martin; I remember he called out my name in his Scouse accent. I was blown away. ‘Stevie!’ he shouted, and he sent the ball pinging to my feet. It had such pace on it, nearly knocked me over.”

Steve says he was out of his depth, trying to keep up with international players and fighting the urge to steal a glance over to the stands where his wife, Bazza, and Chunk were watching in disbelief. “I didn’t get any shots on target because I was never alone. This wasn’t like park football. Defenders didn’t leave you alone.”

“It didn’t feel natural at all – that’s what people always ask,” says Steve. “I was just trying to stay calm. After the first five minutes, my legs were shaking; I was playing for West Ham! After that it was just ‘get on with the game’ kind of thing. I was running on adrenaline, and I was more worried about fucking up. I played a safe game, made a couple of passes hooking up with the centre-half, Martin” – who, Steve says, was “solid as a rock” — “and Beauchamp. He was hot property at the time.” In fact, Beauchamp scored a cracking goal in the 65th minute, a top-corner screamer, which was ruled offside.

“Suddenly, we were on the attack,” recalls Steve. “The ball went out wide – I’m sure it was Matty Holmes on the wing – and we pushed forward. I had two defenders in front of me and I was just sprinting forward, I think.” He didn’t purposely split the defenders, but neither was marking him tightly, and Steve flew forward, fast out of the traps. He picked up the ball from Holmes, and a clumsy first touch took him and the ball into the penalty area. Suddenly, thousands of eyes fell upon him as he escaped the pack. He was, for a moment, an image from a poster on the wall of his childhood bedroom.

Sadly, Steve’s magical moment occurred before camera phones and YouTube. Almost every West Ham fan can tell you his story, yet there exists little evidence of what exactly happened: in the dusty archives of the Oxford Mail, the brown envelope that should hold the match reports from 1994 is empty.

I first tried to find the truth 10 years ago. I wrote letters to some 200 people named Steven Davies in East London and placed an ad in a West Ham fanzine that read: “Are you Harry’s fan?” No one replied.

Steve Davies finally came forward when a house fire destroyed his precious memorabilia in 2011. Searching an Oxford City online forum for evidence of that day, he found my appeal, from many years before, for him to speak about the game. Three months later, in freezing March, I flew from Los Angeles, where I live and work, to Oxford.

“I just hit it,” he says with a shrug. “I hit it like nothing else. Know what I mean? I belted it.” The ball whistled low, past the outstretched hand of the Oxford goalkeeper, and ran into the bottom corner of the goal. Steve says he wheeled away in celebration, arms extended, head bent with disbelief. On the side of the field, Redknapp turned around and looked briefly to the heavens.

“It was like time stopped still – it was the greatest moment of my life,” says Steve. Somewhere in the crowd, Bazza and Chunk were losing their minds. Steve Davies had scored on his West Ham debut.

“After that, I was exhausted. I was on 30 cigarettes a day back then,” Steve admits. “I wouldn’t condone it. I had a couple of cigs and a couple of beers in the first half, didn’t I?” He admits his goal was not spectacular: “I’m not gonna butter myself up, but they all count.” And when the full-time whistle blew, West Ham had won 4–0. Steve walked down the tunnel with the rest of his team-mates, jubilant.

Then, as suddenly as it began, the dream was over. The kit manager wouldn’t let Steve keep his No3 shirt – they’d need it against Newcastle the next week in the Premier League. And 25 minutes later, Steve was back in the Cavalier with Chunk, Bazza, and his missus, stuck in traffic on the road back to reality.

Speaking from his Range Rover, at the end of a stressful season, Redknapp is driving toward his vacation spot on the English coast. “I was hoping he could play good,” he tells me. “I wasn’t trying to make him look silly. I thought I’d make his day. I could see he loved West Ham. He’ll never forget it as long as he lives. He came on, ran around, loved it, scored a goal. He played for West Ham!”

After his West Ham debut, Steve Davies returned to his normal life, but with a new outlook. Back in the smoke-filled pubs for the West Ham games, he was now Steve Davies, the fan who came from the crowd to score for West Ham. In the Boleyn pub, he would joke about his “long and distinguished career”. But at work, something had changed. He plucked up the courage to strike out on his own, launching a courier company.

“I kept the business small,” he says. “I done all right out of it, I suppose. I had three drivers, all earning decent money.” He still follows West Ham United, home and away.

As we finish our fish supper, Steve presses a final cigarette into the ashtray and tells me he has a confession to make. He runs a hand over his shaved head, visibly embarrassed, and says, “My goal was disallowed.” He smiles roguishly. “I was two yards offside. I ran up to the ref and told him, ‘You bastard, you spoiled my dream!'”

Source: Guardian

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  1. The best of the week | TOKNOWTHEGAME.COM - September 9, 2013

    […] The day Harry Redknapp brought a fan on to play for West Ham […]

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