Paul Davis: the Highbury Hero with the perfect left hook

This week’s Highbury Hero was a cultured midfielder. Who graced the Highbury pitch for 16 seasons. He also played a part in every one of George Graham’s trophy winning sides. Some of his team mates at Arsenal, such as Tony Adams, Ian Wright, Rocky Rocastle and Paul Merson may have been more high profile. But the classy Paul Davis was every bit as important to the side.

Paul Davis’s main asset was his tremendous range of passing. His wonderful left foot would unerringly pick out a teammate whether they were two yards away, or 30 yards away. Paul had great vision. He always used to play with his head up. Allowing him to spot where his teammates were at all times. So he could deliver the right pass. He was never flustered.

Paul had an excellent first touch as well. He didn’t mind getting stuck in and wasn’t bad in the air either. I remember he scored a few headers in his Arsenal career.

He always seemed to have time on the ball. Davis had a strength that belied his slender frame. This was combined with superb balance. Which made it very difficult for opponents to knock him off the ball. Paul’s style of play was almost like a continental player to watch.

Davis also had had an excellent temperament. Paul was softly spoken and quiet. In fact the only thing that was loud about him was some of his 1980’s outfits. A mate of mine was once invited by Kenny Sansom to watch the players train and have lunch with them. He said Paul Davis walked in looking like the lead singer in Kid Creole and the Coconuts! He was so laid back. Which made the infamous incident when he lost his head, so out of character. But I’ll come to that shortly.

Paul Davis was playing for South London Schools when Arsenal scout Ernie Collett spotted him. After the match he approached Paul and asked him if he was connected with any League club. Paul said he wasn’t and Collett introduced himself and said he represented Arsenal and asked him to come to The club. Paul was thrilled as The Arsenal were his team. When he went for evening training the likes of Chris Whyte, Raphael Meade and Brian McDermott were also there.

Paul about to deliver a killer pass

Paul about to deliver a killer pass

Davis signed as a professional and only found out later, he was a borderline case and he only got the nod to be signed by one vote! Arsenal were worried that he was on the small side and very skinny. Though he’s 5ft 10in tall now. He was only 5ft 4in back then.

Paul Davis made his Arsenal debut aged 17 against Spurs, on the 7th April 1980, at White Hart Lane in exceptional circumstances. Arsenal were in the middle of an almighty fixture pile up. In a season when we played a gruelling 70 matches. We asked Spurs if they would reschedule the North London Derby. But typically of them they refused.

So we had to play Southampton on Easter Saturday. Then Spurs on Bank Holiday Monday. Next it was Juventus on Wednesday, in the Cup Winners Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg and then on Saturday we played Liverpool in the FA Cup Semi-Final. An incredible four games in eight days, which included the North London Derby and two semi-finals!

Something had to give. So six or seven players were rested for the game against Spurs. Paul was given his chance and he wasn’t fazed at all by the occasion. Davis Had a great debut and we humiliated Spurs by beating them
2-1. Steve Perryman said it was his most embarrassing derby day defeat ever!

Paul making his debut as a 17 year old in the North Derby against Spurs

Paul making his debut as a 17 year old in the North Derby against Spurs

The following season Paul started nine league games and scored his first goal for Arsenal in a 3-2 win, at Highbury against Crystal Palace. The season after that 1981-82 Paul Davis became a regular in the First team.

In George Graham’s first season in charge 1986-87. Davis had a great campaign. He formed a brilliant midfield partnership with Steve Williams, which was key to Arsenal beating Liverpool in the Littlewoods Cup Final 2-1, with Charlie Nicholas scoring both goals coming back from Ian Rush opening the scoring for Liverpool.

Davis was in the side again in 1988. Bidding to retain the cup. But we disappointingly lost 3-2 to Luton Town in the Final.

In the 1988-89 Title winning season Davis only played 12 league games, scoring once with a great diving header against Charlton Athletic at Highbury.

One of the reasons for this was Arsenal were playing Southampton at Highbury on the 17th September 1988. Glenn Cockerill must have said something very offensive to Davis to get such a reaction from him. Off the ball Davis showed that his left hook was just as good as his left foot. When he broke Southampton’s Glenn Cockerill’s jaw. Henry Cooper would have been proud of it! Paul was charged with bringing the game into disrepute. He received an unprecedented nine match ban plus a £3,000 fine.

The perfect left hook!

It was so out of character for Davis. Even Jeremy Beadle couldn’t manage to get Paul to lose his cool when he was a victim of one of Beadle’s famous pranks. Making it look like Paul’s car was crushed! He’d only been booked 14 times in nine seasons and had an exemplary record. The FA said they’d taken his exemplary record into consideration. Otherwise the punishment would have been harsher!

The strange thing was the match officials completely missed the incident. Davis wasn’t sent off, or even booked. Had the cameras not been there that day Davis may well have got away with it scot-free. It was only when the FA called for the television evidence that the FA acted. It was probably the first time a player had been banned by television evidence. I think George Graham banned the TV cameras for a while afterwards.

Davis also suffered a bad thigh injury that plagued him for 18 months. So he missed the climax of the season at Anfield. But still played enough games to win a League winners medal.

Paul celebrates with the rest of the 1990-91 title winning squad

Paul celebrates with the rest of the 1990-91 title winning squad

Paul eventually got himself fully fit and played a major role in the 1990-91 season. When The Arsenal won the title by a clear seven points, despite the two point deduction for the Old Trafford brawl. I remember that season we beat Norwich City at Highbury 2-0. With Paul Davis scoring both goals. That was also the the first time I took my son Neil to see The Arsenal.

Davis scores twice against Norwich

In 1991-92 Paul had his testimonial at Highbury against Celtic. This was the only time all three generations of the Lawrence family attended a game at Highbury together. My dad, me and my son Neil. By 1992-93 Davis had fallen out of favour with George Graham, as well as suffering more injuries and he only played six league games. But Paul still played and picked up winners medals in the League Cup and FA Cup Double over Sheffield Wednesday.

Paul’s testimonial with the Jeremy Beadle prank at the start of the video

Paul lifting the FA Cup with Nigel Winterburn after beating Sheffield Wednesday in the replay

Paul lifting the FA Cup with Nigel Winterburn after beating Sheffield Wednesday in the replay

Davis forced his way back into the team starting 21 league games in 1993-94. This was the last hurrah for Paul Davis, when he also played in all nine games in the Cup Winners Cup. He played magnificently in the Final, using all his experience, playing in a midfield comprising of Paul, Steve Morrow and Ian Selly. We managed to hold Parma at bay, winning the cup 1-0 with an Alan Smith goal.

Paul Davis with the Cup Winners Cup

Paul Davis with the Cup Winners Cup

1994-95 was Paul’s final season at The Arsenal. He only made 4 League appearances, with one of those as a sub and he played his last game for the club on the 3rd December 1994 away at Nottingham Forest where he scored in a 2-2 draw.

A short compilation of some of Paul’s goals

Paul was released on a free in the summer of 1995. He played twice for Wimbledon in the Inter-Toto Cup. Then played once as a substitute for Norwegian outfit Stabaek Fotball. He finished his playing career at Griffin Park, making five appearances for Brentford.

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He worked with the Arsenal Academy for quite a few years. Davis was also a coach at Kettering Town, under manager Paul Gascoigne of all people. Needless to say that didn’t last long! Paul Davis now works for the FA and is one of the most qualified coaches in the country.

The most amazing thing about Paul Davis is that he never got capped for the full England side. Despite playing about a dozen times for the Under 21’s and captaining them. Playing for the England B side and being called up for the full squad. He still didn’t get that full cap. If ever a player was suited to international football it was Paul Davis. He’d have thrived with his silky skills and technique. Especially when you consider that two of Paul’s midfield contemporaries, Geoff Thomas (9 caps) and Carlton Palmer (18 caps), both won quite a few full caps for England, both were very average players. Neither had the class and ability of Paul Davis.

Paul Davis ended up playing 447 times for Arsenal and scored 37 goals. Not too shabby for a skinny little kid from South London. Who was almost rejected by Arsenal, but for that one vote.

As always thanks for reading. Another trip down memory lane with another Highbury Hero next week.

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